“Planning as a process is extremely important and has to be done at multiple scales: at the neighborhood, community, city, and regional-level.”Tom Angotti
On December 16, 2021, The Municipal White Society began an attempt to bring comprehensive planning back to New York City by reviving tabled legislation entitled “Planning Together” See: MAS Outlines Path Forward for Comprehensive Planning in NYC. The Report’s series on Planning Together will be found (here). The Report calls it the Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP). In all the posts, there are inconsistencies, inconsequential facts, and a few non-sequiturs. Gratitude to all. Press on dear friends, press on.
Tom Angotti says planning “has to be done at multiple scales.” The use of “has to” means “must” be done with a touch of desperation. Given his priority as “right and just,” a viable, comprehensive planning process calls for a combination of actors. Leaders in community-based organizations, citywide agencies, and regional planning staff would focus on NYC’s 59 community districts/multiple neighborhoods involving a variety of other data envelopes from census tracts to police precincts. The implementation team would need linkages to the broad city planning department priorities and the recurring responsibilities of the central city agencies. It will be necessary to align with regional interests, especially the public benefit corporations. Contrast the approach envisioned by Angotti with the reality clearly stated by the chair of the City Planning Commission in the same Report.
“We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well considered plan.”Anita Laremont
The LTCP implies the need for a sophisticated online communication and coordination network. The functionality requires discussion. The software needed will need to help bridge the gap between the conceptions of “comprehensive” and the inferences of “well-considered.” Why? New York City is an “everything happens all at once place.” An authentic long-term plan aimed at ordinary residents and businesses and developers and investors will need to function in a new way. It cannot run like a linear board game.
The LTCP responds, in part to the obvious and dramatic new constructions bursting from the soil of New York. Their architects and engineers eagerly serve the real estate developers, and their councils press the sky-high magic of material innovation enthusiastically onto the skyline and into the soul of this city. The aggression is passive. It leaves the bulk of social planning and justice issues to government work. Thus the question. Is this LTCP up to the balance of power task.
The long-term comprehensive planning idea does not appear capable of recognizing the routine manipulations of the city zoning framework. The Report will aim at the red meat of that opinion in the conclusion of this post. But, first, a brief look at the money.
An urban planner’s salary varies; however, simply using the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data reveals that the median annual wage for urban planners is $73,050. Given Angotti’s requirement for “extremely important” planning, it would be prudent to imagine an overlapping team of about 100 professionals. The average could be around $80K but go with that for the moment. The staff would be organized by specialties such as demography, GIS systems, organizational development, design, architecture, administrative and legal. They would be assigned to work full-time for five years. Consider five years as a minimum contractual commitment.
The cart needed for this project would require a horse to carry $36.5 million for annual salaries. Dividing the indirect cost for the operation of such a glorious staff by its direct costs X 100, you could get an accurate overhead. Or more conservatively accept a nonprofit average of 35%. In the latter case, the project would conservatively require $12 to $15 million for operational implementation. The total first-year cost is around $50 million. Staffing it to work effectively on the other requires 200 people. So make that a $100 million lean start-up. In a city with an expense budget of $80 billion, that would be one hundred twenty-five hundred-thousandths of a percent (0.00125x 80 billion). The NYC expense budget hovers at $100 billion 2021/22, so will it be easy to discover a spending consensus for this priority? Not if the plan confuses people. On the other hand, recall that New York City’s budget is more than most States and several countries, or that the State of New York has a GDP about the size of Canada.
The Report is all for such a task force composed of two hundred highly skilled planners and related professions willing to take a deep five-year dive into what NYC needs to be and do. But, unfortunately, it is an increasingly competitive, rapidly changing world that also reflects the abyss between the values expressed in the two quotes by Angotti and Laremont (above). The words of Emma Lazarus in the harbor, “give me your tired, your huddled masses,” has shifted to “give me your cash and capital. After that, it will be breath-free here.” Residential real estate functions as a “safety deposit box” in cities such as New York.
