The working-class neighborhoods of New York do not need a long-term comprehensive plan to solve their housing problem. They need strategic plans focused on housing. Perhaps as many as fifty-nine. Why? Every problem is a housing problem.

There is a slight chance of sustaining existing affordable housing and building a lot more to meet the need, but not without a strategic outlook. There is one big reason, organizers must be encouraged to think and act more tactically. Those served will be displaced if they don’t.


Think of the purpose of castling in chess for a moment. It is a function of timing and real estate. There is not one city that does not have wealth contained in urban centers. The non-wealthy will be found in informal settlements and favelas of various sizes from these centers outward. By 2030, of the six-plus billion people on the earth, about two billion will live in informal settlements throughout the world. Several locations in the world have become the subject of studies (here). The global displacement force of real estate capital is well known to economists. It is not easily controlled, but governments can negotiate for positive effects and mitigate negative impacts. Ideas like rent control and stabilization, fair market returns, inclusion, and regular public housing are well known.  All of them are imperfect, but families are saved, their children have a chance to prosper in secure neighborhoods. It is the institutionalization of these locations that should cause concern.

“The demonizing rhetoric of the various international wars on terrorism, drugs, and crime is so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion.” 

Mike Davis in Planet of Slums


The fear of ordinary working-class people is being removed from their homes.  Data on housing displacement is difficult because it tends to be post-trauma. The measure is the percentage of individuals and families who have been receiving assistance from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS)

Tenant’s rights agencies cannot organize with long-term success while families struggle to maintain their dignity, privacy, and jobs.  

In Manhattan (NYC), high rents began moving like a wave into Harlem and are now crashing into Inwood. These areas of Manhattan have a high percentage of rent-stabilized apartments. Displacement does not “just happen.” It is a long battle, and it will not go away.

The strategic investment would be best in organizers to help people understand what is happening and help families protect themselves, their kids, and their neighborhood.  One hundred and twenty-five highly trained community organizers (planners with law degrees) are required to connect every community district with the city’s housing development policy with a primary focus on preventing displacement.  Why?  Because every problem is a housing problem.  The anti-displacement strategy would place two people in each community district and have five or six citywide coordinating staff.  The cost for this deployment of personnel is about $8 million a year for five years. 

Is there $40,000,000 million out there for a project to protect the people?  According to Forbes, there are over 100 billionaires in the Greater New York Area.  That is just $400,000 from only a hundred of them.  So, yeah, the money is there.  If this was an actual proposal with legs, the facilitating leverage in public funds would be available, as would support from CBDOs and the District Board offices. An ombudsperson proposal could happen. It will not happen because this is the following view of the housing market by people with the power to keep it this way.  Watch twice. I’m serious, twice.

OK, So Now What?

First, have a look at housing as a market that sells square feet. Getting a piece of New York City comes at different prices for a variety of places.  Here are some rough 2015 averages.  To own a bit of Manhattan, you will need to pay $3,400 per sq. ft. on Central Park South.  An 8 by 10-foot closet would cost you $300,000 (furnished, of course). In Inwood, the average cost to get some of that real estate is $430 per sq. ft.  Simple question: where would you buy low to sell dear? The same problem is in the outer boroughs with locational differences across New York City’s 325 reasonably distinct neighborhoods and 59 Community Districts. The acquisition cost ranges from $200 to $2,000 per square foot.

Remember the two main points in that video?  One of them is on the mark, create conditions to produce lots and lots of housing. The first point is you can make housing affordable by any means necessary.  But first, it must exist to do so.  The second point is a cop-out, a dodge, and a side step. The government can create a community-owned housing market, and it can control all the margins of development and operation.  It can do much more than subsidize market failures. 

The architectural design of a castle, like the chess move, is strategic.  It protects the kings on the board and their real estate.  The action literally puts a chess piece named “the castle” into a position of greater power. However, it is illustrated here for its fun, not the proof, just a worn metaphor to drop into your subconscious.

The idea is that Manhattan with its (1) easily fortified entrances, (2) moat-like rivers (3) and bridges, (4) various wards and internal parks, (5) its many towers. (6) a few prisons, perhaps a donjon, (7) various chapels, and last but not least (8) entertainment sustained in multiple museums, galleries, and theaters. In the eyes of a much older group of world civilizations, nations, and cultures, capturing a piece of Manhattan must undoubtedly have great appeal. It appears as a citadel to the world.  It holds fortunes equal to the enormity of its ever-increasing mass, a bastion fortifying cash and personhood with its many offerings.

It could be possible to see those distinct neighborhoods or community districts like little castles in the city’s landscape.  There could be a sense of boundary defined by entrances, a tower here and there, some justice adjudication centers, social wards, parks,  chapels, entertainment. It is possible to see a democratic process to support a leadership group willing to represent a place with a boundary.

A lot of bad things happen in the world.  One of the worst of them is when the king fails to protect the people.  Manhattan is not the enemy, nor is it an enemy of the people. Nevertheless, the working people of New York have every right to fight the global real estate force it represents. They have a right to do so with everything they can think of to protect themselves. People also want the many protections of a fortress. Being cast into the wilderness is one thing to fight. If the city does not serve this protection function, perhaps seeing a neighborhood more like a castle is the strategy required.  

Build Your Castle

The citywide examples of defense against displacement are not doing well. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law that requires a percentage of all new housing units will be maintained as permanently affordable is reasonable. Still, hey, “The Rent is Too Damn High.” Why? The private market-rate housing market drives the process. The process requires big, tall buildings that seem to pop up wherever there used to be regular working-class jobs.  It now represents a failure in distributing income from work to in-kind-redistribution systems such as means-tested vouchers. These are failures. The government could be a competitive producer of housing.

The law uses NYC’s zoning power to trade additional square feet for a few affordable apartments at rents many neighborhood residents consider extortion.  When the City Council passed the law (2016), the members were euphoric. However, when introduced to the 59 Community Boards who function as advisors to the Department of City Planning, fifty-two disapproved. It was called a massive giveaway to real estate developers bypassing local zoning rules. Leadership acquiesced with statements like, “only game in town,” but too few said a “bad bargain is worse than no bargain.” Far fewer stepped forward to build the progressive coalition of labor and CBDOs needed. The reasons for this are many. 

First, the inclusion program occurs because the national government is weak on housing for people in cities. The lack of a federal role in resolving the national housing issue was solidified in one persuasive economist viewpoint. There is plenty of affordable housing in the United States. It just happens that it is in the wrong place.

Second, the “wrong places” happen to be dense urban cities.  The economist’s equilibrium argument (forced displacement for many) is that people will find it eventually. The lack of reinvestment in federally financed public housing has led to disrepair. It is used to thwart discussion of a new national public housing program.   What else could be used to create a stronghold neighborhood?


Type the word exaction into the search engine NYU Furman Center to reveal just one 2010 research paper with the following tags: Employment; Affordable & Subsidized HousingLand UseZoningNeighborhood ConditionsEconomic Development

The report is entitled, Community Benefits Agreements: A New Local Government Tool or Another Variation on the Exactions Theme? (PDF: 164 KB) The basics are all here in the CBA paper. I recommend reading and questioning the content. One other resource is the larger world of economic argument in the nation. Here: The Economic Implications of Housing Supply by Ed Glaeser and Joe Gyourko Zell/Lurie z Working Paper#802 craft of January 4, 2017. It has more recent data. There is no doubt regarding the accuracy of these examinations. They describe the trouble we are in and remain bereft of little more than Woulda Coulda Shoulda (psych). Why? They are the explainers, not strategists for the pawns displaced. Read them for the language, use that narrative to find actions on the street to support their philosophy. It might work. The style needed for successful strategic resistance to the status quo to establish leverage for exactions, not reasons for “a benefit.”

Strategic Exactions

An exaction is a concept in US real property law well-known to New York housing advocates.  A set of conditions for development is imposed by the city’s power to zone and its regulatory agencies to scrutinize and evaluate.  Examples are its departments of buildings, finance, and environment.  Other conditions include knowing the effect of a specific development project on citywide or local needs.

The purpose of itemizing existing conditions in a community is to determine what to provide during periods of relatively rapid change periods.  What specific material goods and services are needed to alleviate anticipated impacts. This can range from fear to employment assistance and public education on rights and needs. The community’s rights could be protected with legal services help (evictions, capital improvement investigations, health, and welfare safety nets). The community’s needs can be identified and defined in planning partnerships.  Each partnership would be established to meet those needs with a combination of resources drawn from the proposed development conditions and all those that continue to remain unmet in specific, measurable terms.   

What should be expected in the strategically organized community?  It is a highly accurate evaluation of what and who we are and how to change what needs to be changed.  These are rightfully organized as long-term issues. To make them precise, well defined, and renewable, they must be dealt with daily, annually, and carefully measured. There are many practical examples.  Groups of young people by age can become the number kept thriving and healthy. The number who enter higher education with dreams or just good pay trade can be known.  Failures are confirmed, success is celebrated.  Interventions to act on goals are implemented and tested, but not by some abstract agency.  Community-based organizations know it is not about the rent. It is about the work.  They are paid to develop responsible action for their community. They are willing to be accountable for results, no matter what they are, and without blame for one primary reason.  It is incredibly complicated.

The rationale for imposing the exaction in the short term is to offset the costs, defined broadly in economic terms, of the neighborhood’s development.  However, exactions can also be established as long-term impact fees.  Direct payments to local governments can also be paid for negotiated periods and included with the stated development conditions. 

Planning Together: Part VII

One Take…Subcommittee on Capital Budget  and Committee on Land Use 

The underlying theme in the February 23, 2021 hearing on the proposed legislation examined one point.  Where and how can long-term planning fit into the city’s policies regarding the budget, land use, and zoning? Best comment heard… if the city could fix the digital divide first, you might get your ducks in a row to cross that pond.

