Kiss The Sky, Part Two
New York City has nine million inhabitants, and it is growing all the time. I wrote last week about the enormous pressure on the city’s current housing stock and how the most practical solution is to scale up, adding apartments by increasing density throughout the boroughs. The challenge of course is to do this while retaining neighborhood character and the iconic buildings and areas which make New York unique.
The only way to accomplish this effectively is with a plan, and with partnerships. The current zoning laws and planning processes tend to deliver haphazard results, as the midtown Manhattan skyline attests. The new 57th Street condos neither provide housing for New Yorkers nor enhance our skyline. There is surely a better way forward.
Every neighborhood is different. The unique characters of the West Village, or the Upper East Side, or Ditmas Park, or Astoria, require different density solutions. Some neighborhoods can tolerate and even thrive with additional high rise construction. In other parts of town anything higher than six or eight stories would radically alter the light, air, and streetscape. Since many communities are against change in principle, theirs cannot be the only voice in the conversation. Nor can that of the developers. For the city to create substantive and sustainable housing growth, we need a coalition.
The planning commission would ideally lead the charge on this. Identifying the number of lower and middle income homes we want to create over the next five years is the first step. Public/private partnerships with community leaders, developers, and representatives of city government would then make determinations about where the housing goes, what the mix of low, middle income and market rate is, the appropriate scale for the neighborhood, and what tax incentives would be in place to help underwrite the costs.
I am an idealist. Our different urban constituencies rarely see eye to eye, and bringing everyone to the table with an open mind is never easy. But expanding the city while maintaining its character is the great urban challenge of our time, not just here but all across the world. And it affects everyone, rich and poor alike. Can’t we be leaders at working together to do what’s best for everyone? It’s much easier to correct the mistakes BEFORE they happen!