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Center for Rethinking Development
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Special Issue: October-November 2007

On Thursday, November 1, 2007, the Manhattan Institute hosted Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the keynote speaker of a conference devoted to New York City's future. Having successfully implemented the most extensive rezonings in the city’s history, Mayor Bloomberg laid out how his administration did it: by clearing away regulatory barriers, committing to infrastructure improvements, involving the community in land-use policy, and convincing key city agencies to work together.

Here are some highlights from his talk:

MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG: REZONING NEW YORK
Not only has the ungovernable city become governable again; we've reclaimed our title as the greatest city on earth. Because the truth is that New York City is back—and not just back from the aftermath of 9/11 but from half a century when the city's engine of growth, our population, was essentially stuck in neutral. Today, I'm happy to report, that engine is in high gear. Since 2002, we've gained close to a quarter-million residents in this city, and we expect our population to climb to 9 million by the year 2030. That's great news because the ability to attract people and talent is the single biggest predictor of a city's economic success. A major factor in this renewed growth and our economic recovery is an openness to immigrants.

(©Thomas Vitullo-Martin)

Other indicators of our city's growth are just as strong. For the third consecutive year, we're on course to issue permits for at least 30,000 housing starts. Ten billion dollars in construction is under way within a three-block radius of the World Trade Center site. In fact, our biggest construction problems are problems of success: not enough vacant land, steel, cement, plumbers, carpenters, and ironworkers to meet demand.

By every quality-of-life measure—crime, street cleanliness, park cleanliness and accessibility, school test scores and graduation rates—the city is a more attractive place to live in and invest in than it has been in decades. We may be headed for a national economic slowdown, which certainly would affect New York, but I think that New York City has never been better prepared to weather such a situation than we are right now.

The most important regulations that we zeroed in on were our zoning regulations. We knew that New York could not become a 21st century city if it continued operating under a zoning resolution that was adopted in 1961 and that was obsolete by the year 1975. Decades ago, there was a belief—still around today—that with the right zoning, you could preserve a big share of the city's industrial economy. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. By the early 1970s, we were hemorrhaging blue-collar jobs. By 2002, the city's economy had changed dramatically—but we were penned in by land-use restrictions that no longer made any sense. The waterfront piers were nearly empty, the warehouses were falling down, and the factories had closed, but they still stood there. Even though market forces were pressing for housing in these areas, the city's regulations prohibited it. The 1961 zoning regulation did succeed, however, in meeting one of its major goals: encouraging development at the city's periphery, away from mass transit. This is where the planners, back then, expected the city to grow: Co-op City and Starrett City were seen as the future. But—as is often the case—government is not very adept at predicting the future.

Government was making two big mistakes: it was freezing out development in areas where growth made sense, and sending it to places that didn't have the infrastructure to handle it. We were determined to change this—to unlock the potential of the city's underused land to allow market forces to create mixed-use communities, and to move away from a Manhattan-centric model of the city's economy.

(©Thomas Vitullo-Martin)

But to do this, we couldn't just change the colors on a zoning map. In addition to clearing away regulatory barriers, we also had to clear away a second set of obstacles: physical obstacles. We saw that rezoning had to be coupled with targeted improvements, especially in communities that had long been neglected because private companies are simply not going to invest in those communities unless the city invests in public infrastructure and amenities. That means increasing the capacity of sewers, expanding mass transit, improving streetscapes, and creating new parks and open spaces. These are the public goods that catalyze private development.

Clearing away regulatory barriers and committing to infrastructure investments were the first two big pieces of our land-use and rezoning strategy. But the third big piece was just as important: involving the community in the process and getting all the key city agencies to work together as a team. If we're going to redraw plans for communities, we should recognize that government doesn't always know best, and that the community's voices have to be heard. If we're going to invest in public infrastructure, we had better be sure that we're putting our money in the right places—and that all agencies are working together to get it done on time and on budget.

Autocratic urban planning has the virtue of speed but also leads to arrogant mistakes. When Robert Moses wanted to level a neighborhood, he’d just send in the bulldozers. At least 200,000 people were displaced by his "urban renewal" projects. Whether you think he was right or wrong, that's not the world that we live in any more, and our work shows it. Since 2002, we've taken 78 rezonings through the ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process. We haven't lost a single one of those rezonings—not one.