The Department of City Planning’s (DCP) special districts and zoning customizations have developed into a finely honed contractual practice that resists the legislative exercise.  The 2019 Charter Revision produced a symptom of this problem but not a cure for its cause. There is a legislative desire to do more.

The 2019 Charter was asked to incorporate long-term planning but would not take it up, the DCP did not want to do it, and so the City Council facing all the heat from their constituents, decided to develop a concept that would give them something to work with at the grassroots.

Councilmembers are always responding to or looking for capital investment opportunities. Much of it occurs outside of the zoning process, and rightfully so.  The difficulty of attracting investors’ confidence from within the community is a fundamental problem further exacerbated when a rezoning is announced at the behest of what appears to be (and in many cases are) major outside investors.

The city’s capital and expense budget will not support an expansive community engagement process designed to sustain the community-based power only to be politically advisory.  Politically the city will not go any further than to accept the community’s counseling. The Mayor’s negotiating control of the budget as approved through 2021 suggests the opportunity for balance in the short term, but it has produced a long list of serious fiscal challenges through 2025, (overview from IBO is here and from the CBC here).

The Takeaway

  1. The cash and justice question with the capital budget has the code name “equity.” As a nation, we have failed, but we have not fallen. The DCP has developed many relationships with the city’s agencies such as HPD and Health and citywide nonprofits with data to define issues and develop consensus where it is achieved. The DCP points to specific citywide topics.
    • The implementation of “Where We Live”  under the heading of a plan for “fair housing” is the example to follow.  Districts cannot speak with one voice, but on issues, a plan can get consensus accomplished.
    • DCP’s contribution to the Food Metrics Reporting (pdf here) as an issue affecting the city’s quality of life with a focus on food security since 2009 is another example to follow.
  2. The writers of the legislation did not reach out or conduct any pre-plan planning.
    •  If they had, they would have realized a strong sense of need, but not the social infrastructure or skilled resources required to succeed.  The legislation is top-down by default.
    • Expense budget cuts to Community Boards do not recognize the LTCP as a priority, and all agencies are affected “across the board” through FY 2024/5
  3. City Councilmembers do the official budget “ask” in response to community capital budget needs. Many entered politics as leaders on Community Boards but,
    • They feel separated from the process, but are they? They see poor agency coordination in their districts and CBs, and want back in to help with that and be more responsive to their constituents.
    • The Ten-Year Capital Strategy has goals and strategies in the front of “the book” and per agency funding in the back, and the connections between them are weak.  The budget office says it will release a new strategy in April that may look better.
  4. NYC  has a robust report production regime. 
    1. Legislation by the City Council should determine which of them add value and when that value is achieved and discard the function if no value occurs. That is the legislation needed.
    1. The implication is there is no reason to read or seriously work through the reports. For example, the fair housing plan has a laundry list of accomplishments, but they are not measured against something as simple as defining the problem.  For example, 1,000 homeless families in permanent housing (yea!), but measured against what and when?  Such terms should all be measured annually by FY and by place.

Other Observations

Complex information such as injecting racial equity into the process cannot be presented in a complicated way. A citywide education campaign helpful to all parties on this generational question is needed, what we all need to do about it from year-to-year, decade-to-decade. The “where we live” plan is a document full of facts that may be accurate. Nevertheless, a mechanism is not presented for understanding if any progress is being made against the problems the city is facing in housing affordability.

The word piecemeal was used a lot, and it can mean “step by step,” which is how DCP sees it or “in pieces” as the way Councilmembers and residents feel it.  Tooth and nail, lot-by-lot, 197a plans have value, and they are educational for writers, researchers, and participants.  Apparently, the DCP cannot meet residents halfway or at all. No one seems to be getting at the why other than it will cost too much.  The slipperiness of 59 cities with budgets to enforce co-terminality and resist change appears to DCP like disorderly and unpredictable fragmentation, a true Balkanization.  

There are CBs that are far stronger than the lower-income districts.  The (SoHo/NoHo) report is an example. — it is transit-rich and needs a push into affordability and fair-housing, job retention, and so on. Communities do not speak with one voice, but you can get them to focus on single issues and agree to terms project-by-project in places such as SoHo/NoHo.

The ULURP process has only turned down one application in Brooklyn.  What was that one, and why? Was it the Brooklyn Heights Association and a bevy of lawyers? The community can be at the center of the process, and the LTCP as an idea could help, but not this legislation if the testimony is the measure. It offers little hope of balanced growth citywide, notwithstanding that capitalism still runs NYC. It requires imbalances to function. 

The LTCP suggests a GEIS for the city would suffice, but DCP sees the city as far too complex to be stuffed into it with too many litigation opportunities. The DCPs own the manual sees comprehensive plans as a good candidate for a GEIS on projects such as the Hudson Yards, but not the entire city.   

The government knows what to do. It is the how that is difficult.  It is challenging to build new and preserved affordable rental housing and prevent displacement in private markets. It is hard to sustain long-term investments that eliminate the concentration of poverty, expand rental assistance, and establish permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable.

I am predicting this legislation will get twenty-six votes just because that is how pissed some Councilmembers sound. It will pass with amendments that require more resources for district residents, local nonprofits, and Community Boards. Section 20 of the New York City Charter will be given a chance at a life with a creep-along budget.  Amendments could set the clock back to 2024, perhaps 2025. 


Step Three — Amendments

In this space and the hundreds of other blogs that might be read on this issue. What are they talking about, and how do they stand on this issue.

The proof that communication has been successful when aimed at anyone is if there has been a persuasion to act. I was persuaded to write up my impressions. Corrections with added perceptions are requested, cross-linked, from ANHD, CHPC, MAS. the OBP, PN member of the university elite in planning and the Grizzly in the room, the REBNY regarding changes to the law.

Strategic Plans

I have already invested in a few strategies that might offer the quality of change in community-based development.

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Planning Together – Part VI

Political people, perhaps more than many others, live in a dichotomous world.  They run for office, care about issues, and have a political ideology. They are required to express instinctive and emotional thoughts. Still, when it comes to making decisions, we expect them to be more deliberative and logical. They are ordinary people, and we are all subject to these two needs of behavior. The objective is to define the dichotomy. Do we trust in their emotion and their science?  Is there a gap between them or a chasm?  Remember this exercise on the Flushing zoning change is using the Long Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) to see how it might work. The implementation schedule is roughly the same period. Flushing zoning will get changed, but will it be in a good way or a bad way?



Are the announcements made in the Planning Together legislation deliberately understated? Somewhat ambiguous language is used to describe an administrative mess. The descriptions of the problems may not fit the complete definition of doublespeak, but it is close. One aspect remains. It implies but avoids saying the confusion is the fault of Department City Planning and the City Planning Commission’s decisions. Enter the New York City Council’s one and only hearing on February 23, 2021.

“I reminded [the soldiers] and their families that the war in Iraq is really about peace.”

President George W. Bush, April 2003 classic doublespeak

The Department of City Planning and “the community” relationship has never been worse and continues to deteriorate. The two parties, “the community” and the DCP, have severe communication vs. actions-taken gap. The question is who is available and what skills are needed to define its size and seriousness?

The effort to remove the participation of ordinary people is continuous, as it is too expensive. The people tend not to be well informed but resist change for the sake of it. It is difficult for administrative leaders to get their heads around the difference between political representation and ordinary citizen concern. Here is a story of a time when the Bloomberg administration (2008) wanted to remove Community Boards from the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). See the story here.

The community, especially residents with a high percentage of low- and moderate-income, is fully immersed in averting loss of a home, income to rent, or just the quality of their neighborhood experience. Here, the judgment is quick and decisive.  On the other hand, the Department of City Planning is framing what they see can be produced based on the tools and options available for action. That description fits in the nutshell that everyone can hold as true, at least somewhat.

The recruitment of a few influential social scientists, psychologists, and cultural anthropologists is needed to help in this situation. (know any – seven degrees?) Urban planners recognize severe gaps but need recommendations on how to close them in a language that ordinary people, organizations, and agencies can use. Psychologists can prove a loss is more significant than the equivalent or probabilistic offer of benefit. What planners need to know now and with some urgency is whether implementing a long-term comprehensive plan in a ten-year process in February 2022 will provide relief or make things worse?

New York City is a place stuffed with progressive community planners and professionals who routinely challenge the megaplans of big developers and global investors. The appropriate response has been to outline demands for exactions, benefits agreement, and related considerations.  Confirmation bias is a good thing in many ways. Critical conditions in the City’s development improve for some but worsen for many. It does not look good. The remedies are weak, transparency is flawed if not opaque. The old cries of “the people united….” “hell no,” and my favorite “BOHICA” for bend over here it comes again have not been enough. Two old things are needed in a new way.

The Legislation

The proposed law is a multidisciplinary approach to research and decision-making. It fails to build in the resources for that approach. There is a need to get a communications psychology of the law obvious reduction of participation into the token Sherry Arnstein described in 1969 (here)

A look at the quality of the law’s inception is needed from the original idea to the legislation’s flawed structure.  There are twenty-five changes to the City Charter in one bill. Does that seem like a lot, so how many changes would it take to trigger a Charter Commission hearing? Is there a law?  So you get the drift. Halfway up the ladder is failing us all.

All of that is null now. The real first step is where this analysis began. There is the dichotomous nature of the elected officials involved. I do not believe anyone can get emotional about a 10-year planning cycle, which means the technical, deliberative question is important.

“Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

So who wants to dig into the following and get into the “what-ups,” “who’s whos,” and where votes are for “out of committee and on to passage?” If it does get out of committee in its current disagreeable form, where might the rest of the City Council be on the issue? The list of City Council decision-makers that may or may not like to amend or mess with the LTCP and commit to a significant upgrade in the funding for the OLTOS is below.

Step One: Get on a Constituents List

If you do not already know, use the City Council’s Map Widget and pick your geography as a constituent. Organizations can make positions known. It is equally important to make one personally in the district of your residence (or work). New races and the rush for campaign matching dollars have begun. Communication supporting an organization as well as a personal statement of a constituent is appropriate.

