Oculus - Winter 2011/2012 - (Page 22)
Rezoning NYC: The Ultimate Challenge
With anticipated population growth come the issues of affordable housing and proximity to transit
BY J O H N GEN DA LL
n 1961, 19-year-old Robert Zimmerman drove from his parents’ house in Minnesota to New York City, where he would become Bob Dylan. Just weeks before, New York City had passed its most recent Zoning Resolution. The Dylan journey highlights what a different place the city was then. As Dylan would later sing, things have changed. Fifty years later, septuagenarian Dylan is firmly ensconced in music history, doing the county fair circuit. The city, too, has undergone its own metamorphosis, and zoning is at last catching up, creating a tighter fit among transportation, economic engines, and the expansion of social equity. The journey also highlights a tension in the Zoning Resolution now brewing for 50 years. On arriving in New York, Dylan would pen the lyrics to “Hard Times in New York Town,” which say, “If you got a lot o’ money you can make yourself merry / If you only got a nickel it’s the Staten Island Ferry.” Some things don’t change. It’s one thing to create transit hubs and another to ensure affordability. The great challenge of rezoning the city since 1961 has been to merge these two objectives within the same geography.
Let’s do something new
“The 1961 Zoning Resolution grew out of several impulses,” explains Jerold Kayden, professor of urban planning and design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “One was to create a zoning envelope that would accommodate a new style of building being demanded both by Modernist architects and business. Another was to clean up what had become an unwieldy document. And another came from the post-World War II spirit – let’s do something new.” But he also points out one of a multitude of changes incorporated into the document: “Inclusionary housing did not exist in 1961.” That zoning did recognize proximity to transit. “The 1961 Zoning Resolution was, in many ways, transit-oriented development,” observes Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, founding partner of Curtis + Ginsberg Architects. “When they zoned, they had denser requirements near transit hubs.” The waterfront, by and large, was zoned for manufacturing and low-density residential districts. Malleable by definition, the resolution has always undergone revision to accommodate specific circumstances and adjust priorities. Today, as city officials and urban planners consider the future of zoning, the document is poised to become a 21stcentury blueprint for a more sustainable, equitable city. To accommodate the city’s anticipated population growth (to more than 9 million by 2030), the laws of basic geometry dictate that the city’s density, somewhere, must increase. This aim becomes all the more challenging when affordability is part of the
22 Oculus Winter 2011
equation. The immediate solution would seem to be to ramp up density in existing residential areas, but New York, it turns out, is often victim to the condition that New Yorkers like to dismiss as exclusively suburban: NIMBYism. “When you have neighborhoods adjacent to subways that are built out, they typically do not look kindly to upzoning,” says Ginsberg. “We often hear in the planning process that members of the community would like to see parks and open space and a few nice restaurants near the transit, but they don’t want to see high- or even medium-density housing because schools are already crowded,” explains Mark Strauss, FAIA, a senior partner at FXFOWLE. “We’re not really a city that’s in love with density,” says Jerilyn Perine, executive director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council. In 2002, during her tenure as commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, she authored Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, the country’s most ambitious – and, at $3 billion for 65,000 units over five years, most well-funded – housing program. The plan was expanded in 2004 by then-HPD Commissioner Shaun Donovan, Hon. AIANY, to 165,000 units over 10 years. “It’s part of our cultural identity, but no one says, ‘Can I have a supertall building near me?’ You always get a lot of pushback from increasing density.” She cites Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn as an example. “Is there a subway line that doesn’t go through Atlantic Yards?” she says. “But being a transit hub doesn’t seem to be an antidote to the resistance around increasing density. A lot of the controversy around Atlantic Yards boils down to people thinking the buildings are too big.”
The next logical frontier would be the former industrial sites that often line the waterfront edges. In 1961, industrial and manufacturing activity still dominated the waterfront. Today’s largely post-industrial water edges have proven easy to develop to high density in conjunction with bicycle lanes and green space. “This is one of the longest waterfronts of any city in the world,” says Donna Walcavage, FASLA, the director of planning and design at AECOM, “and the Department of City Planning (DCP) is taking its 520 miles of varied shore as an opportunity to redefine it as a place.” The catch, though, according to Ginsberg, is that “most sites where the city has rezoned for residential have been in underutilized manufacturing zones, and these areas don’t have great transportation options.” City officials, however, point to Hudson Yards, Greenpoint-Williamsburg, and DUMBO as successful implementations of waterfront development well connected to transit.
Up, Down, and Sideways
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2011/2012
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
From NIMBY to YIMBY
Complete Streets: If Only Mumford Had Lived to See This
Regional Transit: The Next Generation
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2011/2012
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