Reforming regulations, making smart investments and working collaboratively to make it happen: those are the elements that have defined our approach to land use. You can see them all in our recent efforts in Jamaica, Queens. Last month, the City Council approved a rezoning covering almost 370 blocks in this part of southeast Queens—the biggest single rezoning that our administration has done, or will do, and one of the largest in the city's history. The rezoning will set the stage for development of 3 million square feet of new office, retail, and hotel space; 9,500 new jobs; and also 5,200 new homes in a community that is superbly served by mass transit. It will clear Jamaica for takeoff as a thriving business district linked to our busiest regional airport. This is the kind of airport business hub that most of the world’s other great cities have, but we don't. And now we are going to have it.

(©Julia Vitullo-Martin)

Jamaica is not a unique story. Across the city, we've taken the same approach to creating the conditions for major new infusions of private investment. Hudson Yards will be the future location of 100,000 midtown jobs, 14,000 apartments, and over 20 acres of new open space. In Greenpoint-Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, some 2,400 units of new housing are under way, or on the way, in the areas that were rezoned in 2005, with thousands more to come. In Queens, Long Island City is finally beginning to grow into its potential, and so is Flushing. So are downtown Brooklyn and west Chelsea, the home of the High Line.

In each of these neighborhoods, the city didn't merely redraw the zoning regulations: we've invested in the public infrastructure that attracts private capital, and we're making these investments based on a vision that is shaped by the community. In every case, we've encouraged growth in areas that have good links to mass transit—a trend that will become more pronounced in the years ahead.

In line with that vision, within a few weeks, we'll outline a rezoning recommendation for Coney Island that will take full advantage of the wonderfully redesigned and rebuilt Stillwell Avenue subway station there. And similar rezonings are set for areas of the South Bronx, along 125th Street in Harlem, in Queens West, and St. George on Staten Island.

Our PlaNYC vision for creating housing for our growing city projects that 95 percent of that housing will be built within a half-mile of a subway, compared with less than 70 percent of our housing today.

By fundamentally rethinking how we use our land, we've been able to disprove the conventional wisdom that you just can't get big projects done in this city any more. Just look around the city and you'll see big things being built in all five boroughs. Not just two new baseball stadiums, one in the Bronx and one in Queens; not just a new basketball arena and apartment towers in Brooklyn; and not just the historic redevelopment of lower Manhattan. From a distance, they're what would jump out to the casual observer. But if you look more closely, you'll see the fine-grained, block-by-block rezoning of communities across this city.

(©Hope Cohen)

Taken individually, some of them may seem relatively small in scale, and if they've been reported in the news media at all, they've usually been treated as neighborhood stories. But add up those increments and you'll see something dramatic. We've secured approval for the rezoning of nearly 6,000 city blocks. That's nearly one-sixth of the area of New York City—more rezoning has been achieved in the past six years than had been achieved since 1961, under the past six mayors combined.

When you add in the 18 industrial business zones that we've reserved for manufacturing and warehousing employers throughout the five boroughs, the cumulative impact is even greater. The result is that since 2002, we've created the capacity for up to 40 million square feet of new commercial development—approximately the equivalent of downtown Houston—and up to 45,000 new houses and apartments, enough to house about 120,000 people. What's more, by 2009, rezonings initiated by our administration will have cleared the tracks for the creation of tens of thousands more housing units.

Doing the hard work on land use to maximize private investment doesn't have the political appeal of cutting taxes, but it can have a far greater economic impact. That does not mean that we can't do both, which is why we've eliminated the city's sales tax on clothing and shoes, and it's why we're working right now to convince Albany to reduce the S-corporation tax, which would cut taxes for small businesses. You didn't think I was going to finish a speech at the Manhattan Institute without talking about our tax cut agenda, did you?

Whether it's cutting taxes, modernizing the building code, assuming the burden of environmental reviews, or proactively conducting rezonings, we're always working to reduce obstacles that stand in the way of private investment so that New York will continue to grow, continue to change, and continue to lead.

After Mayor Bloomberg's talk, Julia Vitullo-Martin moderated the panel of Amanda Burden, Kenneth Jackson, and Felix Rohatyn. Highlights of their remarks are excerpted below, followed by Hope Cohen's analysis of What's Next.