The Committee on Government etc. is the other hearing participant. I don’t know why the Finance Committee list (below) was made here. Did they bow out? I think Finance was part of it initially; maybe they don’t want to answer, “how much is going to cost? I’m working on it, but with absolutely zero interest in tracking down the relevant/nonrelevant City Council politics. Still, if a political scientist out there can take a Machiavellian look, it would be advantageous.  Because why?

Reason One: Two-Year Terms!

Council members are elected every four years, except for two consecutive two-year terms every twenty years, to redistrict between the terms. This is due to the national census (starting in 2021 and 2023 for the 2020 Census)

Reason Two: Ranked Choice

The primaries will use ranked-choice voting for the first time as approved by a ballot question in 2019. Whoever wins gets two years, twice if re-elected. Four-year terms will resume in the 2025 election.  Wow, so if the person in the second spot can remain relevant in Flushing, it could significantly impact the re-election try.  Here is the ‘why’ for that “wow.”

Scenario One: Pocket Books

Sandra Ung will win (promising jobs), and John Choe will lose (promising justice).  A pocketbook win on the coattails of the post-pandemic recovery is a good bet.  Suppose the capital for developing the project has not evaporated post BOA. In that case, a ULURP app will show up during her first term (or sooner) because they will be projecting a second term and four years in 2025, essentially to the end of the decade. Bang, the people have spoken. Developers have leverage.

Scenario Two: The Benjamins

John Choe could win (promising jobs with justice) Sandra Ung could lose (proven corrupt while promising jobs). Not knowing either person, it becomes an identity politics race, friendliest face, smile, and all-around charisma. Proof of corruption by association is a tough one, unlikely from a progressive candidate, and Ung’s endorsements (here) are the type that brings the votes to the booth.

Accepting Scenario One is prudent. Therefore, activate a plan that argues for an equitable solution to the project’s callous greed and avarice. And, it works with a Scenario Two miracle.  Also, six other people have filed, so a wild-card is added to the thrill of ranked-choice voting.  

The ULURP and the LTCP

The image below is a lesson in rapid change and the vast amount of global capital seeking refuge in a democracy while driving a Lexus to sit under an olive tree and argue with zombies. (Sorry, that was uncalled for and rude, well so is the image, I guess, but I would say ULURP is the Owl and LTCP is the seasick pussycat.

I call your attention to the Zoning Application Portal. The data provided is solely for informational purposes. The City makes no representation regarding the accuracy of the information or its suitability for any purpose. But, you have to love our democracy. First, for the reasonable evidence of ongoing capital development throughout NYC, but it gets better.  Second, the public is asked to help DCP be aware of data errors using the “Report Data Issue” button on each project page.

The LTCP changes to the Charter alter the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Every change is oddly obscure, but all of it is aimed at a new agency. Section 20 of the New York Cty Charter establishes The Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. This office’s role and responsibility are extensive and do not at this time have more than two staff members. It replaces PLAN2030.

Committee on Land Use

The Committee on Land Use has jurisdiction over New York City’s land use and landmarks review process and the City Planning Commission, Department of City Planning, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings, and Dispositions The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings, and Dispositions reviews and makes recommendations on New York City’s designations of property as landmarks or historic districts, as well as decisions to site public facilities and decisions regarding the use of maritime facilities such as piers.

  1. Kevin Riley (Chair)
  2. Peter Koo 20
  3. I. Daneek Miller
  4. Inez Barron
  5. Mark Treyger

Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises reviews and makes recommendations on modifications to New York City zoning regulations, changes in zoning districts, applications for sidewalk cafes, and resolutions authorizing the City to make franchise agreements.

  1. Francisco Moya (Chair)
  2. Carlina Rivera
  3. Diana Ayala
  4. Barry Grodenchik
  5. Stephen T. Levin
  6. Antonio Reynoso
  7. Joseph C. Borelli

Committee on Finance

The Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over New York City’s Banking Commission, Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Independent Budget Office, and Office of the Comptroller and reviewing and modifying the City Budget and municipal fiscal policy revenue from any additional sources.

Subcommittee on Capital Budget / Finance

Step Two — February 23 Hearing

In this space and the hundreds of other blogs that might be read on this issue. What are they, where are they? Will it be worth it to update the committee membership and track this legislation?

The proof that communication has been successful when aimed at anyone is if there has been a persuasion to act. I was persuaded to write up my impressions at the link above. Corrections with added perceptions are requested, cross-linked on any insight possible regarding the lame-duck City Council

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Planning Together: Part V

The Wicked Problem Plan

Financial crises, health care, hunger, income disparity, obesity, poverty, terrorism, and sustainability are examples of wicked problems further complicated by climate change, biodiversity loss, persistent poverty, and food insecurity.  The difficulty is knowing how everything happens all at once and why everything is connected to everything else.  Wicked, right?  Maybe not, with a wicked problem plan for knowing how and why all you need a where. I pick Flushing.


Flushing, Queens

The planning process for dealing with wicked problems would simultaneously initiate three interdisciplinary actions. Evaluate community business visions, examine technical capabilities, and conduct a comprehensive assessment of community/user needs. If there is a match, you have a plan.

If the geographic units for a constant data flow are clearly established (even as a sketch), it may be possible to fully understand the interdependencies and relationships that reasonably account for billions of interactions. It begins by getting everything to the East of College Point Blvd. to focus on everything west of it with a vested interest. It provides the grist of a plan. The interest could range from open space access to job retention to affordable housing. It is easy to get resistance to change. In this case, the fight is to get a piece of the action. Beware of the work to produce a CBA. Unregulated agreements between local, influential actors and developers are at the core of the problem.

The Flushing Creek environment as it stands now has astounding contradictions. The UHaul is readily available to move displaced families while the Assi Food and Households Goods Market is closed. The vitality of the UHaul appears to stay, while the market is to be replaced with housing and the unpromised possibility of retention within a new complex.

Permissible data points and technology sets the restraints for the capture and distribution of all the business interests. Gathering these interests determines the full effect of the standing Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) as it attempts to alter the current zoning envelope.  These points can also be drawn out for data on a building-by-building basis on a vast set of variables. Of them all, what are the most relevant (see map below).

Another Brief but Interesting Digression

One other vital element too often forgotten is technology demands a continuous ability for experimental thinking. In other words, the process needs art. (See: Galileo). For example, if given an unchanged boundary and the prospect of extensive high-density locations, is it possible for a city’s total floor area to be unlimited and still retain a viable open space ratio? If the answer is an essential no or yes, would a rising sea matter?

Back to the Wicked Problem Plan

Extending access to information beyond a library or a laboratory to enrich life requires confidence in integrative disciplines. The tools needed to accomplish robust interdisciplinary methods must first discover the knowledge in people. In this case, the people of Flushing. The meaning of data can be found in a person. Small specialized groups can deal with the world’s wicked problems at the local scale. They are strengthened further with rapid communication systems. Where are they? Who are they? Do not ask. They support a wealth of joint actions and, most notably, a shared understanding of the effort involved. The grist for a plan becomes known, the people is a “less so” and a “it depends.”

Urban forms are intentional operations that entangle all life. Human responsibility has moved from its single-center (the human in nature) to the duality of multiple centers numbering in billions of known interactions. The new centers are the ones from which gigantic numbers of small groups move toward and away simultaneously.  These two forces circle indefinite urbanized structures and their constructions. One force moves to a center (a dot on a map, for example), and another is accelerating outward and away – from wilderness to farm to lanai garden. This human force never recognizes the species made extinct to produce a sweet pear for consumption on a high-rise balcony. The centers are unfixed, always incomplete, yet capable of continuously producing observable results of continuous replacement.

OK, OK, put it this way, the data set has been prepared. It awaits your use. The dots (centroids for GIS nerds) on this map represent place-based data. It can be enriched enormously for the empowerment of the people of Flushing. The data is tabla rasa, and it awaits purpose. Who will use it? Who knows how to use it? Find them, and you have a plan. Is there an MYSQL and ArcGIS person available?

Observation of a meaningless or harmless intervention is now impossible.  Everything changes once an event is observed.  The big difference today is everything in urban development is intentional.  For example, we experience design most often in various symbolic and visual communications.  One of the more relevant communication documents relevant to this examination is the Generic Environmental Impact Statement that reviews many aspects of state and local EIS processes. (see pdf here). The context of a document such as this stands available for comparisons and critiques of impact.

Any course of action involving the manipulation and management of natural resources may result in altered conditions. The Flushing waterway, from natural estuary a half millennia in the past to the use of waterways for industrial use a century ago, to the attempt at naturalization in the future, can be construed as having adverse effects.

All action agendas have conflicting results. Thus, the mitigation argument demands an accommodation to what planners and developers know about the stewardship of natural resources that includes human life quality. There is no bounded rationale insurance.

We are surrounded by material objects that are products of a design process. Unfortunately, a few products end up as discarded material. A recent article on the Gowanus Canal and Flushing Creek by the Architectural League (here) exposes the issue of what development actually costs. Here is a quote from that article.

Parklands hold the measure of decades of leaded gasoline in their soil. Bodies of water (the Hudson River, Bronx River, Flushing Creek, Coney Island Creek, to name a few) receive and harbor sewage and legacy contaminants. Industries on a rising waterfront risk release of what are called “fugitive chemicals” with every storm. 

Mariana Mogilevich • May 26, 2021

We engage work and life through various activities expected of us using a long list of organized services. Each is designed to respond to complex systems and environments for living in a city made for play, work, and learning. So the question for a planner serving a community that feels and senses a threat, the best way to get really close to it is to smell and taste the cash it breaths.

