‘Inclusive City’ Calls For An Office of Community Planning And More To Make Land Use In NYC More Equitable

As New York City elected officials enter a new term, Regional Plan Association has joined with many others to highlight a critical issue. New York City’s land use processes are not delivering optimally for its residents. Communities often experience important decisions being made behind closed doors with minimal input from community members and stakeholders. And too often, projects that might otherwise help provide much needed affordable housing or other benefits  are halted because communities find the pathways to stopping a project easier than the pathways to improving it. This is insanity.

As we fight to solve the affordable housing crisis, the City must reform local land use processes to yield better projects and get more affordable housing into the development pipeline.

Over the past year, the Office of Councilman Antonio Reynoso, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Regional Plan Association facilitated a working group of experts on land use, community planning and local issues to workshop winning ideas for land use reform in New York City. Community based organizations, academic institutions, private developers and other stakeholders discussed the many pitfalls of NYC’s land use process, proposed solutions, and developed “Inclusive City” for presentation to New York City elected officials.

Together, the working group has put forth the following strategies:

  1. Dramatically increase the amount of proactive planning in New York City
  2. Increase communication, participation, and transparency in development decisions before and during formal procedures
  3. Improve accountability, oversight, and enforcement in the City Environmental Quality Review process
  4. Update the City Environmental Quality Review technical manual to ensure accuracy

Among the strategies, forming an office of community planning stands out as a step that would strengthen neighborhood planning across the city and empower residents to shape their own futures. As proposed, the office would be a permanent yet independent fixture providing assistance to community boards and organizations to engage more in proactive planning, such that communities would be more ready to respond to citywide priorities and initiatives.

A handful of elected officials were also involved in the working group, including Reynoso and Brewer, whose offices co-facilitated. Others  integral to the process were Public Advocate Letitia James Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“For too long, the City of New York has engaged in ad hoc development, failing to place sufficient emphasis on equity, transparency, and comprehensive planning. I am proud to stand today with folks from government, advocacy organizations, and the development community in proposing solutions to create an inclusive city and planning process. The recommendations outlined in this report will ensure that government is planning with communities – not for them, that environmental impact statements do not turn a blind eye to the adverse effects of development, and that residents have the tools and information to not just engage in the planning process, but guide it from the very beginning. I look forward to working the Mayor and the Department of City Planning to implement this platform and move New York City towards fairer and more rational planning.” said New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

Working group elected officials are already moving on reform. In late December, James and Brewer co-introduced Intro 1830-2017, to launch a New York Charter Revision Commission that would take stock of many issues, including land use reform. New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso and Council Member Margaret Chin also also co-introduced Intro 1787-2017 to require project application statements – one of the earliest formal documents produced during land use procedures – are made available to the public earlier.

Together, the strategies contained in Inclusive City could make the city’s land use procedures more inclusive and therefore more predictable for all users, including for developers who seek less local opposition and more predictability, and especially for the most vulnerable in our city who fear displacement from their neighborhoods.

In 2018 and beyond, we look forward to continuing to work together with NYC elected officials, civic organizations across the city and private sector partners to make the City’s land use procedures work better for everyone.

Click here to read the white paper in its entirety.

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