Oculus - Fall 2013 - (Page 18)

Op-Ed Retaking the Lead in Urban Reform B Y A L E X A N DE R G A RVIN , H O N . A IA ew York City used to be a cauldron of urban innovation, proposing new ideas to improve the city and actually implementing them. The city initiated tenement regulation, public housing, comprehensive zoning, and city-owned and -managed public parks – and the nation followed suit. Today, with the exception of public parks, we are no longer in the forefront of urban reform. When a new idea is proposed, we are told we can’t afford it, or that it will not survive public participation, environmental review, or landmark requirements. So New Yorkers repeat the latest rage – initiated elsewhere – whether it be sustainable, contextual, cutting-edge, or participatory design. It used to be easy to bring new ideas to fruition in New York because development costs were similar to those throughout the country, and perhaps even lower. Now we are one of the most expensive places in which to build. Getting projects approved used to be no different here than in the rest of the country. Now, New York City has requirements and procedures more torturous than in most cities in the United States. In New York, the brick-and-mortar cost of housing construction is double the cost of similar structures in Chicago. As a result, housing is incredibly expensive. Young talent eager to move to NYC cannot afford to settle here, immigrant families have to crowd into a few small rooms, and native New Yorkers remain glued to their rent-stabilized apartments or relocate to the suburbs. We spend more than $8,000 per capita on our $70-billion city government. I’ll never understand how that can be translated into “there is no money for anything.” But since it is generally accepted that there is no money, the government is unwilling to experiment with new concepts or daring projects. We used to be eager to try new ideas; we weren’t afraid of failing or spending money on them, and we found ways to make them successful. We can still do that today if we unshackle architects, planners, developers, and government agencies by appropriating enough money to design innovative projects and eliminating the obsolete rules that restrict creativity. N The next mayor can do that by: • Restoring the City Planning Commission’s pre-1975 role in drafting an annual capital budget and five-year Capital Improvement Program. • Instructing the City Planning Commission to prepare a list of items it could not finance (given budgetary constraints), estimate their cost, evaluate the additional private investments these projects would induce, and prioritize those investments. • Directing the Department of Transportation to propose alternative methods of providing a one-seat rail or subway ride to LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. • Requesting the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to propose a plan that would bring the Long Island Railroad into the PATH Terminal. • Initiating a study that would propose city action to make the costs of constructing and operating apartment buildings in NYC equal to costs in Chicago. • Instructing the City Planning Commission to propose changes to reduce the text of the Zoning Resolution to 200 pages, excluding zoning maps. • Creating a small staff to propose elimination of out-of-date, onerous, and expensive regulations. The staff should be given six months to propose cutting the number of city regulations in half. • Directing the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to consolidate all tax-exemption and abatement programs into a single law that would apply throughout the city to any property with an assessed value that was below a threshold number for high-priced property. Alexander Garvin, Hon. AIA, has combined a career in urban planning and real estate with teaching, architecture, and public service. He is currently president and CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategists, adjunct professor of Urban Planning and Management at Yale University, president of the Forum for Urban Design, and author of The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities. 18 Oculus Fall 2013 Politics = Architecture

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2013

Letter from the President
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: The City More Beautiful
Affordable Housing in 2013: Communities, Not Containers
Riverfront Redesigned
The Future of Prefab
From Ports to Parks: New York’s Waterfront Wager
East River Magic
Shoring Up for the Future
FAR ROC Rocks!
Yard Work
In Print
132-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Fall 2013