A Wicked Plan is Better than a Comprehensive Plan

What is required is a double repositioning of the design problems associated with wicked problem planning in gaining participants within an interdisciplinary forum. The comprehensive plan idea pretends to mash them together, but it does not. The first presumption of planners and participants is that people will move into action based on information.  The opposite tends to be true far more often. People will likely engage in a recent analytical report based on their independent actions, leading to the empirical knowledge they can explain to others. Activity helps make additional information more absorbable, used, and understood as applicable to a current situation. In the day you are in now. The required steps are to move from the familiar and expected to new experiences leading to new data acceptance.  The data is always there, always waiting for reasons that will bring it to use. Once established, reciprocity is formed in the learning experience between residents and agents of change.

Part VI – Planning Together (Is it Doublespeak?) or back to Index

Planning Together: Part IV

bird s eye photography of high rise buildings


A Story of Megadevelopment Impact

Zoning is used to protect people. Today it exists to help residents oppose change. Something is wrong. It is a metaphor for our times. Here is a story from way back in the olden days– say the 1940s and 50s. Change for the worse has begun.

Council legislation seeks “long-term” planning. (LTCP) Neighborhoods need strategic planning

A decade before WWII, an immigrant family came to the city and turned a small business idea into a large successful business within two generations. Family investors acquired equity in a few land purchases and expanded business locations.  The effort ensued with hardship and sacrifice, but investors continued to over the decades to build a community. Then big outside investors began to see the community as safe for investment and ready for displacement.

Small family groups like this began in places such as the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It continues in neighborhoods such as Flushing in Queens today. The same dreams continue to live — acquire capital and invest in expanding local businesses. A bakery factory is envisioned. A storage warehouse and a site for the assembly of human-power-assist vehicles are planned.  The vehicles will be designed by brilliant industrial design engineers, the grandchildren of veterans in the Flushing family who served in the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. These plans are done quietly and without much fanfare in the ordinary course of business growth and investment located in an area west of College Point Blvd.

Unknown to this community, investors associated with the New York Real Estate Board meet with the Department of City Planning (DCP) Director. They present several projects coming onto the table for negotiation, and they provide an advisory on pre-planning projects coming off the shelf. The total investment is estimated in 2017 dollars is $250 to $400 billion.  The Director is pleased. As sensitive property acquisitions are ongoing, independent calls to the affected community’s business groups and political officials were not advised. At that moment, the dreams and traditions of small local investors are attacked. While considering billions in financial concessions, The DCP, the agency responsible for the city’s land use and community development, became a contributor to durable inequality policies in New York City. 

Why does zoning exist to help residents oppose change?  Huge residential investors (REITs) can legally combine with large but ordinary local real estate investment groups. They can hire planners and architects to look for opportunities in older, mostly industrial urban areas. In many ways, they appear on the scene like marvels of certainty. In other ways, it is a valid symbol of a tragic time when the availability of overwhelming capital can quietly blame residents for opportunity hoarding, referring to those who had been quietly investing in the community since WWII.  (See story on another angle of the subject (here).

Zoning has become the battleground of sides. It offers a binary choice of capital in vast amounts or the perception of comparative nothing. It threatens decades of ordinary neighborhood transformation. It produces well-known t-shirts such as “Blight Me” and “Develop, Don’t Destroy.” Although most development occurs within a set of existing (albeit complex) as of right rules, zoning is now used for various reasons, and perhaps too many. From the basics of land use planning to forecast municipal finance or its use to help with preservation, it has a history of racially motivated exclusion, and more recently, funding affordable housing inclusion.   (see Manhattanville) In other words, it is not pro-growth vs. anti-small growth. The zoning situation has become New York City’s wicked problem (wiki).

A Brief Digression

This view of problems has a fascinating history and following. When Richard Buchanan (Case Western) connected design thinking to wicked problems, the impact created a substantial change in problem-solving from definition-to-solution into a condition-change assessment. Read his paper (a pdf is here). The questions surrounding community design draw from planning, architecture, and engineering as creators of a physical realm. However, changes in community conditions occur in the overlap of these professions with the psychology of a place.

In today’s community development practice, we see two separate forces that believe they are correct. Both are at odds on how and why investment functions. It is wicked because the two parties are unaware of the other; thereby, they are without data: their values, outlook, economics, and culture conflict. Points of intervention are possible but difficult to imagine. The uncertainty poses the creativity possible in ambiguity, but the ships have already passed in the night. Finally, the forces of resistance often lead to their repression. Whether imposed or internalized, the impact of repression alters mental health conditions. It is far too easily ignored, but the results of stress, anxiety, and depression have proven harmful to the individual and have a community impact.   

The Carbon Neutral Strategy

Calculating carbon footprints is still in its infancy. Still, the standard calculation today is based on an estimate of $400 per ton of emissions.  If you are Bill Gates, you more than double it to make another point.  He recognizes the Green Premium cost and is quite willing to say he can easily afford to pay it. He is not sure about the rest of us, so he suggests we ask and decide what we can do as individuals. 

Policymakers can take on only so many problems at once. Getting on that “only so many” list will require concerted political action. A regional support strategy will help local organizers get on that list. For example, it could alter or stop an environmentally suspect development project in Flushing Queens.  Drawing encouragement from regional to citywide to neighborhood organizations willing to focus resources on one example can be used to push climate change to the top of that list. 

Political leaders need to sense concerted political action from their constituents.   Climate change and the Flushing Meadow project can be encouraged as an example of a grave error that must not be allowed anywhere in the region.  Digging into the specifics of these errors will help every participating organization.  Some examples are:

  • The Flushing Development is not paying the Green Premium. The project needs to tell the energy systems companies, services, and utilities what it will pay to address climate change.
  • The Flushing Developers, architects, and engineers have no idea what a zero-sum, carbon-neutral project would look like. 
  • The developer is only complaining about its profit margin. Simultaneously, the project’s failure and its cost will fall on the city and the state when the community is flooded and stays flooded.
  • The list of households most likely to be displaced by climate change (flooding/storm surge) is about 4,000 today.  The Flushing project could double that figure and quadruple the cost.

A focus on getting a more aggressive regional and citywide partnership on this project is needed.  The attention can help produce a carbon-neutral development or stop one that isn’t.  Either way, it is an important market signal. The political action statement is straightforward. Not paying attention to the carbon footprint issue today could put your grandchildren on the endangered species list tomorrow.  It is that serious. The science of this argument and proof of this project’s failure to recognize the problem is the work that lies ahead.

The big question: Is the idea of a Long-Term Comprehensive Plan capable of adjudication? Can it confirm or refute any of the fears of the people? Can it alter the inexorable facts of climate change and its impact on Flushing? As a BOA site will the developers, provide services and funding covering lifetime health-related illness from work or living on the proposed site. You get the drift.

A Muddling Strategy

Zoning is well-established police power, yet it is officially opposed and challenged, questioned, and denied—a political pawn of progress. Consider the possibility of an impeccable elimination of racism, classism, sexism, and the all-around favorite “placism” in the zoning text and resolution as policy. \Is there a way to bring its original health and safety purpose more explicitly focused on the pace of neighborhood change? Deliberate but incremental negotiations could help charge ordinary people’s expectations with a new interest in community investing. Plans for a mutually determined and purposeful change quality can be absorbed by the community, but gradually. This helps alter the lock on the status quo and governmental privilege systems into more of an emollient for progress.

Rusty Toaster Pill

The New York Metropolitan Region is a megacity, yet zoning (or changes to it) only considers a few blocks at a time. Given mobility throughout this region, its people can live in places where they can become most productive.  The missing resource is the lack of information, innovation, and opportunities to meet and optimize these choices. Instead, the “transit-rich” locations in the city are sold for minor capital improvements. These deals between a failing private corporation (MTA) and the local, state, and federal government responsible agencies. The inevitable common-sense conclusion could be zoning is failing communities that are not transit-rich by establishing transportation dependency in all others. A rapidly advancing capacity for equitable movement would be to make everything in the region within reach of everything else within an hour or less. 

One excellent example is Downtown Brooklyn, NY that is the most transit-rich region of New York City. The fight over Atlantic Yards an expansive uncovered rail yard serving the Long Island] Railway. New York City partnered with a developer, Bruce Ratner, to develop the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. (contention) The construction of an arena, the Barclay’s Center, was first to develop, to yield the headline.  How to Build a Sports Complex by Promoting 2,000 units of Housing.  The proposal engendered legal and political battles for a decade.  The use of eminent domain, how the developer would bid the project, and even the developer’s vision were challenged in the courts by residents. The Civilians, a musical theater troupe, produced a popular musical farce detailing indignation only to prognosticate the ephemeral promise of affordable housing.

Meanwhile Back in Flushing

In 2010, the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation received a grant under the New York State Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program.  The State used it to develop plans to replace vacant and underutilized properties and revitalize Flushing’s waterfront area. If approved, the development would serve as an extension of Downtown Flushing.  The Special Flushing Waterfront District was established by a vote of 40 to 4 margin on 12/10/2020. This brings the process to the final ULURP process. Unfortunately, we have not seen the application.

Impressive Eye Candy

Flushing is For Sale

The Hill West Architecture firm has an impressive portfolio of projects (here) with a few waterfront locations.  However, the Flushing development concept has yet to make it to their list or map all projects (here) real and digital hopes. The proposal’s renderings available now are useless preliminary sketches projecting the total floor area allowed in a set of unchallenged zoning approvals. New York Yimby seems to have the best set of illustrations (here).  But let’s pretend the following is real and will be built, and the architecture might look like this project in Brooklyn.

On the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn

The proposed 1,725 units are criticized for including a minimal amount of affordable housing and 879 hotel units. However, as housing advocates know, hotel rooms are used to house displaced families as an alternative to warehoused children in shelters.  Is there an “off-table” agreement here to provide such units as needed, and if so, how might it be included in the city’s incentive package without been seen?

Office space and community facilities, and retail space are estimated at 700,000 sq. ft. Parking & BOH: involves 440,500 square feet, and the waterfront public space may have about 160,000 square feet. Is that closed Assi market sized into this structure? Would the rent be fair?  Will there be competitors?