KENNETH JACKSON, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF HISTORY: A BAKER'S DOZEN EVENTS THAT CHANGED NEW YORK

My list begins with the English capture of New York in 1664, which changed the city's name and direction and created something like a mayor. Next:

  • The adoption of the grid system in 1811. New York's physical character was set when they decided that streets would be 60 feet wide, every 200 feet, and that the avenues would be 800 feet apart.
  • The institution of packet service, regularly scheduled boat service—which is taken for granted today on airplanes and everything else—was a new concept when New Yorkers introduced it.
  • The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which was the most important public works project in American history before the interstate highway program. (©Julia Vitullo-Martin)
  • The opening of the Croton aqueduct in 1842, which gave New York City what is still the greatest water system of any big city in the world—essentially mountain water brought to you by a system of aqueducts and reservoirs.
  • The building of Central Park in the late 1850s, the most important open space in the world, not because it's the largest, most beautiful, or oldest, but because it had the greatest influence on the rest of the nation.
  • The consolidation of the city in 1898—the brainchild of Andrew Haswell Green—when Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx became part of the city. Technically, it's not all exactly 1898, but that's not important.
  • The adoption of the tenement-house law in 1901, which essentially outlawed the dumbbell tenement. Even today when we talk about old-law and new-law tenements, we're talking about the legislation of 1901.
  • The opening of the subway in 1904. Our subway is not as old as London's, Budapest's, or Boston's, but the day it opened it became the most important subway in the world—and the busiest.
  • The adoption of comprehensive zoning in 1916, which had an enormous impact on the city. Mayor Bloomberg just talked about his administration’s changes to the city’s zoning code.
  • The coming to power of Robert Moses, who adapted New York City to the 20th century.
  • The building of Rockefeller Center in the 1920s and early 1930s.
  • The saving of the city through the Municipal Assistance Corporation during the fiscal crisis of 1974 and '75—in which Lew Rudin and our panelist Felix Rohatyn played such a major role and to whom we owe a great debt.

I'd like to take a moment to think about New York's fundamental characteristics. First, diversity began on the first day of New York's settlement. From day one the Dutch were not interested in creating a homogeneous community, but in trading. The Dutch famously heard more than 18 languages being spoken here in the 1630s, when there were fewer than 1,000 people. It was not a homogeneous society, and it still is not. In 2000, New York had 2.9 million foreign-born residents. Even though London claims to be the most diverse city, it has only 2.2 million foreign-born residents—and they count people from Wales and Scotland! And we don't count all those illegal immigrants who are no doubt holed up in Queens and other places.

(©Julia Vitullo-Martin)

Even though Miami has 60 percent foreign-born—which is more than we do—in Miami, Los Angeles, and other cities the foreign-born population comes from one or two places. You can't think of an ethnic group that the Encyclopedia of New York City doesn't have an entry on—even, say, Estonians. There's an Estonian House in New York City.

Tolerance is another fundamental characteristic. There is a tolerance that is forced by the crowdedness and the density of the city, and it's been here from the beginning. The Dutch probably started it by accepting, first of all, Jewish settlers in Amsterdam in the 17th century and earlier. New Amsterdam followed suit in 1654, not just with the Jewish population but with Quakers soon after that. In fact, the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance—a petition requesting religious freedom in New Amsterdam that is seen as a precursor to the Bill of Rights—is coming up later this year.

The third characteristic is density. Except for Hoboken, which is a special case, New York is, and always has been, the most densely settled place in the United States.

New York's most important characteristic, in the context of this morning's discussion, is the ability to change and to face the future with confidence and hope. I mean change in several different respects. First, to welcome new immigrant groups, not just the Dutch, English, French, and others who were first here, but the Italians, Puerto Ricans, Russians, and Asians who have come later. Another reflection of New York’s ability to embrace change can be seen in the tremendous waves of economic changes that have taken place in the city. As Mayor Bloomberg asserted, New York has been completely revolutionized a number of times. As late as the 1950s, New York wasn't just a manufacturing city; it was the most important manufacturing city in the world. It wasn't just a busy harbor; it was the busiest harbor in the world. There were tens of thousands of jobs on the docks in New Jersey, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. They're gone. The manufacturing jobs, 85 percent of them, are gone, and, as Mayor Bloomberg said, those factories and warehouses were still sitting around. And the port is gone, partly because of the rise of the Pacific Rim but mostly because of containers. It's still a major world port, but we're never going to regain the hundreds of thousands of jobs that once belonged to it.

