Almost indisputably, the mayoral race this year was a desert of big new ideas for New York City. Be it the lack of a competitive Democratic primary, the billions in budget gaps or the challenger’s preference for blanket criticism over policy prescription, the incumbent and-at the time of this writing-presumptive winner, Michael Bloomberg, was never forced to offer much in the way of innovative policy.
This was particularly true in the realm of the physical city: land use, planning, housing, development. An Oct. 26 speech by Mr. Bloomberg on New York in 2013 focused on implementing his existing initiatives-admittedly no small task. His prepared remarks used the words “continue” or “continuing” nine times. The past two elections, after all, gave rise or significant momentum to such concepts as the High Line and the mayor’s plan for 165,000 units of subsidized housing, among other ideas.
Whether the mayor is completely out of ideas, holding back a long list of new innovations for the post-election period or, more likely, somewhere in between, The Observer queried various planners, advocates and economic development professionals on what City Hall could do in the next four years. The responses reveal no dearth of ideas-from cheap to expensive-should the Bloomberg administration opt to freshen its agenda.
What follows is a rather random list, without any specific order, value judgment or weight on feasibility.
Filling Vacant Land
One first stop could be a study that the administration itself commissioned in its second term that outlined a long list of large undeveloped sites that could be the launching pads for future growth. The 2006 study, by planner Alex Garvin, suggested ideas like decking a platform over the Sunnyside rail yards or the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Cobble Hill, and developing along the Bronx and Harlem River waterfronts.
Similarly, financial crisis or not, some urge the widespread private development of the often-underused vacant land in the city’s Housing Authority projects.
“With existing zoning, you could build on some of those vast empty spaces,” said Hope Cohen, associate director at the Regional Plan Association’s Center for Urban Innovation.
The existing plans for the 172-acre Governors Island-build a $250 million park, thereby attracting development-glaringly reflect the era when they were conceived: when “billions,” “budget” and “surplus” were said in the same breath. A new plan could be needed, and ideas such as removing a restriction on housing development or moving CUNY to the island have been bounced around.
Or perhaps something more radical: Multiple planners suggested moving the United Nations there.
Much of the work that’s come out of the Department of City Planning in the past six years has been a set of rezonings that allow office and apartment towers to sprout in formerly industrial areas (e.g., Williamsburg, the far West Side, Willets Point in Queens).
While many of the obvious candidates have been tackled already, there are a few neighborhoods or sites that are often pointed to as possible next steps. Seward Park, the set of empty Lower East Side lots, slated for major residential development for decades, has been held up repeatedly over political concerns. Hudson Square, the former printing-industry-heavy neighborhood north of Tribeca, was previously floated as a candidate for a big rezoning by Trinity Real Estate, which dominates the area. And there’s the district south of the World Trade Center, Greenwich Street South, which has long been pushed as an area that could blossom with a set of new parks and development should someone just put a deck over the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance ramp (the Downtown Alliance this fall has a campaign urging this).