On to:

Part V – Wicked Problem Planning or back to Part III on the energy displacement issue, or back to Index

Planning Together: Part III

carbon dioxide equivalent in metric tons per square foot, per year

Two forces are at work in the continuing creation of NYC.  First-force is energy aimed toward “centers.” Second-force moves outward and away from its centers.  Implementing the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) is an interesting example using a comprehensive urban planning perspective of both. The centers are locations where there are buildings with more than 25,000 square feet in NYC.  The force is generated by a global condition demanding a reduction in GHGs. The focus is on large urban centers within large metropolitan cities.



The CMA requires building owners to contribute to meeting the 80/50 goal.

By 2050 NYC will reduce GHG’s to 80% of current levels.


If the legislation passes, the first milestone in the ten-year LTCP will be the City Report’s Conditions (COC). The narrative will draw on the ongoing objective, measurable data that City agencies generate every year over the last five years and punch it into the COC. The COC focus on long-term issues as embedded in the data concerning long-term planning and sustainability will have to face the Climate Mobilization Act’s impact.

Suddenly the Climate Mobilization Act marches into the room from 2021 to 2024 with compliance requirements through 2029. If there were anything like a 1,300-pound Grizzly in community planning, it would be every building owner in the community with square footage over 25,000 square feet yelling, “the investment in energy efficiency, for the reduction of GHGs, will cost the community jobs and displace residents.”

The law says tenants will be protected, but we are in a buyer beware world. The following was set from “deepdive

“When the act originally passed last year, owners of buildings where rent-regulated units make up less than 35% of the total were given an alternate path to compliance due to what officials called “outdated” rent laws in New York State. That path allowed landlords to pass the cost of building upgrades to tenants by charging for major capital improvements through higher rents.”

“Then in July, the state-level Housing Stability and Tenant Protections Act of 2019 altered how such improvements can be imposed by only allowing rent increases for rent-stabilized units if they make up 35% or more of the units in a building. While this adjustment saves tenants from having the costs of capital improvements and retrofits passed on to them, some councilmembers worried about landlords’ ability to absorb those costs themselves.”

Elected officials said while more established landlords can likely take on the costs for improvements like HVAC and lighting upgrades. Still, those who manage smaller buildings may not be able to, especially as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has affected their rental incomes.”

Residential building owners will see it as a perfect opportunity to displace tenants through major capital improvements with added harassment efforts. Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and careless rule enforcement allow building owners to raise rents on the unsuspecting. Documented abuses in monthly MCI rent hikes over $800 per apartment are well-known and feared.

Is it possible to imagine that the plan that eliminates jobs doesn’t matter because the people who have them will be displaced anyway? A counter-measure is available if the focus on the green economy is on jobs. The data is available in jobs from the production of a net-zero supply-chain to the production of well-educated people in the universities NYC has to offer. (See list)

Whether that ridiculous scenario occurs or is more likely in some neighborhoods than others, the Climate Change crisis is that Grizzly in the long term. It has the capacity to push aside all the other issues, education, transportation, public health, arts and culture, economic development, zoning, and land use.

Set by climate policy, the Climate Mobilization Act’s implementation priority will focus on projects that involve about 50,000 buildings in this category, about 2,500 have a million square feet or more. NYC’s Open Data portal has an example Building Footprints to illustrate that the city can be super-square-foot smart on a building by building basis.

The GHG reduction goal is a force applied from the outside toward these locations. The impact on sales and acquisitions in real estate markets for all land uses old, new, and proposed will be significant. The buildings are known and mapped. This is where defining the second-force comes into play.

An old example of a first-force, “center-inward,” and a second-force “center-outward” impact was global thermal nuclear war and auto-technology.  The policy was to spread out urban life, leaving energy-efficient public transit systems behind and in decay. The priority was to produce the massive growth promised in an auto-driven economy.  Hey, it looked great for a long time, but now hundreds of articles available from the GBC and elsewhere talk about the lack of balance in this policy.


The building owners and communities involved and informed by the Climate Mobilization Act will be encouraged to understand its requirements. These reactions to a problem will occur outwardly from the lawmakers who know stuff to ordinary people who haven’t been told and may never know.

The conduct required involves analyzing existing energy use, building condition, and capacity for financing implementation. Depending on the community, facility projects will either fail or comply with their carbon emissions reduction to 26% by 2024 – 2029.  The Green Building Council (GBC) here provides details.  The structures involved are organized by space classification, and fines and penalties for non-compliance may not be significant.  A good example is the Empire State Building will have to pay $1.25 million as a fine for failure.  See story, The New York Times


Poorly defined second-forces can include the displacement of low- and moderate-income households in rapidly complying and gentrifying NYC neighborhoods due to the well-known impact of “major capital improvements.”. A well-funded outreach and community planning process is needed to get beyond the dubious effect of fines. Assured compliance with Social, Economic, and Environmental Design (SEED) and the LEED nod to this issue is essential. The SEED Evaluator and certification framework establishes social, economic, and environmental goals for building projects to measure success. Buildings are the major contributor to global warming. Still, the people of dense cities such as NYC are the low per capita energy users.  The people in the buildings (residents and workers) should have a higher value than the buildings.

The lessons of displacement are throughout the United States.
I urge you to hear Colette Pichon Battle. What she knows now, we need to know.

The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and Colette Pichon Battle’s work raises awareness on equitable disaster recovery, migration, economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. Climate change is not the problem. It is a symptom of a more significant system problem the American people must address. TED presentation (here).

The NYC Zoning Resolution is now open for business as a negotiating tool.  Mandated inclusion to subsidize rental housing is the most recent example.  A mandated subsidy drawn from the energy savings produced could be used to prevent displacement and sustain affordability.  A therm saved is one earned. The thing is, there is no negotiation with a rising ocean, only the duty to protect all people from all the forms of displacement it will cause.

Exposure to all the wiggle room (cash savings for wealth owners) could help line up social justice and equity goals with needed compliance. For example, Local Law 84  mandates benchmarking and disclosure of energy use.  However, it exempts buildings with 10%+ (really, seriously) floor space devoted to data centers, trading floors, or broadcast studios.  No Energy Star score is required because disclosing a terrible energy use intensity (EUI) is awful PR. Example abound in this arena of the wiggle.


Carbon offsets are allowed. Purchasing unlimited renewable energy credits (RECs), also known, can reduce reported emissions for electricity.  A citywide emissions trading scheme (ETS) focused on greenhouse gas emissions will come up in 2021 and so on.  Every dime should turn into an anti-displacement dollar for one reason — the law outlines “guidelines” most of the specifics have yet to be reconciled. And, in addition to Local Law 97, the Climate Mobilization Act includes other laws:

Local Laws 92 & 94 – Green Roofs & Solar PV: Requiring green roofs solar PV systems on specific new construction and renovation projects.

Local Law 95 – Building Labeling: Adjusting metrics used for letter grades assessing building energy performance.

Local Law 96 – PACE: Establishing clean energy financing tools for building owners

Local Law 98 – Wind Energy: Obliging the Department of Buildings to include wind energy generation in its toolbox of renewable energy technologies.

Thankfully, there are resources to help building owners navigate this evolving regulatory landscape. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator supports building owners’ efforts to improve their buildings’ energy efficiency. (calculator) At the state level, NYSERDA has several programs geared towards putting buildings on the path to energy efficiency.

Voluntary nonprofits are gaining traction to assist institutions with the measurement tasks for a price. A good example is CRIS — The Climate Registry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement, reporting, and verification platform, accessible at This tool is used by The Climate Registry (TCR) reporting members, TCR-recognized Verification Bodies, and the general public to measure and/or communicate the carbon impacts of organizations of all sizes across all sectors.

Part IV or back to Index

Part IV applies to New York City neighborhoods and is available: here

Planning Together – Part II

Thanks for the comments and edits and recommendation for III — no one is as smart as all of us!

Roll the dice? The following rant is about a bad plan to do big planning.


The one thing we learn from our history is that we don’t, and therefore remember negatively. New York has a sizeable group of relevant organizations to fight what we all know is about to happen. Political leaders will be asking for austerity and sacrifice for the common good. The so-called “v” shaped recovery is real, it will occur, but the rich/poor separation accelerates into pain. Cuts to basic social services: schools, healthcare, housing will occur if current New York State budget plans go forward without federal relief. The IBO has an economic forecast and analysis of the Mayor’s 2022 Preliminary Budget and Financial Plan through 2025. It also discusses some of the positive and negative. See it here.  You can also jump to Planning Together Part III that opens a dialogue on the Climate Mobilization Act. (here)

We also know the austerity will not aim at those who fight in the courts and attack with lobbyists. We know massive contributions to identity scrubbing PACs will continue. We know a thousand other tips and tricks of the political elite, such as primary threats, misleading information, and outright lies are more likely than not. What are the ordinary people of the city to do?

How about trusting a citywide movement led by term-limited political leaders. How about a Comprehensive Long-Term Plan? 

To introduce the subtle elements for a ten-year comprehensive plan in the city of New York, spend a few minutes with two professionals responsible for producing plans in our city. Carl Weisbrod’s presentation is first, speaking as Chair of the thirteen-member City Planning Commissioner in 2016. The second is by Marisa Lago speaking as Director of the Department of City Planning and less so in her role as Chair of the City Planning Commission. Combined they provide a sense of how these professionals are likely to respond to the City Council’s big comprehensive plan idea. Get an adult refreshment, it takes about an hour. It is well worth the time if you weren’t there or have not seen them.

Please reflect on these presentations (text). What caught your attention? Comment.

Trust in Planners

The meat of the legislation establishing the Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) reveals the current system’s timelines and some new content. All of us have a desire to see positive change from the grassroots up. Advancing this point boosts democracy, yet the first step is a standard one with a topping of community charrettes. Language is important —  community development professionals equate charrettes with interactive brainstorming sessions. In the context of a “needs” discussion, the charrette has the potential to be a magnificently dysfunctional practice. If this goes bad, will community planners ever be trusted again?