But New York has reinvented itself and changed by accepting a new economic and physical reality. We are seeing before our eyes the reinvention of the city, the rezoning of the city under Commissioner Burden. And it is a revolution. But even now New York is not changing as much as its competitors. Shanghai has changed more in the last ten years than New York has changed in the last hundred.

The real tradition of New York City, its real history, is not expressed in bricks and mortar but in change and acceptance. We are in competition with Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and London to be the greatest city in the world—not with Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, or Charleston to be the place with the most historic structures and the most gracious streets.

AMANDA BURDEN, CHAIR, CITY PLANNING COMMISSION: REZONING FOR A FIVE-BOROUGH ECONOMIC POLICY

The chief focus of the Bloomberg administration has been developing a five-borough economic policy—and rezoning initiatives to reflect that.

In each borough we focused on the business districts to catalyze development so that the entire city could capture our share of the region's growth. To date, we have rezoned 88 neighborhoods—one-sixth of the entire city.

(©Julia Vitullo-Martin)

Our first large rezoning initiative was downtown Brooklyn, which provided a great opportunity for a regional business district. It had fine neighborhoods—Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights—next to lower Manhattan, right across the bridge, just one subway stop away. But nobody wanted to go there. It was not only under-zoned: the streetscape, the whole pedestrian realm, was miserable. It had a terrible street environment, no retail, and on the weekends nobody was there—not the type of place that attracts corporate headquarters. We looked to rezone, not only up-zone, downtown Brooklyn to bring to it a sense of vibrancy, to create a modern business district that has housing and retail.

We always saw transit infrastructure as key—particularly the new transit hub, at Jay Street, which the MTA is building to handle this development. At Willoughby Street, the city is investing, again, in public open space to change the perception of an area and attract private investment. There are 14 new apartment buildings in downtown Brooklyn that are already complete or in construction. There are 56 planned initiatives that have resulted from rezoning coupled with public investment and public open spaces in the context of an urban design master plan. One is already completed and four are in construction around Willoughby Street and 14 around the Livingston-Schermerhorn-State Street corridor.

The other rezoning project is perhaps my favorite: West Chelsea. In 2002, the neighborhood was zoned for manufacturing. Our goal was to rezone and help incentivize residential development. Weaving through this neighborhood was an extraordinary piece of public infrastructure: the abandoned elevated High Line rail road tracks, which run from the meat market all the way up to the Hudson Yards. It's an amazing structure, but the last administration perceived it as a blight upon the neighborhood. Mayor Bloomberg saw it another way—as a defining element that could catalyze private investment and create a new district that had as its armature this incredible piece of public infrastructure that had turned magically into a garden in the sky.

But this elevated rail line was controlled by the federal government, which would not turn it over to the city unless we had the signature of all 38 property owners who owned adjacent land. And these owners were leading the demand for demolition.

(©Hope Cohen)

So, zoning to the rescue. We devised a special High Line district to channel development to the right and left of the High Line to 10th and 11th Avenues, restricting heights until and unless developers on the avenues bought the development rights from the property owners under and adjacent to the High Line. Our rezoning is always done block by block, street by street, lot by lot. We very carefully devised urban design controls to ensure variety of building type and, most important, light and air for the High Line. The rezoning district stretches from 16th Street all the way up to 30th Street. A very important part of this rezoning initiative was to recognize one of the great assets of this area: the city's premiere art gallery district. We kept that area zoned as manufacturing in order to preserve the art gallery district. Ultimately, all the property owners signed onto the plan and we were able to obtain the High Line from the federal government.

Coupled with our rezoning is always investment in public open space. The city is investing over $100 million to create the High Line Park. This is going to be one of the most unusual and magnificent parks in the country, if not the world. It will provide an image of the city you will see from no other vantage point.

