Modern-Day Robert Moses

021907 article sitdown Modern Day Robert MosesLocation: The downside of a strong real-estate market is that people have been priced out of neighborhoods, old mom-and-pop shops closed. There was even a “Talk of the Town” piece in The New Yorker recently about how New Yorkers believe their city is changing too fast.

Doctoroff: I honestly don’t hear that often. There are certainly concerns about gentrification and rapidly changing communities. As the Mayor says, “If you want to solve the problem of gentrification, you should have crime go up, the schools get worse, the parks get dirtier.”

Gentrification is a natural product of market forces. It does have negative consequences, and the reason that we are spending $7.5 billion on 165,000 units of affordable housing, the reason we are spending $100 million in Queens to put 5,000 units of middle-income housing there, is because we are sensitive to that problem.

Location: Is there any danger that increasing housing costs would create a vicious cycle—because in order for people to live here, they need to earn more, and businesses would have to budget more for higher wages?

Doctoroff: I’ve never seen any evidence that increasing housing costs drives wage inflation. I want to go back to that comment Adam Gopnik had in The New Yorker, because we do look at neighborhoods and how neighborhoods are changing. I believe that that fear is overrated.

Take the Upper West Side. I go up and down Amsterdam, Broadway and Columbus. If you look at those three streets between 72nd and 96th streets, it’s a small fraction of the retail space that’s occupied by national chains. The vast majority retains its local character.

Location: What do you think when people compare you to Robert Moses?

Doctoroff: That is always a little odd. I don’t think that any comparison between the period that Moses was active and today is really that relevant. The biggest difference is the need for community input.

With very few exceptions, we have really made an effort to reach out to local communities and understand their needs. Moses was a believer that it was experts who were able to divine what was best for the community or the city on the whole.

Location: You said there were a few exceptions?

Doctoroff: Those that go through the state process.

Location: Well, what do you think about that? Atlantic Yards, in particular?

Doctoroff: I think in that case there was an enormous level of community input. There were hundreds of meetings and enormous outreach to community leaders. The difference was that it was not submitted to a vote of the City Council. In that case, you had a local Council member who was not in favor. On the other hand, you had the majority of the Council—I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty—that wants it.

The Council shows deference to the local Council member, but it has also demonstrated an ability to see needs of citywide import and to respond accordingly. I don’t think the response would’ve been any different.

Location: What about Hudson Yards? The city and the M.T.A. are preparing bids for the eastern and western yards at the same time. What sort of thing will be built there?

Doctoroff: It’ll be a mixed-use development between two platforms, two railyards; you’ll be looking between 12 and 14 million square feet. It’ll be some mix of residential and commercial and retail, potentially with a hotel. There will be significant connections with the waterfront. There will be at least one cultural institution. Our hope is that we produce something that is maybe New York’s 21st-century Rockefeller Center.

Location: Is that too big a job for one developer?

Doctoroff: Doesn’t have to be one-it can be someone bidding on the eastern rails, someone bidding on the western rails. There are partnerships that bid each of the railyards. The one thing that makes this a little bit different is that the platform itself has to be specifically suited to the development above it.

Location: You seem like you have lots on your plate now. We haven’t even mentioned Ground Zero, Willets Point, downtown Brooklyn proper. Can you name, say, your top two priorities for the next three years?

Doctoroff: I don’t have top priorities. Certainly the development of Ground Zero and downtown and its progress; Hudson Yards would also be on that list. In terms of size, those are the two where the most money is being invested and the importance to the city is clear.

But I literally could go through a list of 25 or 30 others—not just in Manhattan, but in all five boroughs: Willets Point, Long Island, Queens West. The Brooklyn waterfront is enormously important to us. In Jamaica, we are about to certify the largest rezoning in the city’s history. We are creating, I think, what will be one of the greatest harbor districts in the world. The Bronx—there is not a time since the 1920’s, maybe ever, where you’ve seen the kind of infusion in capital that is going into the South Bronx.

So we are literally looking in every corner of the city, in every corner of the economy, and seeking to position the city ideally with other cities around the world.