I am led to conclude that there are aspects of the old, end-of-the-project charrette as a design process that remain relevant and valuable. These kinder, gentler charrettes, held early in the design or programming stages of a project, place the client and other stakeholders and all or most professional disciplines that will contribute to the project in the same room for, usually, one to three days.

Daniel Willis (here).

Long term goals are not products of an evening’s chat. Two or three whole days could be sufficient outreach resources to the Community Boards and Council Districts. The implied goal (or the one sought) is of a unified movement for equitable change. Remember Weisbrod saying close to half of the households in NYC are too close to distress and one crisis away from poverty. Lago nods to the fact as well. Before that real problem can be defined well, there is another one to examine.

Still, we hear two very different sounds from the top of the profession (rah, rah) and from the neighborhoods (oh, no, oh, no) Longfellow says it best in Tales of a Wayside Inn.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, 
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; 
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another, 
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ships in the Night

Given this condition as reasonably accurate, the streamlined cycle (right) demands a focus on one thing at a time, even though we know everything happens all at once in the current system (left).

A deadline system is in both processes. The fourteen event deadlines described by law on the left could be found within one of the eight “focusing octagons” on the right. In examining the calendar below, we see the deadline clocks extended. It isn’t obvious, but there is a hint of the logic involved. The hope is that each stop within the clockwise pattern prescribed in the octagons can co-occur.  That as we get to know each octagon, some fog is lifted by the long view. Small study groups in your circle of change agents know that running through a cycle such as this one at speed (from a few minutes to a week) can enrich the experience.

The salary of a Community District Manager (Civil Service Title Code #56086) will range from 75K to $90K, and the office can have up to four paid staff members. The staff’s responsibilities are maintaining a meeting space and agendas for politically appointed volunteer District residents regarding many community issues. The Independent Budget Office provides a funding history (here). The average budget is $315,000 and 2.3 employees per district (2020), with sizeable differences in OTPS across boroughs. A deeper analysis would help the public to understand why the promise of community-based planning authorized by the New York City Charter (197-a) has not enjoyed top-down support. The Department of City Planning has not invested in staff professionalization or physical facilities that would be beneficial. This is a huge failure in management behavior, as a fundamental rule is that decisions are best made by those closest to the information.

One Way Ticket

The CPD Director’s view of Community Boards is limited. They can contribute to the city’s budgeting process, not planning. In this regard, the department has invested in digital tools for a Community District to advocate for their needs. See screenshots below.

Using short cycles of general knowledge enrichment and reflection help to bring consensus to final commitment points.  The plan’s development is a sacrifice of action limited to rhetoric and narrative (reports and legislation); however, the gift of reflection through these cycles will be activism. Or, at least, it should be expected. A better source for what should be expected is from the Furman Center (here). NYU Furman Center’s Neighborhood Data Profiles are an in-depth look at the demographic, housing market, land use, and neighborhood services indicators for the city’s 59 community districts. Dive into the numbers in the neighborhood where you live, or test your New York City knowledge. Get the answer in our State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods report, powered by

The letters of hope approach remain one way. The end product sought is a narrative report for use at the top. On the other hand, spending some time thinking about what your community is not getting, even though repeatedly requested, leads to activism combined with despair. Why should a process for a comprehensive community development effort do it backward?

The economics and social demography of New York City say the odds are fifty-fifty right now on hopelessness and desperation. Whether “v” shaped recovery will be sufficient, the coming pandemic-caused austerity crisis remains with the most vulnerable. A shift in those odds in the wrong direction is easily triggered with insurgency behaviors.

The Climate Crisis is long term re-direct problem. What if the energy savings were captured as an inclusionary social equity issue? Finally, a long-term plan is ineffective unless something, a big or tiny bit of fruit, can be seen routinely. Throwing the dice looking for a seven is, at best, a thirteen-percent roll.

Here is a brief example of a long term approach.

The Cycle in 215 Words

Priority Needs

City Condition

City Wide Goals

Preferred Land Use Statements

Long Term Plan Submitted

Capital Strategy



One Community Board’s priority need is for new and rehabilitated housing affordable to the district’s median income for rent and ownership. The “city conditions” report from OLTPS now (MOR) states a citywide demand for X00,000 new and rehabilitated affordable housing units but uses the AMI to establish eligible cohorts. The citywide goal statement on the affordable housing gap concurs, “The City of New York will close the median income gap in affordability.” It offers a set of objectives for measuring success in this effort. One long-term example among hundreds available might be — Objective: The percentage of households paying over 50% of income for shelter will be reduced by 10%. This district’s preferred land use seeks new four-story buildings (R4 to 5) and very low-cost loans for rehabs and accepts R6 to R10 in the “transit-rich” sections, including mixed-use services. The long-term plan codifies these as advisory desires. It then turns to the city’s ten-year capital strategy in search of the financing available to serve this one district and all 58 others. That takes us to the final focusing octagon in the cycle that seeks alignment. It is a cards-on-the-table analysis of all standing applications. About 80% of the ULURP application are “as of right.” Also, new offers for housing development are encouraged that “effectuate the plan.

Fast Cycle/Slow Cycle

It took about twenty minutes to run through a streamlined cycle above using a housing invention and the imagination. It is a useful thought experiment. In the end, priority needs in the district may be met or not. In this sketch, setting a goal to close the gap may not succeed. Ignoring that it is “the gap” that is on everyone’s mind isn’t helpful either. The process may heighten expectations, but adding resources for adjustments using fast/slow cycles appropriate to the district’s condition can strengthen the body as a whole. The cycle concludes with a look at resource implications and “alignment,” A better or perhaps more accurate word is reconciliation.

The process does not have to be super formalized. It can be fun. It can allow a community’s “gut” to be trusted. If some people (like city officials) are presumed to have more power, if given the time to conduct “good listening,” they too discover ways they can be trusted.

Whether in short or long-term iterations, drawing in new data to the cycle can occur as it becomes available. The plan should release itself from an “arrow-of-time” approach and forgettable, years-apart milestones. From a strategic point of view, faster is better when driven by the data available. It is vital to recognize an accelerated flow of data with increased accuracy. Just one hitch, though, the data, the technology for use, and local experience with it are very underrepresented in distressed communities. The plan is long term, but in this sense, it is getting ahead of itself. The work is still that of the agencies of the city. Getting another watcher, perhaps just a lookout spectator, cannot be helpful without a reconciliation process.

Reconciliation describes federal law (Budget Act 1974) that allows expedited consideration of specific tax, spending, and debt limits with advantages for passing a controversial budget or a tax measure. Obstruction is not permitted, and amendments are limited.  See CBPP article (here). Research on the interest in NYS or NYC regarding this point would be helpful. Still, if the proposed planning process is to be successful and for “the good,” it will need some people as smart as Elizabeth MacDonough on reconciliation powers, government role, and some serious philanthropic interest.

Following is a first look at the Charter’s changes designed to empower the role of a comprehensive long-term plan (LTCP). This is a quick (probably too fast) run of changes. It will need corrections and clarifications. All are welcome. What does all this seems to do is add a layer. Contact

Alterations to the City Charter

Section 5 Annual statement to council. of the LTCP effective as of 12/31/2022

Section 17 Strategic Policy Statement  from the cycle of 4 years to five and alignment with sec 20 provisions and substantial additions under the new heading “Citywide Goals Statement.”

Section 20 Office of long-term planning and sustainability the greatest number of additions are made to this section of the charter —  goals to reduce and eliminate disparities in quantitative citywide targets and policy goals, some about the waterfront, with such targets established by the long-term planning steering committee, other quantitative community district level targets for each community board within each category enumerated  equitable distribution of resources

Population project requirement was repealed

  1. Section 82 (subdivision 14) Powers and Duties of Borough Presidents Five-year cycles instead of four
  2. Section 197-c. Uniform land use review procedure. a statement of alignment describing how the application aligns, conflicts, or does not apply to the comprehensive long-term plan prepared according to subdivision d of section 20  rules to determine whether such applications align with the comprehensive long-term plan subdivision d of section 20, including notice of conflicts with the LTCP
  3. Section 197-d. Council Review.  notice of conflicts with the LTCPand a land-use scenario found in paragraph 7 of subdivision d of section 20
  4. Section 205 Comprehensive waterfront plan. REPEALED until….?
  5. Section 215 Ten year Capital Strategy detailing the cost to maintain existing city infrastructure and how to align with each goal or citywide budget priority in the LTCP align with each goal or citywide budget priority outlined in the LTCP
  6. Section 219   Project initiation; commitment plan. Projected capital projects not previously anticipated
  7. Section 228 Draft ten-year capital strategy.  Five-year cycles instead of every other one
  8. Section 230 Community board budget priorities. Needs not previously stated is have to be pointed out, and a new interface is implied as a responsibility of the Mayor’s office
  9. Section 234 City planning commission hearing and statement on the draft ten-year capital strategy.  Every five years
  10. Section 248. Ten-year capital strategy. Every five years
  11. Section 668 Variances and special permits. A grant or denial of the board must respond to recommendations included in the comprehensive long-term plan required by subdivision d of section 20
  12. Section 1110-a. Capital plant inventory and maintenance estimates. Ending in 2022 and restarting in 10/2023 with an online machine-readable format and hooked up to subdivision i of Section 20 and according to paragraph 1 of subdivision b of section 215.
  13. Section 2800 Community boards.  Annual statement of needs now every two years (6)   Render an annual report to the mayor, the council and the borough board within three months of the end of each year and such other reports to the mayor or the borough board as they shall require (such reports or summaries thereof to be published in the City Record)


Calendar of the LTCP (rough draft)

The Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability and its powers are defined in Section 20 of the New York Charter. This office’s role is substantially amended in its relationship to City Planning, the Mayor’s Office, The City Council, and others.

New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS) was created as part of the Mayor’s Office by local law in 2006. The Office coordinates with all other City agencies to develop, implement, and track the progress of PlaNYC and other issues of infrastructure and the environment, which cut across multiple City departments.