What's next? The Bloomberg administration has only 791 days to go, and we are working hard to get as much accomplished as possible. In public review now is rezoning for 125th Street, Harlem's main street. Rezoning will catalyze the development of 125th into a great regional business district because, again, you have great transit infrastructure. And it’s a fabulous place that can build on Harlem's heritage, arts, culture, and entertainment. We are also focused on the South Bronx, particularly the 161st Street corridor, which runs from Third Avenue to Yankee Stadium. It's a fantastic place for civic, commercial, and residential development. The lower Concourse has fantastic loft buildings and access to the waterfront. Our rezoning will catalyze the construction of over 3,000 housing units.

Very soon the mayor will be announcing a comprehensive plan to save Coney Island, the iconic amusement park. Coney Island represents one of the most democratic and populist places on earth, and it is beloved by the entire world. This strategy will save the amusements, it will catalyze investment in a new park, which will be year-round, and couple that with retail and housing as well.

One of the most complex and important projects that this administration will undertake, in partnership with the state of New York and the railroads, is the transformation of Penn Station and the Farley Post Office building into a magnificent transit hub. Our goal is to make it a great civic place that will aid the westward expansion of midtown and serve as a gateway to the Hudson Yards.

In sum, over the next two years we will touch virtually every neighborhood of the city, ensuring that New York City [stays] a healthy, livable, sustainable, and competitive city over the next century.

FELIX ROHATYN, SENIOR ADVISOR TO LEHMAN BROTHERS: NEW YORK AS A WORLD CITY

A reporter from Business Week asked me yesterday if I was aware that MAC [the Municipal Assistance Corporation] had tendered whatever legal document was necessary [before it could] announce that it was going out of business next year under the rules set by the law that created MAC. I hadn't paid much attention to when and how MAC would go out of business, but I was thrilled—because it meant that not only had we been successful in borrowing a lot of money, but that we were also successful in paying it all back, which is really the purpose of a vehicle like MAC.

(©Julia Vitullo-Martin)

You cannot say enough about those who, in 1975, were involved in this exercise, beginning with Governor Hugh Carey, and then Mayor Ed Koch, Victor Gotbaum, the bank presidents, and, ultimately, President Jerry Ford. President Ford did come through, but only after the president of France, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, and the chancellor of Germany told him that it would be madness to let the city of New York go bankrupt.

I'm a refugee who came to New York in 1942. I was born in Vienna. My family lived in France, we went to North Africa, then to South America, and finally we came here.

When Governor Carey asked me to become chairman of MAC in May 1975, I didn't have a clue about municipal finance or know anything about the politics of New York City. I asked for advice from a friend, Bob Strauss, who was then the head of the Democratic Party. He said, "Oh Felix, you should do this. It'll take you a couple of weeks and you'll meet some very interesting people and you'll have a great time." So I said yes to the governor. About three years later I was getting very tired of being chairman of MAC and all the work involved. I ran into Bob Strauss in a restaurant in Paris and said, "How could you do this to me? You told me two weeks. It's been three years and I'm not finished." He said, "Rohatyn, saving New York City is like making love to a gorilla. You don't stop when you're tired. You stop when he's tired."

New York never got tired. But it's been a fabulous experience, and we learned things about how to deal with a crisis like New York City's. Step number one is to have a great political leader because without that, nothing can be done. Governor Carey was such a political leader: a man of humor, intelligence, and great breadth. And the other thing that he had was a working relationship with the leading Republican in the New York State Senate, Warren Anderson, so we had bipartisan leadership. We had business-labor cooperation because Victor Gotbaum and Walter Wriston, much to everybody's surprise, got along very well, cooperating with each other and recognizing that they had common interests. In this case, the common interest was the survival of the city of New York.

(©Julia Vitullo-Martin)

I never made an ultimatum during these negotiations. Instead, I always said, "Here are our options and here is what I think, but it is up to you to decide. It's your pension funds, it's your city." Finally, we were able to get it done and get the president of the United States to sign onto the plan. Without the plan, the city would have gone bankrupt and the state as well, which no one really paid much attention to at that time. Mike Bloomberg is another great political leader, partly because he's hugely smart and courageous, but also because he has brought into his administration talented people, such as Amanda Burden and Dan Doctoroff. When I came back to New York from Paris soon after 9/11, I never thought that the city would recover so quickly. I thought, "My God, this is going to take years because the morale of the city will be shot and people are going to leave."

But Mike Bloomberg came along and brought the city back with his spirit, his brains, and his vision. Today, the city is clearly number one in terms of the financial capital that's being created here, even though we have competition from places such as London, Shanghai, and, soon, Beijing.

