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Sorkin on urban planning and social equity: involve communities, devote municipal funds for affordable housing

In an open letter to Mayor de Blasio published in Architectural Record, architect and critic Michael Sorkin writes Bridge Over Troubled Waters: It's time for New York and other cities to connect urban planning to social equity.

He writes:
Perhaps the most disingenuous remark of the campaign was Mayor Bloomberg's comment that our obscene income gap was the product not of a rise in poverty but of a wave of immigrant billionaires, and the more the better... we've been too long governed by a theory that has trickle-down as its normative center...

Bloomberg's massive rezoning—his biggest planning move—is a form of urban stop and frisk falling disproportionately on minorities. According to the Furman Center at New York University, under the new regulations “up-zoned lots tended to be located in census tracts with a higher proportion of nonwhite residents than the median tract in the city. Down-zoned lots, on the other hand, were more likely to be located in tracts with a higher share of non-Hispanic white residents than the city median, and contextual-only rezoned lots were located in areas with still higher shares of non-Hispanic white residents.”

...While Bloomberg has done many worthy things—for the environment, for transportation, for parks—his signature will indelibly be a vision of the luxurious center, Hudson Yards mixed-use development in the West Midtown area of Manhattan or the “Billionaires Row” rising around 57th Street, where sky-high condos are selling for $50 million a pop. It is not a vision of our complex, often struggling fringe.
Bringing communities back

Sorkin writes:
It's time to reintroduce communities into the planning process. New York must move beyond the oppositional model of planning that has too long dominated, best exemplified by our beloved Manichean struggle between cardboard versions of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Although there is no contradiction in planning both inductively and deductively, our process is too skewed toward money and away from people...
Let the de Blasio planning department pay better attention...our planners should produce more facts, more designs—and should set priorities that are both concrete and truly visionary.
This means displacing zoning as the primary instrument of planning... For the past dozen years, the real power to plan has resided with the city's Economic Development Corporation, which, operating more like a private entity than a city agency, stands outside full scrutiny and control and acts as the mayor's creature...
Building affordable housing

Sorkin writes:
Mayor de Blasio, your idea of a mandate for inclusionary zoning begins to address this crisis yet continues to depend on the tender mercies of private developers to actually produce the units. If you are going to tax them, why not collect the money, municipalize the program, and make gorgeous, genuinely affordable housing your greatest legacy, building it where it's most needed? We can do it! In the parlous interwar years in Vienna, that little metropolis constructed apartments for almost a quarter-million working-class people, housing them in some of the finest architecture of all time. 
That, in America, is a tall order.

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