Search results for "NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development"

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Ben Prosky
Stefan Sagmeister designed the poster for the 2008 fall lecture series at GSAPP (left) and the poster designed by 2X4 for the Columbia Building Intelligence Project held in Tokyo in 2010 (right).
Courtesy GSAPP

The fact that schools of architecture repeatedly pull off great events is nothing new. Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous 1951 lecture at Columbia has been meticulously archived; Harvard’s annual Walter Gropius lecture has been given by one of the most established practitioners in any given year since 1961. Nor is it uncommon for schools to deliberately organize provocative conferences as when Yale fostered a real ideological battle in a public forum between Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier in 2002. As recent history has demonstrated, interesting debates and critical experimentation are no longer the purview of agents like the IAUS—established in the 1960s as an alternative to the institutions mentioned previously—which are again returning to university culture. As Rem Koolhaas insists at his academic lectures, architectural ideas have a broad audience beyond captive student audiences conven-iently dwelling in studios adjacent to the university auditorium.

At the same time, I believe that the production of architectural events in universities is more and more of a curatorial act. In addition to the professors and deans traditionally involved, more engaged administrators are not only coordinating and organizing events but also giving input and direction. The need for additional curation is clear, these events are occurring at a sometimes dizzying rate, with a typical week consisting of a Monday night panel discussion on sustainability issues in China, a Wednesday evening architecture lecture by Richard Rogers, a Friday lunchtime debate on urban zoning policy, and a Saturday conference on African cities. Furthermore, the ability and desire of these ambitious events to draw outsiders—practitioners, retirees, artists, policy makers, students from other schools and faculties—has an indelible impact upon the school’s students, faculty and discourse at large. In producing programming, not just in the form of events but also exhibitions, publications, and relevant web content beyond that with an academic link, a school can instigate discussion and inspire collaborations that reach beyond the existing culture of the place.

What does it mean for schools to have such overactive public programs? It seems obvious: to serve the students and faculty and to give them avenues in which to communicate about their work. However, public programs should not simply replicate the school’s agenda but also help to produce it. By creating venues, forums, and mediums, schools can explore what it they are curious about outside the classroom. In turn, ideas that come out of an academic event should influence the school, shape its pedagogy, and sway its discourse. By inviting other interests in and producing friction with diverse ideas, the school can better define how it thinks about itself.

At Columbia GSAPP, where I have directed the events program for the past six years under the direction of dean Mark Wigley, we have strived to create such conditions by blurring the lines where classroom, practice, industry, and professional development can meet, as in the conferences on materials, including glass, concrete, metals, and plastic, chaired by professor Michael Bell.

Of course, it has been a challenge for design schools that have departments in addition to architecture, such as urban planning, urban design, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and real estate development to produce public programs that address the interests and concerns of all included. Architecture departments tend to take a minimum of three years to complete and therefore have the most students. But a well-curated program can facilitate interaction amongst all departments and instigate curiosity about other disciplines, mirroring the cross-disciplinary approach currently favored by the profession. For example, the architecture student who comes to developer Douglas Durst’s talk may begin to understand that convincing his peers in the real estate development program that good design is a good investment may someday lead to a commission—just as listening to Steven Holl discuss housing projects in China might lead a research trip to Shenzhen to examine the existing urban fabric, or a discussion with Amanda Burden about New York’s planNYC might inspire a debate among urban planning and architecture students that could lead to a proposal for a joint design-development studio.

Crafting a communications plan for announcing and informing diverse publics within and beyond the school is a constant challenge. Whereas museums have long-term planning in their DNA, schools have not been traditionally accustomed to organizing themselves this way. Their fluid and experimental nature can throw this process. Attention to mailing lists and email listserves is not often a priority, undermining the programming or outreach ambitions.

Schools tend to be omnivorous when it comes to their visual identities. They have a wonderful way of promiscuously working with a host of graphic designers. Whereas cultural institutions aim for consistent branding, a school can choose a sober design approach for one exhibition, while the same school’s lecture series poster might be outrageously bright. These posters, programs, and postcards are sometimes the only traces remaining of significant events and become somewhat collectible. A well-detailed program for a conference can essentially become the Cliff Notes for the audience or the table of contents for the symposium publication.

The events program that I directed at Columbia was well received but did not go unchallenged. I noticed that event fatigue can set in. Complaints came from professors that there were too many programs on too many nights with not enough time to think in between. Students created their own rogue series advertising that they would invite the people “they choose” rather than the speakers chosen for them, and they sometimes stopped attending even the most compelling school lectures. The effort to produce creative and graphically stimulating communications materials was also met with contentious remarks from faculty and students who felt that the designs were sometimes too confusing or too colorful, while others considered them not bold enough. Then again, alums sometimes write to tell me that they are using past posters as decoration on their office walls!

No matter how ambitious a series is, it cannot satisfy everyone’s interests. An embarrassment of riches and offerings is not a bad problem to have. One can only hope that by offering up such a diversity of ideas that there is always something with which to engage. Sometimes an event on a particular scholarly subject that draws a modest audience of 25 engaged attendees can be just as worthwhile as a lecture by a famous architect filling the auditorium with 300 people.

