Saturday, May 01, 2010

PlaNYC after three years: neighborhoods are still missing, according to Angotti

In a Gotham Gazette essay headlined PlaNYC at Three: Time to Include the Neighborhoods, urban planning professor Tom Angotti, director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development and author of "New York For Sale" (MIT Press, 2008), writes about how the city's land use processes generally ignore neighborhoods.

Unmentioned--likely because it represents an even more egregious example of excluding input--is Atlantic Yards, a project on which Angotti has consulted for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods

What's missing from PlaNYC2030?

Angotti writes:
April 22 -- will mark the third anniversary of PlaNYC2030, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's self-proclaimed "long-term sustainability plan." While the city has taken many steps toward the plan's goal of "a greener greater New York," particularly in energy conservation, one gaping hole remains in the plan.

PlaNYC2030 left out any role for the city's hundreds of neighborhoods, 59 community boards, and the countless civic, community and environmental groups that care about the future of the city. It was a top-down plan, conceived at City Hall with minimal input, and it was never approved as an official plan. In the long term this will only undermine the ability to sustain the plan itself, and both implement and improve it.

The plan now stands at a critical juncture, Rohit Aggarwala, director of the Mayor's Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability, recently announced his resignation, and the city's budget situation and the overall economic situation have delayed and even derailed some of its initiatives. With Aggarwala's departure and the convening of a commission to review the City Charter, now is the time to fill the gap that excluded neighborhoods. An updated PlaNYC2030 could then be reviewed and voted on by community boards, borough presidents, the City Planning Commission, and City Council, as required in the City Charter.

The role of DCP

Curiously enough, the Department of City Planning, notable for not actually planning much, was left out:
Since PlaNYC was never officially approved, it remains an initiative of the mayor, owned and operated by City Hall. Generally, the Department of City Planning is responsible for planning and engaging other branches of government.

The department, however, played a minor role in preparing the 2030 plan, and long-term plans of any kind have been notably absent from City Planning’s portfolio. Instead, the agency touts as one of its top achievements the 100 rezonings it approved in the last eight years.

While the rezonings have opened up opportunities for new development -- also a major goal of PlaNYC2030 -- and protected many other areas, they hardly pass muster as "plans." Rezoning for new development is often done without planning for new schools, transit and other services, nor does it entail measures to deal with existing service deficits or the myriad problems that face communities. In some neighborhoods that have undergone massive rezoning, such as Williamsburg, residents are now up in arms because new high-rise luxury development has overtaxed the capacity of local schools and transit.

While City Planning often echoes PlaNYC's call for "transit-oriented development" by promoting higher density development around subway stops, it does not insure that transit capacity will grow to meet increased needs. Trains and buses are even more overcrowded than they were before the rezoning, and with more service cutbacks planned, the situation promises to get worse. If that's planning it's surely not good planning.

What's next

Angotti observes:
This is a unique and important time. A fresh approach to long-term sustainability planning at the top could lead to a true partnership between neighborhoods and City Hall. The New York City Charter already provides the framework, and that can be strengthened to insure that all planning is open, transparent and accessible to all, and that the plan belongs to everyone. And that, in turn, will help assure that the plan survives to guide New York to a truly sustainable future.
A commenter from Queens

Corey Bearak observed:
Great article. Good governmental requires true community consultation and engagement in crafting solutions, policies and programs -- and in their enactment. The City Charter Commission needs to take a look at how best to institutionalize this too-often ignore imperative. I recall attending two meetings on PlaNYC, making policy recommendations that were reported concisely and clearly in the sessions -- I was the "reporteur" for my break-out group both eves -- and found the recommendations ignored in the on-line summaries of the sessions (this is not the first time I shared this deficiency of substance and process). It influenced the title of an alternative (and better) plan I contributed to, "CIVIC 2030."

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