New York New Visions Tackles “Sustainable” New York Future

After Mayor Bloomberg’s December announcement of his PlaNYC
initiative to prepare for a sustainable New York of 9 million people by 2030, New York New Visions, the group of architects and planners originally organized around Ground Zero rebuilding, announced it was expanding its scope to tackle the new challenge. Last night, in a stark white room in the basement of the American Institute of Architects building in Greenwich Village, a collection of almost equally stark white faces began reimagining the New York of the future.  


Rit.jpgRohit Aggarwala
, the management consultant tasked by Bloomberg with heading up the new project (pictured right), began by laying out the PlaNYC goals, a laundry list of urban niceties that it should be hard for anyone to disagree with: more housing, parks within a 10-minute walk for all residents, a well-maintained transportation grid, cleaner air and land and water. (All these were in the newspaper insert the city placed in local newspapers back in December; if you missed it, you can still download
one
from the mayor’s website.) Noting that "sustainability" is a "terribly overused word," Aggarwala nonetheless offered his own
definition: "a city that is cleaner, healthier, more reliable, and in general better."

The devil, of course, lies in the details, something that NYNV’s assembled panel of architects and planners wasted no time in pointing out to Aggarwala, even as they gave the mayor points for just raising the
questions:

  • Where will the new housing for all these new New Yorkers go, and who will be living in it? "The million people who are coming are not coming with MBAs," noted Bloomberg’s former Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Jerilyn Perine, saying the city needs to be "screaming our heads off for a new [federal] public housing program."
    (Less seriously, she also suggested "trading Staten Island to New Jersey for Newark.")
  • "I don’t want to be the harbinger of doom here," began structural engineer Joseph Tortorella, "but I will be." The flood of new construction already underway in the city, he said, is already creating a rush to use non-union labor to keep up with the workload, something he worries could lead to "a war in this city" that will make inflatable rats seem tame. The quality of work is also already at "a dangerous level," he said, with city building sites averaging one collapse a week.
  • How will all this be paid for, and what gets cut from the agenda if the money falls short? "This is a great PR beginning," said former City Planning Commission chair Donald Elliott, stressing he meant that as a compliment. "But you’re going to have to get into some evaluation of the opportunities and constraints."

And that’s not even getting into some of the bigger questions about
PlaNYC: Will new residents, most expected to be immigrants from Asia and Central and South America, really "bring jobs" with them, as Aggarwala asserted? If the city swells to 9 million people, what happens to the surrounding suburbs? And while the "GreeNYC" portion of the plan sets a laudable goal of cutting city carbon emissions by 30% (and cleaning up pollution), there’s little else about preparing for what’s likely to be a radically altered climate 23 years hence. Talk of a "more reliable" New York is likely to sound quaint if the Stillwell Avenue subway terminal has been washed out to sea.

NYNV has scheduled working group meetings the next three Fridays to follow up on last night’s meeting, but the more interesting bit will likely be the public town hall meetings that Aggarwala promised would be announced soon. That’s when the mayor should hear from not just those who hope to design the future New York, but those who hope to live in it.

Photo: SvdR on Flickr 

  • I wrote up something that’s still in the editing queue about the “Community Leader” forum the PlaNYC folks put on. To summarize that post which should come out soon, they are planning for infrastructure, not necessarily people. And by the way, they claimed that only 25% of NYC’s GW emissions come from cars and trucks. They are focusing much more heavily on green building design and electric supply and demand efficiency than transportation as far as I could tell.

  • And Tom Angotti has an interesting take on the Plan 2030 plan:

    http://gothamgazette.com/article/landuse/20070206/12/2095

    The mayor’s office has launched a series of meetings for community leaders and civic groups in each of the five boroughs to discuss the plan. However, it is not at all clear whether this will lead to any changes in the plan, and if so who will make those decisions. NYC2030’s website makes it all sound like a harmonious process in which we all join arms and march into the future. New Yorkers can submit their comments on the website, but how do these get digested and acted upon?

    This leads us to a bigger question of how the plan gets approved and implemented. Will it get submitted to the City Planning Commission, City Council, or the voters for approval? Will the plan be anything more than the Mayor’s swan song before he moves on to his next job? Will the next mayor care? Where is the city’s capital and expense budget process in all this? And the city’s 59 community boards?

    NYC2030 evades entirely the mechanisms set up in Section 197-a of the City Charter to produce and approve plans. City Hall may not like those mechanisms but they are the only ones we have. Without them the Mayor’s plan could become just one chief executive’s boardroom strategy that provides some guidance but has no teeth.

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