March 1, 2017
To Keep Manhattan Amazing - And Affordable - Community Buy-in on Development is Key
By Gale Brewer
Manhattan is an amazing place – a global capital of arts, culture, media, finance, and diplomacy, but also a patchwork quilt of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own history and character. Having all of that on a dense, 20-square mile island means that kids who grow up here and people who move here can be a part of amazing things.
But it also means nothing if, over time, Manhattan is only a playground for the ultra-rich. We’re starting to grow accustomed to the sight of towers full of huge ultra-luxury apartments that aren’t even lived in year-round.
Here’s the tightrope we need to walk: We must protect our affordable housing stock and build more housing, but we need to do that without destroying what makes our neighborhoods special or cramming too many people onto our streets and subways.
There’s no silver bullet – simple solutions are usually neither simple nor a solution. And the State government’s failure to close loopholes and fix flaws in rent regulation has made our job much harder. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan should help – requiring that affordable housing be built into residential developments that benefit from up-zonings, or certain special permits.
When it comes to new development, I believe strongly in something called pre-planning – the idea that major neighborhood rezoning plans should be the result of a collaborative process that brings together all the parties with a stake in a community. When you get residents, businesses, developers, planning experts, and elected officials around a table to agree on what a community needs in advance, and then file a plan and go into a formal review, you can get both a better end result and a smoother, more predictable process.
We took this approach with the plan to revitalize “Midtown East” – the area around Grand Central Station – with new, modern office space and investments in transit and landmarks. And now, similar processes are underway in East Harlem and Washington Heights/Inwood. By doing the heavy lifting in advance, covering an entire area, we can ensure specific benefits to the public good – while allowing new development to occur more quickly.
Manhattan is a place everyone wants to be, and for good reason – but keeping it that way means we need to invest in the future and plan for it carefully and collaboratively. Otherwise, we might just lose what makes Manhattan so special in the first place
Gale Brewer is Manhattan’s Borough President.
Photo Credit: hobvias sudoneighm