We are the luxury capital of the world. There isn't a single luxury store or brand or anything that is not on Fifth Avenue. Not that it's very economical, but it is a big business and it identifies the city. We are the leaders in gastronomy—people don't pay much attention to that, and I probably won't be allowed back in France—but New York is the greatest restaurant city in the world. We should be the language capital of the world in terms of education because we are the language capital of the world in terms of the number of people who speak different languages. I think that our universities should make more of an effort to make the city the intellectual language capital of the world, because business all over the world will require enormous support in teaching their executives different languages.

What more can I say about New York? It's the best, it's the biggest, it's the loudest, it's the city that really lives 24 hours a day. If only we could get a good sports team, my happiness would be complete.

HOPE COHEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RETHINKING DEVELOPMENT: WHAT'S NEXT

(©Hope Cohen) New York City will not let America's most famous beachfront playground die. In his "Thinking Big for New York City" address, Mayor Bloomberg discussed how rezoning combined with investment in important public infrastructure like mass transit can catalyze smart and sustainable private sector development. Getting specific, he went on to say that "in keeping with this vision, within a few weeks, we'll outline a rezoning recommendation for Coney Island that will take full advantage of the wonderfully redesigned and rebuilt Stillwell Avenue subway station there." A few minutes later, City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden also hinted at the imminent release of "a comprehensive plan to save the beloved and iconic amusement park." Sure enough, a week later the mayor announced a proposal that builds on the Coney Island Development Corporation's strategic plan of 2005.

The historic core of the Coney Island amusement area—from West 24th Street to West 8th Street along the boardwalk, and inland as far as Mermaid Avenue for some blocks and Surf Avenue (classic Coney’s main street) for most others—is zoned C7. Because the C7 designation, which covers only this stretch and one block of the Bronx’s Co-op City, the site of the short-lived Freedomland amusement park, precludes residential (and most types of commercial) development, Coney Island was left to its fate as an entertainment district in decline. Much of the land became vacant, with the highest and best use seemingly school-bus parking. The amusement district is now contained within the blocks between Stillwell Avenue (West 14th Street) and the landmarked Cyclone rollercoaster (West 8th Street), and even that area is shut down and abandoned out of season. On one recent clear, bright Sunday, it whistled like a ghost town.

(©Hope Cohen)

Arguably, bringing back a rundown urban amusement park is the most difficult economic development task there is. The administration's proposal aims to preserve the heart of the unique amusement district in perpetuity by remapping it as city parkland. Rather than resorting to the blunt instrument of eminent domain, the city has decided to encourage property owners to leave the amusement area by compensating them with land just west of Keyspan Park, the minor-league baseball field at the center of the current C7 zone. This land is currently mapped as parkland and occupied by the concessioned Abe Stark indoor ice skating rink and acres of parking that serves both the rink and the ballpark. The Bloomberg plan would de-map this nominal parkland (from West 19th to West 20th Street; from the boardwalk to Surf Avenue) and create in its place a mixed commercial and residential zone. As part of the rezoning concept, the city would allow mixed-use development on former C7 land surrounding the newly designated city parkland extending as far west as West 22nd Street and occupying the area north of Surf Avenue, from Stillwell to West 20th. The plan also includes an entertainment-intensive commercial zone, adjacent to the proposed amusement park district, that would extend to the elevated track that curves just north of Surf Avenue.

The proposed zoning framework makes good sense. But can it be implemented before Mayor Bloomberg's second and final term expires? Thor Equities, the major landowner in the proposed amusement district, has for years been lobbying to have its property rezoned to allow full-time residences and time-shares. Joseph J. Sitt, Thor's principal, who would like the chance to make Coney Island once again an entertainment center, seems likely to oppose the city’s plans throughout the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Even dicier politically than that ULURP is "alienating" (demapping) existing parkland— even if it does consist of acres of asphalt parking lot and a concrete skating-rink building. Such a change requires not only city land-use and environmental review but approval by the state legislature. The city administration's aggressive deadline for completion of all these actions is the summer of 2009, only months before it leaves office. Given the usual delays in such processes, it is entirely possible that Sitt will still be sitting on his amusement-park designated C7 land when a new mayor, perhaps more amenable to Thor's plans, takes office.

