New York City faces rising sea levels, increasing inequality and growth, and broken infrastructure. In that context, said Council Member Brad Lander at a recent CityLimits discussion, the city needs a comprehensive approach to planning. It makes little sense to continue with the current piece-meal process.
“The main reason we are going to continue doing it the way we have been doing it, is there’s a significant status quo bias,” he added.
This year a Charter Revision is underway. A commission is developing a set of revisions to the City Charter that will go before voters in November. Tomorrow evening, the Commission is holding a public meeting where they will vote on which proposals advance to the final recommendations.
One area under review is land use. The Thriving Communities Coalition has used this opportunity to call for a city-wide, comprehensive approach to planning that puts equity at the center. The coalition’s principles include a “fair distribution of resources and development”, “transparency and accountability”, and “real community power and ownership.”
Elena Conte of the Pratt Center, one of the coalition members, explained on the WBAI Max & Murphy Show what’s wrong with the current system.
“Right now we’re both failing to meet the needs of existing residents and we’re failing to plan holistically for the growth that is anticipated, the climate change that is already happening. It’s as though the right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing when it comes to planning and policy. And the folks who are bearing the biggest brunt of that are communities of color because of the long legacy of unmet needs and racist planning decisions that have left them with baseline conditions that are so inappropriate for a baseline standard of living.”
At a Charter Revision hearing back in March, members of the coalition and Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who also backs its goals, were the last to testify. They followed a series of testimonies that argued for things to stay as they are. “A lot of the case being made [so far] is so uninspired,” said Reynoso. “Yet we as a city are anything but that.”
“There has to be a better way…This is not how we should be planning in our city. It shouldn’t happen one step at a time, one council member at a time, we should have a thoughtful process, and truly believe that we can plan as a city.”
The commission’s staff recommendations so far have landed half-way between status quo and the changes the coalition is calling for (see pages 41-56 of the staff report).
They refer to the 12 separate kinds of existing plans – like the City Strategic Policy Statement, Ten-Year Capital Strategy, and Citywide Statement of Needs – which currently operate in a disconnected way, and could potentially be connected into a comprehensive plan for the city.
The question remains whether the Commission will put deep reforms that really address inequity in the planning process to the public in November.