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This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community- Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.

May is Labor History Month, and given the current economic climate and the national push toward a sustainability agenda, the talk of the town is creating jobs in the sustainability industry.  A New York Times article last year described the national attraction to these “green jobs”: “Labor unions view these new jobs as replacements for positions lost to overseas manufacturing and outsourcing. Urban groups view training in green jobs as a route out of poverty. And environmentalists say they are crucial to combating climate change.”

Last year, Bronx environmental organizations Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) and Green Worker Cooperatives released a plan for an Eco-Industrial Park at Oak Point. This plan explores the feasibility of developing a $36 million dollar eco-industrial park on an approximately 28-acre, waterfront brownfield site in Hunts Point, in the South Bronx. The site is located in the western corner of the Oak Point rail yard next to Bruckner Boulevard, across the river from Rikers Island.
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Mayor Bloomberg released his sustainability agenda, PlaNYC 2030, two years ago this week.  The assumption driving the PlaNYC initiative was that New York City’s population would grow by one million people by the year 2030.  In the booming economy of 2007, this projection of constant growth seemed reasonable, and visual evidence in the form of new housing development sprung up on nearly every corner.

However, much has changed since 2007.  The foreclosure crisis has hit the city (particularly the outer boroughs), and continuing Wall Street layoffs are wreaking havoc on the city’s tax base.  Construction seems to have come to a near-complete halt, and newly-completed housing sits empty.  Current conditions beg the question, will New York City continue to grow after all?

The Department of City Planning took on this question recently with The Population of New York City: Looking Toward the Future. (This link is the PDF version; for a slideshow with audio click here).  This report outlines population trends in the city over the last 30 years, and concludes that the city’s population will continue to grow despite the recession:

“there is an underlying dynamic that drives New York City’s population, where hundred of thousands of people come and go each decade. Young people and immigrants continue to energize New York, fueling the city’s labor force, creating and frequenting its businesses, and sustaining its neighborhoods.

Recent history shows us that this dynamic changes slowly and is not significantly affected by short-term fluctuations in the economy. In the face of the steep economic decline of the 1970s, or the attacks of September 11, 2001, the underlying momentum in the city’s population has persisted. Even in the face of the current economic downturn, the city’s population dynamic is again likely to persist, and the next wave of newcomers and their children will continue to propel the city’s population upward.”

In November of last year, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer held a conference at Columbia Univeristy called “The Politics of Food: A Conference on New York’s Next Policy Challenge.”  This month, Stringer’s office followed up on that conference with a report, Food in the Public Interest (PDF).  In addition to addressing hunger, the availability of healthy food in schools, and the need for nutrition education, the report also has many implications for planning.

Among his recommendations dealing specifically with planning issues are:

  • Explore options to discourage the number of unhealthy fast food options in certain areas by eliminating their eligibility for certain funding, placing a cap on the number of outlets, and restricting the development by new fast food establishments.
  • Identify land in the five boroughs and in the foodshed (an area surrounding NYC where food is produced) that can be used for agriculture, including suitable public properties (e.g. right of ways, easements, parks), private land (e.g. rooftops, backyard gardens), and underused land. Create policies to streamline the process for agricultural land use that benefits the public.
  • Promote local agriculture in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh foods through new farmers markets, food cooperatives, CSA’s and local building clubs, as well as community gardens in parks, schools, NYCHA, and other city-owned land.
  • Designate “food enterprise zones” in areas that the Department of City Planning has identified as “food deserts” for their lack of healthy food retailers.
  • Explore new land use and zoning incentives for developers who include food markets in new developments, such as a floor area bonus or exemption for projects which contribute to healthy food outlets.
  • Explore revisions to City and State Environmental Quality Review (CEQR and SEQR, respectively) standards that would require studying the potential impact that development proposals and other discretionary actions may have on the food system.

Check out a full summary of the report here.

Also of note, tonight is Stringer’s State of the Borough Address.

Yesterday, the Department of City Planning proposed a new zoning text amendment that will require indoor, secure, long-term bicycle parking in new multi-family residential, commercial, and community facility construction.

With commuter cycling on the rise in the City, this new amendment seeks to support current riders and encourage new ones, while decreasing congestion and air pollution. The DCP website outlines the details, including the fact that these bike parking areas would not count toward a building’s floor area.

ULURP for this proposal will begin with review by all community boards starting November 17.

Photo of indoor bike parking at a Portland, Oregon office building by Mark Stosberg on Flickr.

Last night’s Obama win is truly a victory for community organizing. As he mentioned in his victory speech, his win can be traced, at least in part, to grassroots organizing tactics. Our congratulations go out to all the volunteers who worked tirelessly on his campaign.

