Author: Daniel Robinson
Community Voices #2: Development
| March 25, 2010 | 9:13 pm | Community Voices #2: Development | Comments closed

For tonight’s topic about development, Maria Torres spoke on behalf of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and Lisa Kersavage for the Municipal Arts Society of New York (MASNYC).

NYCEDC is a quasi-governmental agency that manages properties on behalf of New York City. The organization is under the authority of the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Redevelopment, who is himself, of course, under the mayor’s jurisdiction. NYCEDC’s work is double-pronged, involving both physical and also economic transformation, both toward the goal of promoting New York City’s economic vitality. An example of the physical aspect is iNYEDC’s work to revive New York City’s infrastructure, which was notoriously poor in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Economically, the organization has worked to diversify New York City away from the financial services industry, which the city has depended on and has consequently been economically vulnerable. Another of NYCEDC’s goals has been to modernize industries–the media, the financial industry, the fashion industry, and others–for the 21st century. A third example of NYCEDC’s economically-oriented work is in entrepreneurial initiatives. After conducting a survey to investigate what budding city entrepreneurs needed most for success, NYCEDC started a fund to provide businesses with capital and also helped supply office space for companies. Additionally, the corporation conducts entrepreneurial training programs.

Though both are NYC development organizations, NYCEDC and MASNYC greatly differ. The contrast was clear even in the dress of tonight’s speakers–Ms. Torres’ from NYCEDC with a suit, appearing very much the businesswoman, Ms. Kersavage from MASNYC with a more informal top decorated with flowers. The significance will become apparent in a moment.

But first, I should describe MASNYC. Beginning with work in the late-1800′s to beautify the city and encourage public art (such as the small monuments present throughout the city–hence the name Municipal Art Society), MASNYC is now involved in many public planning projects, engaging both in education and in advocacy work. Some examples of the projects the organization has been involved in are the demolition of the original Penn station (MASNYC opposed it, though unsuccessfully) and the Times Square revitalization (MASNYC promoted it–advocating especially for keeping the flashy signs and billboards characteristic of 42nd street).

Three chief goals of MASNYC are: 1) promoting a sustainable NYC; 2) planning for all New Yorkers; and 3) place-making and visioning. Ms. Kersavage gave three example to illustrate the organization’s activities: Moynahan station, Coney Island, and Atlantic Yards/Prospect Heights. Moynihan station is about a proposal to build a new train station in place of the old Penn Station that the city shoved underground, and where Madison Square Garden now stands. One “used to enter like a god, but now scuttles in like a rat.” The organization has worked with Senator Moynihan by creating visual models for what the new station might look like, conducting research studies about its feasability, and other activities.

Both MASNYC and NYCEDC worked in planning for the redevelopment of Coney Island. Whereas NYCEDC focused on the development of the whole neighborhood–through the creation of housing, amenities, and parks, for example–MASNYC centered on the neighborhood in its historic cultural role as a center for entertainment. This illustrates an important point, also evident above from the Times Square example–one of MASNYC’s primary concerns is promoting the city’s personality and culture. The work of both MASNYC and NYCEDC are to some extent complementary, the one focusing on the economic, the other on the cultural. No doubt, though, this is a simplification of both organizations’ goals and activities.

Both Ms. Torres and Ms. Kersavage spoke about community-level involvement and its importance. Ms. Torres encouraged us to be involved in our communities and stressed the community feedback NYCEDC always sought in its activities. Ms. Kersavage’s presentation, though, conveyed MASNYC’s community involvement more effectively. The presentation was replete with video clips and montages of community-level work. In Coney Island, MASNYC conducted community level workshops for Coney Island residents to express their ideas for how to improve the area. In the Atlantic Yards project, the organization worked with community members of nearby Prospect Heights and produced an application on residents’ behalf, focusing and drawing out the community’ energies to resist interference in their neighborhood from the Atlantic Yards project. One of the community’s goals was to have the neighborhood given a protected designation as an historic district. The effort, fortunately, was a success.

All in all, both speakers were informative and presented different–and sometimes opposing–aspects of development in New York City.

PlaNYC and Community-Based Plans
| March 2, 2010 | 11:28 am | 3/2/2010, Uncategorized | Comments closed

The overarching goal of the NYC 2030 plan is twofold: to increase sustainably the quality of life for New Yorkers of the present and future, and to combat and adjust to global climate change.

