100 Years of New York

Recap of a highlight from the ULI Fall 2014 Meeting

ULI’s “100 Years of New York” offered historical evidence of the resiliency of the city and a clear expression of confidence in its future. The panel also made plain that positive results aren’t always guaranteed by public policy.

A look back
Rather, it seems that historically major development in the city has flourished when public groundwork was laid that created opportunities for the private sector:  e.g. Robert Moses’ parkways, the relocation of ports to Elizabeth/Newark, and the expansion of transit–in particular the subway system –beyond previously developed areas. We were treated to a photo of the early days of the 7 train, when the subway passed through undeveloped Queens farmland.

Setting the stage
Panelists (Alexander Garvin, president and chief executive officer of AGA Public Realm Strategists and former deputy commissioner of housing at the New York Planning Commission; Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun professor of history and social sciences at Columbia University; and John E. Zuccotti, co-chairman of Brookfield Office Properties and former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission) highlighted how city planning has often been the impetus for development. The failure of Westway and the NYC Olympic Bid, for example, jumpstarted thinking on uses for the far West Side. The Hudson Yards proposal took into account lessons learned and presented the best possible solution.

Housing costs
The panel generally begged the question of retention in light of the rising costs of today’s housing.

“Housing in America is cheap, but we don’t want to live there,” quipped Columbia University History Professor Kenneth Jackson, highlighting the insatiable demand in New York. As housing costs continue to rise and outpace income gains, what is the potential for flight by the traditional working and middle classes? How expensive can New York become and still compete to attract top talent versus, say, Houston?

Where the action is
New York, historically developed as a “wedding cake” with the residential areas on the inside, is now developing along the edges. Rezoned manufacturing districts are hotspots for private sector investment. Developments continue along the outer edges of the city, with the addition of Hudson Yards, the Domino Sugar Factory Development, Seaport City and others. Panelists agreed that they still love central city parks, because they allow us to feel like we’re part of things.

Affordable housing
Affordable housing is a hot topic that seems to cause more confusion than creative solutions. With so much of Mayor DeBlasio’s plan concentrated in Manhattan, the panelists questioned whether these plans will provide housing for the city’s traditional working and middle class residents. Singling out areas such as East New York for increased affordable housing may be problematic. Panelists also noted that the City/NYCHA deserves criticism for neglecting its existing subsidized housing stock. The panel mentioned that while NYC pioneered affordable housing, bipartisan support for housing programs similar to traditional NYCHA housing projects has evaporated at the federal level.

For more on “100 Years of New York,” read ULI’s wrap-up.

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