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Catching up: on declining manufacturing jobs, uncounted vacant lots (that could support new housing)

The Bloomberg administration may gain respect for pursuing illegal gun sales, but there are lots of lapses when it comes to land use.

In a post January 15, I quoted the Village Voice quoting City Limits on the decline of manufacturing jobs, but here's Sarah Crean's original piece, dated January 3, headlined Did City's Industrial Policy Manufacture Defeat?

She wrote:
According to research conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network, 23.4 million square feet of industrial space was lost to approved rezonings between 2001 and 2008, impacting some of New York’s most populated manufacturing districts. Significant portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Long Island City, the midtown Garment Center, and Port Morris in the Bronx were rezoned during this period, mainly for residential development.

Repeated attempts by community groups, labor unions, industrial advocates and others to promote alternative plans that would not place as much pressure on manufacturing clusters met with limited success. We were particularly unsuccessful in reaching any sort of a conceptual common ground with the Department of City Planning. They generally ignored the argument that permitting residential development in industrial areas would lead to conversion pressure because owners of industrial buildings could generate higher returns with residential tenants. The Department of City Planning made repeatedly clear its belief that manufacturing jobs were not integral to New York’s future, while residential development, of course, was. Now as we struggle through double-digit unemployment in many of the city’s low income neighborhoods, the logic of ignoring our industrial sector seems more questionable.

Two realities have emerged as the city’s rezonings have progressed. First, the amount of affordable housing that has been created as a result of the rezoning of industrial areas is very limited.

Second, the city lost a precious opportunity to maintain several flourishing mixed-use districts.
And while the Bloomberg administration created 16 Industrial Business Zones (IBZs) in 2005, they never received legislative protection, and the industrial development incentives offered by the Department of Small Business Services and other city agencies were paltry, Crean observed.

What about the vacant lots?


I wrote 11/26/07 about an initiative launched by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, in partnership with Picture the Homeless, sponsored a study that concluded that 2228 properties in Manhattan appear to be vacant or have vacancies; 1723 contained built structures, while 505 are empty lots. Those lots could support, under current zoning, nearly 24,000 units.

Stringer recommended a citywide plan to identify vacant properties that are not in tax arrears. A registration and fee program could allow the city to learn the reasons for vacancy and suggest available financing options.

And what happened? Stringer wrote a letter to the New York Times, published 1/30/11:
To the Editor:

“The Bright Side of Blight,” by Diana Lind (Op-Ed, Jan. 25), about vacant lots in Philadelphia, suggests that — with a little imagination — these lots can be used to produce not just vegetables but jobs.

What’s different in New York is that we don’t even have a full accounting of where our vacant lots are, despite legislation now languishing in the City Council that would periodically tally them.

In April 2007, my office released the first-ever survey of Manhattan’s vacant properties, but that leaves us with four boroughs to go.

Let’s pass this legislation and start replacing blight with projects that add to the economic health and well-being of our neighborhoods.

Scott M. Stringer
Manhattan Borough President
New York, Jan. 25, 2011

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