Coalition Calls on Charter Revision Commission to Take Action on Land Use & Planning Reforms

April 16, 2019

The Thriving Communities Coalition and the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus have called for Comprehensive Planning.

New York, NY– Policy advocates, community members, and elected officials held a press conference this morning calling on the City Charter Revision Commission to advance proposals that would significantly change the City’s land use and planning processes. The 2019 Charter Revision Commission will soon release a draft report with recommendations for changes to the City’s Charter, but whether those recommendations will include land use reform remains unclear.  

The City’s current land use process deepens inequality, entrenches segregation, and has exacerbated our affordability crisis. The fact that these trends have continued across multiple administrations shows that basic government processes - rather than simply political ideologies - are partially to blame. When the City Council passed legislation to create the Commission in 2018, land use was one of the key topic areas mentioned and it has been a consistent topic of testimony at subsequent hearings.  

Both the Thriving Communities Coalition and the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus have called for Comprehensive Planning, along with other reforms, to make the city’s future budgeting, zoning, and policy approaches more transparent, more consistent across neighborhoods and agencies, and less subject to powerful political interests. While objective criteria such as transit access are often invoked by the City to explain why certain areas are targeted for additional density, both the data and periodic public comments from administration officials have revealed additional justifications having less to do with planning principles and more to do with political and socioeconomic power.  

Advocates today argued that such dynamics need to change. As part of their Comprehensive Planning proposal, they demand that the City separately assess and plan for the needs of existing and projected populations, noting that communities more in need of investment are currently at a disadvantage as long as schools, parks, services, and other existing neighborhood needs are used as bargaining chips in exchange for zoning changes. The Coalition also proposed regular updates to the methodology used to assess the impacts of proposed zoning changes and new requirements to ensure that negative impacts are appropriately mitigated.  

“As a South Bronx resident, I witnessed firsthand through the Jerome Avenue rezoning the lack of transparency, accountability, and thoughtfulness the City has with planning for and investing in communities like the South Bronx,” said Carmen Vega-Rivera, a CASA Leader. “The City has a duty to acknowledge its own role in creating policies that perpetuate racial and income segregation as well as displacement; and to correct historical discriminatory planning in these communities. The City needs to put a moratorium on rezonings until it can responsibly and thoroughly assess their impacts on creating and exacerbating displacement. The time is now to do something about it.”  

Roberto Rodriguez, a tenant leader with Los Sures Lucha said, “We can no longer afford to live in the days of Robert Moses when racist planning shaped our city; we the people of the thriving communities coalition believe that conscientious planning can help undo those mistakes.”

“We need the City Charter Commissioners and the elected officials who appointed them to stand with the people. And from all New Yorkers who love this city to those who only love profit and wish to take our city away from us: you are outnumbered!” said Giovanni Matos, Engagement Coordinator for Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES).

Fitzroy Christian, a Bronx resident and tenant leader at CASA in the southwest Bronx, noted that “... successive governments at the federal, state, and city levels have been employing government-engineered strategies such as redlining, planned shrinkage, disinvestment, and rezoning to intentionally segregate communities and marginalize Black and Brown peoples. These practices worsen already deplorable conditions of inequality, inequity, benign neglect, and ever-widening wealth gaps between white and non-white segments of the population. Our Thriving Communities Coalition’s platform and policy recommendations will restore democracy, fairness, equity, and justice to the city’s constitution which will benefit all residents of the city and not just the monied minority.” 

“New York CIty’s current land use process benefits the few at the expense of the many - our communities - and right now we are facing overwhelming displacement, harassment and segregation in our neighborhoods. We have an opportunity now to change the Charter of NYC to enshrine a process that is more transparent, has greater community input, and is truly fair for every resident of New York City,” said Alex Fennell, Network Director at Churches United for Fair Housing

“New York City’s land use process is broken, and residents are fed up with having to pay the price,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “Our current land use process favors short term fixes over long term solutions. Sole reliance on piecemeal rezonings exacerbates socio-economic inequalities within our City and is insufficient in addressing large scale issues like our housing crisis and climate change. By adopting a comprehensive plan, the City Council Charter Revision commission has a chance to change land use and the future of our City for the better. I strongly urge them to take it.” 

“There is growing clarity as climate change, sea-level rise, inequality, the affordability crisis and crumbling infrastructure continue to become ever more apparent that a project-based, reactive process is not up to the challenge that the coming decades present,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “We need to implement comprehensive planning reform, and this year’s Charter Revision Commission is the perfect vehicle to do it. I urge the Charter Revision Commission to take up land use reform and comprehensive planning to bring to the voters this November.”

“One of the reasons New York City continues to be intensely segregated by race and income is that we engage in piecemeal land-use decisions without an opportunity for the public to consider their costs and benefits across the city or to address large, structural issues.  It’s time for New York City to do comprehensive planning with clearly stated goals of equity and integration,” said David Tipson, Executive Director of New York Appleseed

“For too long, New York City’s planning system has exacerbated inequality and failed to address historic challenges faced by communities across the city,” said J.T. Falcone, Policy Analyst at United Neighborhood Houses. “New York needs a new, comprehensive planning process that enables us to look towards the future and fairly distribute development and resources. These reforms are vital to ensuring that all neighborhoods have access to basic necessities like schools and reliable transportation.” 

“Our current land use process is actively exacerbating inequality. Low income communities continue to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of development, and neither the City nor private developers are actually required to mitigate the impacts of their proposals. Meanwhile, wealthier communities are often able to prevent any new development at all. This charter revision process is an opportunity to set New York City on a new course, by inscribing principles of equity and accountability into our planning processes,” said Emily Goldstein, Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD)

“We’re planning to fail low income and communities of color by failing to plan in a way that includes all neighborhoods in co-creating our city. The outrageous inequality we see across neighborhoods is directly the result of our current approach. We need comprehensive planning with equity-focused goals that includes resources and standing for community-based planning in order to overcome the systemic biases that continue to plague us,” said Elena Conte, Director of Policy, Pratt Center for Community Development. 

“New York City needs a comprehensive plan that will help rebuild accountability, predictability, and trust in our land use decision-making and governance. As our region continues to grow, the pressures of inequality and long-term challenges like climate change threaten to displace vulnerable residents every day. We need to do more to be transparent about our challenges and give New Yorkers the platform to align their priorities with citywide goals,” said Maulin Mehta, Senior Associate of State Programs and Advocacy, Regional Plan Association

“If we are going to be serious about planning for the long-term future of the city, we need to reform our land use processes to allow that kind of long-term thinking,” said Leah Archilbald, Executive Director of Evergreen. “Having good-paying jobs means we need space for those good paying jobs; a comprehensive planning approach can ensure we get there.” 

“For over 50 years, Brooklyn A has combated the devastating effects of discriminatory land use decisions which, time after time, have displaced people of color from their homes, job place, school and community. It is time for the City of New York to reform its land use processes and center the lives of New Yorkers; not corporate interests. Planning by and for the people is one among the most necessary answers to the current housing, economic and health crisis that affect so many low-income families in NY,” said Kevin Worthington, Legal Advocate, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A

"In order to turn the tide on inequality in New York City, we must ensure quality jobs are available to our local communities.  Prioritizing the preservation and creation of affordable industrial and manufacturing space in our planning policies is critical to this notion. Comprehensive planning will begin to address this by finally giving meaningful decision making power to the communities most impacted by these policy outcomes," said Quincy Ely-Cate, Director of Industrial Business Development, BOC Network

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