Released in 2007 and updated in 2011, PlaNYC is an unprecedented effort undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers deal with climate change. In addition to producing PlaNYC, the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability promotes the integration of sustainability goals and practices into City agencies’ work and all residents’ and visitors’ lives.

The following timetable is a rough approximation of the plan. It will be useful for comparison with actual events with a clearer indication of the resources allocated in the ongoing flow of Charter mandated events as they are drawn into the LTCP,

Section 2800 Community boards 

Annual statement of needs every two years. No mention of the Community Affairs Unit CAU or the Civic Engagement Commission 

Annually, the most frequently mentioned issue is “affordable housing,” with 30 of 59 boards nominating it as their top need. The trend remains upward.

Repair and Replace
Conditions of the City


February 1, 2022             

Convene a 13 Member Steering Committee with expertise in planning, transportation, sustainability, resilience, housing, public utilities, social services,  and economic development.

section 6 of this local law shall take effect for long-term planning steering committee and borough steering committees.

September 1, 2022

Convene Borough Steering Committees to prepare and provide a strategic policy statement for the borough see obligations under paragraph 2 of this subdivision.

sections 10 and 19 of this local law shall take effect;

September 15, 2022                               

a statement of community district needs, and every two years after that

section 24 of this local law shall take effect to a standardized survey for Community Boards

October 1, 2022

mayor provides estimates of costs by agency and project type and, within project type, by personal services and other-than-personal services (OTPS), necessary to maintain all significant portions of the capital ending in 2022, see Oct. 2023

December 31, 2022

Report on the city’s long-term planning and sustainability efforts

section 5 of this local law shall take effect to acquire annual reports on long-term planning and sustainability


January 31, 2023             

issue a report to the mayor and speaker of the city council that describes each committee’s meeting and any other activities undertaken by the committee for the immediately preceding year.

February 7, 2023                                         

Submit Conditions of the City report. Detailing conditions for comprehensive long-term planning

Sections 3, 8, 9, 15, 16, and 17 of this local law shall take effect 3 repeals population projections

March 1, 2023                                               

Steering Committeeestablishes  the citywide targets described by section 17 by majority vote, and no later than July 1 of the corresponding years

April 15, 2023                                           

the director of the office of long-term planning shall submit a preliminary citywide goal statement           

sections 1 and 26 of this local law shall take effect

July 1, 2023

the director of long-term planning shall submit a final citywide goals [strategic policy] statement

October 1, 2023

the mayor shall transmit to the council an updated repair, replace or maintain recommendation of each capital asset contained in the ten-year capital strategy

under paragraph 1 of subdivision b of section 215.

section 23 of this local shall take effect


January 31, 2024

issue a report to the mayor and speaker of the city council that describes each committee’s meeting and any other activities undertaken by the committee for the immediately preceding year.

February 1, 2024

adopt the community district level targets for any category within the previously adopted citywide targets, no later than and every tenth February 1, 2024 after that

April 15, 2024

submit a draft comprehensive long-term plan. No later than 150 days after the submission, present a recommended preferred land-use scenario for each applicable community district, and may adopt suggested amendments to the corresponding community district level targets

sections 2, 12, and 20 of this local law shall take effect immediately; sections 4 and 7 of this local law shall take effect

November 1, 2024          

Draft ten-year capital strategy. Every five years after, the director of management a draft ten-year capital strategy prepared according to section two hundred fifteen provisions.

section 18 of this local law shall take effect


January 16, 2025

the city planning commission shall submit a report containing its comments on the draft ten-year capital strategy submitted per section two hundred twenty-eight of this chapter every five years after that,

section 22 of this local law shall take effect

January 31, 2025             

issue a report to the mayor and speaker of the city council that describes each committee’s meeting and any other activities undertaken by the committee for the immediately preceding year.

Planning Together: Part III (here)or back to Index

Planning Together: Part I

New York City is not the center of the universe. Recognizing that it contains the most complex issues facing any community in the nation should put it there. Notwithstanding this desire, a conservative and narrow view toward solutions prevails. There are progressive answers to injustice, and for many, they are well known, yet this knowledge alone fails to lead us toward resolving the difficulties of implementation. Another form of action is required. Is this something that might be available in the four-year implementation plan outlined in the “New Comprehensive Planning Framework?” It is time to take a patient look at the possibilities of accountability.



The New York City Council launched an idea called “Planning Together” in December 2020. So far, we offer a two–maybe a three-part examination of the concept. The first part uses the GOS-3P-RE™ format to develop a review that accepts the statement of “the problem” as well defined. That is, NYC does not have a comprehensive plan, and it needs one to fix the current chaos and a boatload of new problems just over the horizon that need a long-term view. Call it the “first agreement.”

The second part will critique the bias and questions developed in part one, and the assumptions built into the problem. This analysis will offer suggestions and decide whether our natural period of skepticism can become the leverage required to support the work outlined in the New Comprehensive Planning Framework (NCPF) Report and the authorizing legislation requiring a comprehensive long-term plan (here). Again, here is the Full Report a link to the Legislation, and here is a link to a pdf-plain language summary.

The legislation represents one final public decision – a comprehensive long-term plan is needed. Imagine the law has passed, the plan will be launched and an LTCP will be sent to the Council for approval in about three years. As the saying goes if it is authorized, how well will it be allotted?

The small group of people who were involved in this idea are like those Margaret Mead described. You remember, something like small groups can change the world, and it is the only way it happens. There is no reason to believe all such efforts are for good. Therefore, it is sensible to review the plan’s inherent goals, objectives, and strategy. Examine the policies and list of programs or projects for a sense of priority. Finally, the resource demands and implications of the work itself require an evaluation.


All of 2021 is available to examine the implications of that decision before the official launch in February 2022. The first group of the “accountable” will be 13 people on a steering committee. The first major product is working and underway by City Planning — as the legislation calls for a report from the director about the city’s “long-term planning and sustainability efforts” on December 31, 2022. (ongoing initiatives found here).

The current versions of data and needs statements for all 59 Districts (here) for review. The needs statement sections are available in portable document format (pdf), as shown in the lower right corner of the image below

Start with District Needs (Statements and Data)

The first chart (below) covers a four-year implementation for continuing public participation. The second chart covers the proposed ten-year cycle that begins September 15, 2022, with the Needs Statements containing declarations of continuing support for existing programs and capital projects, a limited number of needs given high priority, plus the specific rationale for new or reprioritized necessities in the each District. The current versions for all 59 Districts are (here) for review.

Please take a moment to review the charts.

Steering committees are advisory bodies composed of experts with experience on issues, such as budgets, new projects, policy, strategies, and project management concerns. The thirteen chosen to work with the Speaker, the Director, the Agencies, and the Mayor will be the first indicator of “seriousness.”


The introduction of a New Comprehensive Planning Framework (NCPF) tells us it may not be concrete or technical. Therefore, it is a political one. The origin in the New York City Council of the NCPF indicates with its emphasis on “needs” and “goals.” I do not see this as a poor step, just one that can get very slippery, especially in the last few weeks among a bevy of term-limited Council members or when a major capital investment group frightens the residents in a member’s district. Still, that crunchy ethical detail will be saved for Part II.

Comprehensive planning is hugely complicated yet easily simplified into electoral goal setting. Such plans have only two uses, to outline our faults in a positive way and be elusive of commitment.  So it all fits. Goals are vital, but only if they can be widely shared. Take a couple of examples regarding the importance of demanding the future perfect tense to set goals.

By the end of each fiscal year, the City will provide proof of:

  • strong support for modern and sustainable public hospitals in an expanded health system
  • innovative financial mechanisms, and support for a growing supply of affordable housing

The use of “the City” would accompany the agencies authorized as accountable. Many similar goal statements can quickly achieve a substantial base of consensus.  When objective measures are set to define the public health system fully, we see it as writhing in debt.  In NYC, this system continues to represent billions in baseline losses in the system.  By 2024  the debt will double to $2 billion/year, and that was pre-pandemic. Or what if the massive increase in the direct cost of homelessness became a priority measure.  DHS expenditures have grown since 1994 from $500M to $2.4B in 2020.  These goals have a public policy lineage lasting decades, yet we stand today in this condition.  Why? They still stand because they are without accountability to progress.


There you have two hot-button examples of how a plan’s purposes easily disconnect from the available resources without a specific prescription for a solution.  As described above, goals may fail to be achieved. Still, the promise of every “new plan,” in this case initiated by political representatives, should be capable of such acknowledgments. Making events happen differently, as if there was never a plan, is not new. It is tiddling. 

In other words, a goal is only as good as it is concrete. It can be a good plan by transforming itself the way New York City often does — with self-confidence and occasional aplomb.  A plan needs to be agile, its proponents willing to hang together (vs. separately) yet unafraid of the fearful truth. Still, if it does not remain accountable, it isn’t a plan. 

Measures of the cost of services do not define complexity well, but dollars do provide a follow-up path.  Unlike previous decades, substantial increases in information flow to measure success and failure provide benefits.  The process of evidence-based, outcome-driven and measurable performance practice is well understood in public and private planning offices. One of the most important discoveries of expanded data management capacity is traditional problem discovery, defining, and solving processes no longer work very well.  It is now much more useful with data crunching techniques to examine precise changes in system conditions.  The framework condition “A” becomes condition “B” using appropriate time intervals.  

The benefit of this new sensitivity to system conditions changes facilitates a relatively rapid regulatory solution. The “City Conditions” should reflect the investments required and deployed. When objectives are met quickly, the tasks involved are more easily mandated by law to achieve a timely response. These activities will become subservient to ongoing system evaluations as the pace of new stable measures are set, and objectives are met. All of this is coming, and it is well on the way.


A good strategy follows from concrete objectives.  It is one that provides accurate comparisons with what is different and why.  Plans can do well on this point of period-to-period comparison.  However, the planning studies that express specific interests such as preservation, open space, and the waterfront establish an automatic constituency.  In these cases, the place matters, vested interests are exposed right alongside the people most directly affected by the anticipated change.

