Last week, amidst flooded streets, blackouts, overheated jails, and subway failures, New Yorkers saw some of the consequences that have resulted from a failure to engage in strategic long-term planning for the future of our city.
The dangers of failing to invest strategically in the infrastructure that sustains our city will grow in coming decades, as temperatures and sea levels rise and the city’s population continues to grow. Even as the infrastructure is strained, our housing affordability crisis is on track to get worse – exacerbating displacement, inequality, and the unfair imposition of our city’s burdens on low-income communities of color.
It’s clear that we need a better way to make infrastructure and land-use decisions that take climate change, affordability, and the challenges of growth seriously.
The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission — which last week issued its final decisions on ballot proposals for Election Day — was a rare opportunity to make big structural changes to how our city runs. But the commission ultimately failed to propose any meaningful changes.
When we vote in November on charter changes, addressing our disparate and dysfunctional planning processes won’t be on the ballot. Councilmember Antonio Reynoso and I wrote about this missed opportunity in Gotham Gazette today.
The process we proposed to the Commission would begin with both data-driven analyses of the problems, and public conversations about the values that should shape decisions — values like fairness across communities, making sure people can stay in their homes, mitigating climate change, investing in resilient infrastructure, new modes of transit, and closing the Rikers Island jails.
Together, we would set a citywide framework for the tough job of balancing citywide needs and neighborhood preferences. We would plan for increased transit capacity alongside increased housing density, budget for new parks equitably across the city, and take a holistic look at where we need to take further action to plan for rising sea levels and more 100-degree days. Communities would have confidence that promises made to them – for new parks, schools, libraries, or transit – would actually be kept.
Under our current land use system, nine of the ten neighborhood rezoning processes initiated during the de Blasio administration have been in low-income communities of color (all save Gowanus, where we are working hard to include equity and community participation in the process). This would not have happened if we had developed a comprehensive plan, with fairness across communities as one of its principles.
The Charter Revision Commission failed to get the job done. But the heat wave and its impacts reminded us that, in the longer term, we really don’t have a choice. So in the coming months, we’ll be working in the City Council to do what we can through legislation. And in the coming years, we’ll try to make sure that the 2021 city elections focus on issues that matter the most, even if they don’t always make the daily news cycle.
Comprehensive planning may not top the polls. But if we are going to meet the collective challenges of rising temperatures and sea levels, growing population, aging infrastructure, keeping people in their homes, and addressing deeply-rooted inequality, we’re going to have to start doing it.