There are several assumptions underlying the NYC 2030 plan. One is that nature as an essential component of a healthy city. In many of its initiatives, PlaNYC utilizes the power of nature. For instance, to improve water quality, the planners include introducing mussels into the city’s waterways (they filter the water), requiring greening of parking lots (the greenery can absorb rainwater), providing incentives for the installation of green roofs, protecting wetlands, and other nature-harnessing proposals.

But the PlaNYC organizers also profess to be working with nature in a new way: “We must also confront the legacy of our industrial past, which treated New York’s waterways as a delivery system, rather than as a source of recreation or a significant ecological habitat.” In other words, the PlaNYC workers claim to be placing more value on nature for its own sake. This reflects changing societal values, from the more earth-dominating ethos of our industrial American past to an increasing keep-nature-pristine ideology of our now postindustrial society.

Another professed assumption in the plan is the value of listening to the voices of the community. To jumpstart this project, the planners enlisted the opinions of the community for what “10 Goals for 2030″ should be, through website comments and community leader and town hall meetings. The planners then used these opinions in formulating the PlaNYC–but how much so is another question, in light of our Sherry Arnstein reading.

A third assumption of PlaNYC is the importance of efficiency, of “squeezing every penny”, so to speak, of every available resource. One example under land initiatives is restoring brownfields, which are sites that have been contaminated by previous users. A second example is the initiative of reducing New Yorkers’ consumption of various resources–water, different resources for energy (fuel for cars, electricity), etc.

The plan is organized into six categories–land, water, transportation, energy, air, and climate change. Three of the categories are further divided into subtopics: “Land” into housing, open space, and brownfields; “Water” into water quality and water network; and “Transportation” into congestion and state of good repair. The categories and subtopics are all interconnected. For instance, several of the initiatives under each category simply refer to other categories. One of the initiatives for improving air quality reads, “Capture the air quality benefits of transportation plan”, and another, “Capture the air quality benefits of our energy strategy.” Many of the initiatives also work together to fight climate change, one of two overarching goals of PlaNYC. Congestion pricing under transportation initiatives, reducing energy use by city government under energy initiatives, improving the fuel efficiency of cars under air initiatives, for instance, would all help also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The PlaNYC organizers use charts, graphs, maps and other images showing changes in the city over time and break-downs of information in the present. The presentations of data and the images can be decidedly helpful for the lay reader. For instance, I had little idea of what a swale was, but the image the report provided helped clear that up for me, illustrating what I read on dictionary.com: “A low place in a tract of land, usually moister and often having ranker vegetation than the adjacent higher land.”

The PlaNYC, suprisingly to me, reflects many of the concerns of the Community-Based Planners. The most common themes the website’s analysis of the community-based plans provides are, in order of prevalence: open space and greening, improved mobility, affordable housing, neighborhood retail, and historic preservation. The first three concerns are especially evident in PlaNYC–though the latter two, not as much. This could be seen as reflecting the ambiguity concerning how much the organizers of PlaNYC took grassroots-level concerns into consideration.

The Atlas of Community-Based Plans is something of a challenge to Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” I myself am surprised by the number of community groups listed here. The analysis the website provides is very helpful for navigating the plans, organizing them into three categories: location (borough and community districts), type of plan (e.g. brownfield redevelopment and community revitalization), and common themes (e.g. watershed protection). The last category is especially fruitful for comparisons with PlaNYC.

Daniel Robinson
| February 11, 2010 | 8:42 am | Introductions | Comments closed

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My name is Daniel Robinson. My major is Latin and Greek, though I’m probably going to switch to Classical Studies. I’m a triplet with two sisters the same age as me. One of them, Lizzie, goes to Bryn Mawr, and the other sister, Bonnie, is at Princeton. Bonnie’s both the oldest (by three minutes) and the smartest. I started taking Latin and Greek because of my Latin teacher in high school, who inspired me to be a good student. My favorite book so far in Latin is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, though we’ve only gotten a few pages into it in class. My favorite English author is Shakespeare. My favorite Greek book is Plato’s Apology, though I don’t have anything to compare it to yet.