(©Hope Cohen)

And what of the amusement park? According to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, replacing the current jumble of independent ride operators and vendors would be an operator "who has real world-class experience in developing a one-of-a-kind, completely unique [attraction] that pays homage to the history of Coney Island." In the mayor's own words, the city seeks "a dynamic developer and manager to whom the city would lease the amusement area." The names Disney and Six Flags come to mind immediately—and strike fear in the hearts of old-time Coney-goers, who dread the homogenization of a cherished and historic part of the city.

Rezoning followed by redevelopment plans by one or two large, RFP-winning developers has been the norm the past few years. But if Coney Island is a unique urban specimen, perhaps the model used for Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, etc., is not the one to follow here.

Coney Island has remarkable assets: spectacular beaches, a world-famous boardwalk, and service by multiple subway lines that terminate at the magnificently refurbished (and environmentally friendly) terminal mentioned by the mayor. With these advantages, Coney Island shouldn't require the massive intervention of a single, richly capitalized developer. Thirty years ago, neighboring Brighton Beach also suffered from decline; now, after a generation of Russian immigration and activity and investment, its businesses are thriving, its housing is restored, its streets and boardwalk packed with people, thanks largely to the efforts of hundreds of small business and thousands of individuals. With sensible zoning in place, that energy and entrepreneurship could flow half a mile up the beach to next-door Coney Island, where a polyglot park of attractions offered by Russian-, Syrian-, Latino-, and African-Americans would add up to a truly New York City experience, and grab the brass ring of urban rebirth.

 

October-November 2007
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NYT City Room: Time for Some Jane Jacobs Revisionism?
Are City Housing Projects Really for Sale?
Curbed.com: That Was Fast: The "Degentrification" of Red Hook
Curbed.com: Yardsmania
Atlantic Yards Report: State Secret? ESDC Stonewalls on Arena Setbacks
Built Environment Blog: Not So Superblock
StreetsBlog: Groups Dispute Quinnipiac Poll Findings on Congestion Pricing
StreetsBlog: 30 Firms Submit Proposals for NYC's Congestion Pricing System
Wonkster: The (Insert Numeral Here) Point Congestion Plan
StreetsBlog: Push for Congestion Pricing Spurs Parking Reform
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CONEY ISLAND LINKS
Bloomberg Administration Proposal for Coney Island
Coney Island Development Corporation
Coney Island History Project
Coney Island USA
Astroland Amusement Park
A Coney Island Fantasy
City Wrestles Sitt for Coney Island Control
Gowanus Lounge: Bloomberg, Doctoroff & Burden Drop Coney Island Bomb: Sitt Out of Amusement District
Curbed.com: Coney Details: Amusements in Middle, Tall on Edges
Kinetic Carnival: Abruptly Canceled CIDC Public Meet Fumes Recchia and Kruger
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Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York
 
“You can divide American cities into black-white cities and immigrant cities. Most of the American cities that are doing well today—Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, New York, and Washington—are cities that are attracting large numbers of immigrants. New Orleans before Katrina had virtually no immigrants—just a few from Vietnam. But many more Mexicans were going to Chicago than to New Orleans—just one indication of why New Orleans was in the tank long before the hurricane hit. Other cities—such as Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis—are not attracting their fair share of immigrants. I don't think it's too much to say that absent the changes in immigration law in 1965, the New York renaissance of our own time would be hard to imagine. It's really the immigrants who have revitalized the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. New York has always had a large out-migration of people. What makes New York different from other cities is that the people who move to the suburbs—and then to Florida or California—are replaced by other people, who are usually immigrants.”
Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences, Columbia University
 
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Amanda Burden, Chair, City Planning Commission
 
“We are constantly competing with countries that are able to undercut us in practically every capacity except our ability to think our way through things and to have the right customers. But this price and cost competition is an everyday thing in service businesses. Also, you're dealing with countries that are producing capital, so if the Chinese are producing every year a trillion dollars in additional reserves and they're taking some of their banks public, it's quite normal that they would say, "If we're going to be bringing these to the market, we would like our own institutions to do that." Sooner or later there will have to be global arrangements with respect to how these things are handled.”
Felix Rohatyn, Advisor to Lehman Brothers
 
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