in LTCP, Politics and Plans

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.


Austerity

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 CoreData.nyc.

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

Alignment

xxxx

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

2022

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

2023

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

2024

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

2025

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)

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