The minor $50 million effort fails the multiple scales test. A larger, well-funded plan, poaching from the top a bit, has an even chance at success. However, adding two new people at the Community District level with network access to the other hundred in the agencies, RPA, and a State office or two would barely shake it out. Another issue connects the LTCP idea with the sky-high skyline issue, and that is how well it can handle, alter, influence, or change NYC’s various hot buttons. The MAS picks eight in a little graphic fleurette.
Why Eight Hot Topic Buttons?
See the purple balloon on the upper left of this chart, Complete Community Design? That is where the Angotti vision of the comprehensive plan and all of its costs would sit on a topic list. Why? Three of the other tiny petals reflect unconventional combinations or adventitious labels 1) code enforcement, 2) annexation, 3) zoning, subdivision, land use, code.” Four of them imply a responsible agency, 1) economic and community development, 2) environmental protection, 3) historic preservation and 4) capital improvement programming. Are these the “hot buttons” essential to lanching this effort? Let’s assume they do, that leads into the question of “fit.”
The paragraph x of subdivision b of section z problem
The creation of a new Charter Commission review is the priority recommendation. Rightly so. Please walk through the overlapping, vague, and often deferentially confusing narrative in the New York City Charter. This is the red meat The Report refers to in this post.
The length of time provided (e.g., paid) for a full examination of the proposed ripples in the changes to the law governing NYC is unknown. The task requires transparency and high-level professional consideration of constitutional law, including effective recruitment of citizen volunteers.
To sum up. Are the changes to the Charter (listed below) sticky? Would they stay or slide to the floor if thrown onto this city’s political walls? Next, will there be a consensus among the city’s corporation counsel and advisors regarding these changes individually and in combination?
The changes to the Charter are scattered throughout the overall discussion of the LTCP and the legislation. However, listed in the numerical order of the Charter, they can be examined in detail. We are sure all of the members of The Report will have a good time with these changes as independent analysts and in groups. Virtual Bayer, Tylenol, and Advil are offered with kindness. Each Section is linked to the full text. The dates in the original legislation were based on its passage. The committee tabled the legislation.
Thank you for taking a deep dive into the following list. It was assembled when the prospect of passage was possible. The Report’s strategy was to document its failure with that presumption.
- Section 82 (subdivision 14) Powers and Duties of Borough Presidents Five-year cycles instead of four
- 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
- Section 197-d. Council Review. notice of conflicts with the LTCP and a land-use scenario found in paragraph 7 of subdivision d of section 20
- Section 205 Comprehensive waterfront plan. REPEALED until….?
- Section 215 Ten-year Capital Strategy: This section details the cost of maintaining existing city infrastructure. Align city budget priorities with each goal or priority outlined in the LTCP.
- Section 219 Project initiation; commitment plan. Projected capital projects not previously anticipated
- Section 228 Draft ten-year capital strategy. Five-year cycles instead of every other one
- 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
- Section 234 City planning commission hearing and statement on the draft ten-year capital strategy. Every five years
- Section 248. Ten-year capital strategy. Every five years
- 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
- 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.
- 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)
Time to discover the stickiness of the proposed changes (above) and ensure a concrete discovery process could build confidence. For example, knowing the named agencies and staff for this work includes the people responsible for providing dates and designated places. Ideas are only concrete if they can be given names of those who ascribe to them and places from which they speak.
Finally, with a pact that the changes proposed could be good, what happens in concrete terms to the people accountable for the operation and implementation of these changes. That analysis is nothing more than naming the people and places with the numbers (dates, times, dollars, and algorithms) needed to confirm that feeling. In other words, is the process of the LTCP workable? Can it be implemented with confidence given a concrete analysis?
Use the Contact form for name and email and offer a link to your analysis of these changes, including a reference to others, or request participation to add to this forum. It matters little to The Report and its wild unassuming crew.
One brief note regarding the utility of using a concrete filter is described (here). First, read the MAS press release (here) if you haven’t already. Then read (here) to recognize the utility of this practice.