A cyclical ten-year planning cycle is promised.  It encourages integration and efficiency. However, a path to equitable and sustainable growth is not promised. Perhaps it’s a little too scary. Therefore, the test will be how meaningfully City Planning powers connect to the City’s budget process in annual cycles. The purpose of planning is not to make things work in the abstract. Its purpose is to define how well or poorly it meets needs in its overall spatial effect.  

Inequity has latitude and longitude.  The city planning power can deal with discrimination, injustice, and inequality in its capacity to manage and govern new land-use choices.  It should not allow these superpowers to negotiate floor area mechanics for fungible cash arrangements.  A New Comprehensive Planning Framework’s promise must outline its goals and objectives with strategies that see all families’ needs at the end of each day.   Priorities, projects, and policies should focus on the most vulnerable as a simple matter of honor, knowing and deciding who we are. However, the City also enters an era of “climate change roulette,” coupled with viral infections.  External forces like these can destroy life at any time and everywhere; thus, every action must prove hope is alive for all.

Policy, Projects, and Priority

The use of the term streamlining suggests a reorganization of the planning and budget-related actions required by law.  What is driving the demand to improve coordination across City agencies for this new outcome? Statements of proof for demand from agencies are needed. What is the evidence of benefits from reorganization?  Who will activate the performance measures? A typical product offered is a reduction in time and direct costs. If these efficiencies are proven, how and with whom are savings shared to balance inequities over the prescribed 10-years?

Community-based planning at the neighborhood level is stated as a resource for establishing a shared vision a goal that cannot a waltz-in-waltz-out, three charrettes effort among the 59 districts. The term charrette is not found in the legislation. How is the concept of “shared vision” measured? The plan’s approval is limited to adoption by the City Council.  In the context of proving a broader consensus, it would be presented to the City’s people by Community District using District Need Statements. Are the presenters and charrette facilitators representing Council Districts? The budget will be examined in Part II.

Here is a fun test. What strikes you as “comprehensive” in the following list of some of the significant work conducted by City Planning over the last half-century.   Please, take a moment. 

  1. Plan for New York City. A proposal (1969) (Critical Issues)
  2. Neighborhood Preservation in New York City (1973)
  3. The New York City Waterfront. (1974)
  4. New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program (1982)
  5. Waterfront Public Access in New York City (1986)
  6. New York City’s Waterfront: A Plan for Development (1988)
  7. Open Space and the Future of New York (1988)
  8. New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (1992)
  9. Plan for the Manhattan Waterfront (1993)
  10. Shaping the City’s Future (1993)
  11. A Greenway Plan for New York City (1993)
  12. Shaping the City’s Future: NYC Planning and Zoning (discussion report) (1993)
  13. New York: The City’s Land Uses (1995)
  14. Comprehensive Manhattan Waterfront Plan (1997)
  15. Recreation and Open Space in New York (1997)
  16. The New Waterfront Revitalization Program (1999)
  17. PlaNYC Greener Greater New York (2007)
  18. New York City: A City of Neighborhoods (2009)
  19. Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (2009)
  20. Vision 2020. New York Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (2011)
  21. Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) 2013
  22. The New Housing Marketplace Plan (w/HPD) (from 2003 — 2014)
  23. Housing New York 2.0. (2014) and all of the Consolidated Plans
  24. OneNYC(2014)
  25. One New York. The Plan for a Strong and Just City (2015)

That is correct; of the twenty-five significant planning efforts listed, the word “waterfront” is ten titles. In seven of the other studies, it is powerfully connected to plans for greenways, bikeways, and integrated open space networks supporting recreation and people’s health.  Finally, there are plans for resiliency and hazard mitigation to see if these improvements can be kept. That is the “water coming” knock on the door?  Did you hear it?

In contrast, “housing” gets two titles in the nod that led to mandatory inclusion as a housing subsidy tool. On March 22, 2016, the City Council approved the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning text amendment. It produced a vehicle for permanent affordability from new construction. Some would call these small victories with modifications sufficient to glaze over an ordinary resident’s eyes regarding what is affordable. Most are unaware of the affordable housing roller coaster of this policy. It would look like this in the last CPD “snapshot.”

Resource Evaluation

The last part in the preparation of a plan is to examine the costs. I have yet to see “the budget” that implements the New Comprehensive Planning Framework, but there is a lesson learned from Number One on the list of major plans. The first comprehensive plan didn’t make it. It took too long. Time passed it by in the ashes and politics of a rapidly changing city for one reason. It was in crisis. Whole neighborhoods were dropping dead.

It is still a topic of conversation among planners. It still is a beautiful and reasonable “snapshot” of the city’s neighborhoods. The descent “Critical Issues” by Commissioner Beverly Moss Spatt (pdf oral history) is one of the best parts of that work. It even gets a quote in this new City Council version. The 1969 plan professed to be based on an interventionist role of government claiming the role of coordinator.  It would treat the physical, social and economic development of the City as a unified whole. So that never happened.  But when one door closes, another one tends to open.

Walk into that room. Enter the New York City Council’s acquisition of land use powers in 1989 to comply with a successful lawsuit demanding a constitutionally reorganized government. Twenty years later, you will find Planning Commissioners known to openly ridicule the community voice while buttering their morning toast and responding to texts about tweaks in the city’s behemoth zoning resolution. 

Notwithstanding the three years of Mayor David Dinkins, the Planning Commission became dominated by two Republican Mayors (Giuliani and Bloomberg) through 2013. Both men were quite willing to support system conditions that allowed the city to conduct uninhibited negotiations with “market forces” in shaping the city’s development. This remains the game in town today.


The resource implications of this initiative’s implementation are unclear. With a bit more wiggle room in the De Blasio administration, members of the City Council have responded to the comprehensive plan idea. It is a good idea to take a big picture look at New York City.

A change in the power relationship is outlined in the Office of Strategic Initiatives publication. Developing the opportunity for that change was put to Louis Cholden-Brown, the Deputy Director, and Annie Levers, Assistant Deputy Director. The office itself is not listed in the city’s Agencies and Administrative Officials Listing (here)

Without a doubt, this is Brad “Spanky” Lander’s effort. Some insight into his work as a councilmember is (here). He is term-limited out of the City Council, and he has a Master’s Degree in City Planning. Levers was his Budget and Policy Director, and a few years before that, she served as a Policy Fellow in his office. Credit for contributions to this initiative also goes to the Land Use and Finance Divisions of the Council. The two major committees and three-subcommittees share four members—more on who, when, where, why, and how much in Part II.

One of the 1969 City Plan products became the lasting addition of Community Districts to the political landscape. There was an interest in creating conterminal boundaries with all other service providing agencies. The groundwork for an expansion of democratic practices in neighborhood government was envisioned. All of it was conceived as a place where a neighborhood could self-study with agency professionals and define and solve their problems without the necessity of marching into City Hall. As goals, they remain there, functional shadows in the fog of the city’s culture war. Although, the city now appears to be less unwilling to look at its systemic racism in the face.

The Department of City Planning has the police power to regulate and a responsibility to be responsive.  The question is, who is it sharing that power with, and how responsive is this agency? Is there a balance? If a new citywide planning comprehensive process were earnest,  the map of community-based planning would have more than nine ongoing efforts.

If charged with launching a significant four-year initiative across a highly populated and diverse region, the agency would have a larger pre-engaged constituency to help get the ball rolling.  Before launch, a director would have sought commitments (MOUs) for multiple agency support for at least thirty community-district locations on local issues of concern. (The legislation does speak to this point.)

I would have sought and secured time from community-based nonprofit organization staff to cover all 55 sub-borough areas for a baseline data approach to housing issues in partnership with the Furman Center and others. I would have reached out to the Chairs of every City and Regional Planning Graduate and Undergraduate program in the region to talk about the possibilities of participation.  I would have conducted interviews with community board members, staff, and managers current and retired regarding their opinion of the planning process, impacts, and outcomes of initiatives by the Department of City Planning and other agencies as the conversations dictated. (A long-standing criticism is the appointees of the Community Boards do not represent the community well.) These outreach efforts can reveal two crucial things: the emotional and the factual basis for supporting a new comprehensive planning effort. These and other actions may claim to be engaged, but the resources deployed appear anemic at this time.

Outreach is vital to getting a broad basis for content built on participation. By definition, these steps involve a short term two-way community education process.  In the long term, the viability of content will depend on two components.  The plan would acquire a commitment to setting goals using words well-heard and understood in every community.  Second, evaluating the resource implications implied by the programs inferred would be recognized as the essential constraint to not getting everything everyone wants.

Planning Together – Part II

I took a plan-to-network point of view to the City Council’s initiative. If you were one of my students, you might recall. The exercise is designed to expose personal goals first. I asked what problems do you want out of the next fifteen weeks? I would write GOS-3P-RE on newsprint.

The headings in this narrative follow that structure and, consequently, exposes team biases and a planning approach to evaluating the NCPF. If it develops, the network component seeks to manage the development of “the plan” to examine the plan with others sharing a common interest or desire for knowledge. It was fun then, and it is fun now.

Part II will take a more detailed look in late February or March.

You know what to do if you are interested in this particular rabbit hole (contact). Read: Part IIthink Part III

Part II starts with a bold assumption. I am looking at apples and oranges. Perhaps. We have always known NYC planning exhibits the exquisite practice of disjointed incrementalism, also known as zoning. That description was coined here, and we rarely pretend it to be otherwise. That would be the big apple on the left. That would make that precise-looking gameboard on the right the orange. The use of the octagon traditionally expresses renewal, rebirth, and transition. Do you see the dice rolling across it? All the stuff on the left remains in play. It has been reasonably well resourced. Now, is this initiative trying to stuff that apple into the orange or simply trying to make them both sweeter. That will be our next task.

Go to Part II (here) or back to Index