Under an Obama administration, community-based planners and other city advocates have much to gain. His urban policy shows that our President-elect truly cares about creating and maintaining livable, sustainable cities. Here are a few highlights:

  • Obama has pledged to fully fund the community development block grant program. Recipients of CDBGs “must develop and follow a detailed plan that provides for and encourages citizen participation.” In New York City, CDBG funds are used to create affordable housing; provide public services such as day care and senior centers; fund improvements to local businesses; and support many other initiatives, from local arts projects to community gardens.
  • Obama is dedicated to improving infrastructure, but with sustainability in mind. His policy states: “Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.”
  • Obama understands that planning and health are inextricably linked. The policy says: “How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks – has a huge impact on the health of its residents.” In 2007, he introduced the Healthy Places Act, which would, among other mandates, create “an interagency working group to discuss environmental health concerns, particularly concerns disproportionately affecting disadvantaged populations,” and require the Director of the Centers for Disease control to create, “guidance for the assessment of potential health effects of land use, housing, and transportation policy and plans.”

What do you think Obama’s urban policy priorities should be in his first 100 days?

Something we missed while on vacation last week: Transportation Alternatives issued a report titled Suburbanizing the City: How New York City Parking Requirements Lead to More Driving (PDF). According to this document, New York City zoning regulations mandating parking at new residential developments will increase auto ownership rates and add over 1 billion annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 2030.

To accompany the report, a coalition of local civic organizations, including Task Force member groups the Municipal Art Society, the Pratt Center for Community Development, and the Regional Plan Association, among others, sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg urging the administration to undertake the following reforms:

1. Fully assess the amount of existing and planned off-street parking.
2. Consider measures to significantly reduce required parking.
3. Revise environmental laws so that parking impacts are fully accounted for.
4. Freeze special permits and stop directly subsidizing new parking.

We recommend checking out the report, as well as Streetsblog’s ongoing analysis: (The Parking Cure, Step 1: Diagnose the Problem; and The Parking Cure, Part 2: Do the Right Tests).

News from our Task Force member organization Pratt Center for Community Development:

“We are very excited to announce that the Pratt Center and Neighborhood Housing Services of NYC (NHS) have joined forces as the coordinators of New York Energy $martSM Communities Program for Brooklyn and Queens. NHS and Pratt will be working together to develop partnerships and projects to reduce NYC’s energy use, particularly in low- and moderate-income housing and neighborhoods. NHS is NYC’s largest homeownership counseling organization: their partnership will be critically important.”

The latest information on Pratt Center’s Energy Matters webpage covers financing solar power in New York City.

In the Inbox, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn asks that you contact Albany to support New York City’s recently-passed plastic bag recycling law:

“Earlier this year, the Council, together with Mayor Bloomberg, passed the New York City Plastic Carryout Bag Recycling Law (Local Law 1 of 2008), requiring stores across the City to establish in-store recycling programs for plastic bags and film plastic, such as plastic wrap, dry cleaning bags and newspaper bags. The law, which officially went into effect on July 23rd, applies to stores that use plastic bags and occupy 5,000 or more square feet or have more than five branches operating in New York City.

Despite all the hard work that went into making this law a reality, last month the State Legislature quietly passed a statewide plastic bag recycling bill that, if signed by Governor Paterson, would eliminate the City’s program and replace it with a far weaker one dictated by Albany. For example, the State’s bill would significantly reduce the number of stores in New York City required to recycle plastic bags. The State’s bill also only applies to carryout bags (and not film plastic) and would do away with the City’s ability to enforce any bag recycling law or ensure that businesses are in compliance…. I am hoping you will join us in calling on Albany to take the necessary steps to ensure that the City’s plastic bag recycling law remains in full effect. Please contact the state representatives below and urge them to modify the State’s bill to allow the City’s more robust plastic bag recycling program to continue:”

(Contact info after the jump):

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The Infrastructure Task Force (ITF) of the New York City Council and the Council’s Environmental Protection Committe will jointly hold a Public Forum on the subject of on the benefits and challenges of clean distributed energy sources, such as solar photovoltaics, in the New York City context. The hearing has been convened by Council Members Daniel Garodnick, Letitia James, and James Gennaro.

The public is invited to attend the forum to hear industry leaders and experts address this important subject, and provide substantive testimony on what the city can do to establish itself as a national leader in clean energy adoption.

When: Thursday July 31, 2008, 9:30am-1:00pm
Where: Hunter College, West Building (southwest corner of Lexington Avenue and East 68th Street), 8th Floor Faculty Dining Room

City Room reports today on an audit by Comptroller William C. Thompson’s office, which cites the Department of Sanitation for “disorganization and mismanagement” in its program for cleaning up vacant lots.

The Lot Cleaning Division is charged with cutting weeds and removing debris and large items. However, the audit found, “‘inadequate internal controls’ by the department in identifying lots for cleaning, processing complaints and work orders and managing the clean-ups.” As writer Sewell Chan put it, these lots, “remain significant eyesores in low-income neighborhoods,” and “are dumping grounds for discarded food, trash, construction debris, lumber, appliances and even vehicles.”

So what can communities do to counteract this problem? In Philadelphia, which has had a major vacant property problem, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 vacant lots downtown in 2006 according to Philadelphia Weekly, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green program has created a manual, Reclaiming Vacant Lots: a Philadelphia Green Guide. This manual is geared toward city agencies, community-based organizations and block associations, and outlines a basic “clean & green” approach to managing vacant land, including clearing debris, planting grass and trees and installing fences. It also provides information on settling ownership issues, developing a site plan, and creating a long-term maintenance strategy. Check it out!

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