Having recently been appointed the Assistant Dean of Communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, I step into a role with a communications mandate at its core. The position oversees an already creative and experienced team running the departments of events, exhibitions, publications, Harvard Design Magazine, and web content. Under the direction of the Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, the goal is to give more possibilities for interdepartmental collaboration and broader reach and impact.

In a time when museums have dwindling departments of architecture, curatorial positions in architecture are few and far between, and cultural institutions are cutting back on architecture programming, it is more important than ever for schools to take their role seriously as major producers of architectural discourse. To produce material that is accessible within academic walls and also reaches out to the profession not only serves the school, but the entire community.

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Housing Hold-Up
The Briarwood Organization recently completed the Solara in the the Bronx but has had trouble filling it because banks are reluctant to lend to buyers.
Courtesy the Briarwood Organization

As part of a complex deal with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state, and private groups, 21 of the city's most dilapidated public housing complexes finally became eligible for annual federal subsidies today, as well as an investment of more than $400 million. The deal is one of many helping to keep affordable housing afloat during the downturn, as chronicled in the following story from Issue 05.

Whether it is the past boom or the recent bust, affordable housing seems always to be in urgent demand. During the good times, rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units vaporized, and now sky-high rents have still not come back to earth.

Blame for these developments often falls on the business-friendly Bloomberg administration, but affordable housing advocates and developers argue that, were it not for the mayor's efforts, the city could be in much worse shape. “Their affordable housing plan is one of the foremost in the country,” said Josh Lockwood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity New York City. “It’s pretty amazing that they’re on track in the middle of this recession.”

Lockwood was referring to the New Housing Marketplace plan, updated on February 22. The centerpiece of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s affordable housing efforts, the plan was first laid out in 2002, and greatly expanded in 2005 on the eve of the mayor’s first re-election. It called for 165,000 units for some 500,000 residents by 2013, half of which would be created through new construction, often within market-rate developments, half through preservation of existing affordable units.

The mayor announced that the program was indeed on track (with just under 100,000 units so far), but it will now take a slightly different tack, emphasizing retrofits and preservation over construction. In spite of the plan’s continued success, it is not immune to the current economy: Keeping it afloat will cost the city an additional $1 billion, and the completion date has been pushed back to 2014.

Holly Leicht, Deputy Commissioner for Development at HPD, sees these changes as a virtue, not a failure. The city initially capitalized on new construction, leveraging inclusionary zoning and tax credits to entice developers to build in affordable units to their new "luxury" projects. With construction credit still frozen, almost no units are  being created through this route, so the department has shifted its money to the other half of the equation, preserving units through tax credits and low-interest loans.

“A lot of owners, particularly in Mitchell Llama housing, may have seen a pot of gold before, but now that pot of gold is gone, and they are much more interested in talking to us,” Leicht said. This is an especially enticing approach for the department because it has already committed heavily to such developments. Keeping them affordable now extends that investment. It also has a faster turn around than new construction, where many promised units remain unbuilt. “It’s taking longer, but we always anticipated this would be a long-term strategy,” she said. Still, Leicht said she believes the worst is over, and the department still managed to realize 12,500 affordable units last year, down from a high of 17,500 in 2008.

New programs have also sprung up to help the city in its quest for more affordable housing, though they are experiencing varying degrees of success. The city has received two rounds of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding from the federal government, which uses innovative data-tracking to fund small-scale projects, from homeownership assistance to foreclosure purchasing, helping head off the sort of disinvestment that plagued the city in the 1970s and ‘80s.

One program that has yet to bear fruit, however, is one of the most celebrated, at least by the politicians who created it. With upwards of 600 stalled construction projects in the city, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed the Housing Asset Renewal Program, or HARP. The program, announced last summer, would use city money to provide bridge loans to stalled projects, with $25,000 to $50,000 provided for each unit the developer converted to affordable housing. The goal was to create about 400 affordable units.

So far, none have gone ahead. A deadline was originally set for December, but it was pushed back to April for lack of quality bids. Leicht said there are better offers coming in now, with more variety—not just small projects in the outer boroughs. The problem remains that few lenders, even with foreclosures in the offing, are willing to take the necessary discounts the program demands.

“It’s a great idea,” said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a local nonprofit research organization. “Ironically, because people are optimistic about our future here in New York, they aren’t willing to take a hit yet on their investment.”

As with most problems since the collapse, blame has fallen on the bankers. James Riso, a principal at affordable housing developer the Briarwood Organization, said he used to close two to three apartments a day in his projects but is now lucky to see that many a month. Meanwhile, most developers are holding on, so competition remains fierce for the few affordable ground-up projects out there, forcing Briarwood to do more construction management, which is actually where the developer has it’s roots. “We’ve come full-circle,” Riso said."You have to adapt to your circumstances."

Habitat for Humanity has, it has actually been prospering. It recently partnered with New York State to develop super low-interest mortgages for homeowners. With the proceeds, Habitat is now able to take out construction loans for the first time, expanding its building program. The group has also been negotiating short sales to keep buildings occupied and using its volunteers to clean up community centers and parks, making distressed neighborhoods less so. “Now’s the time to get creative,” Lockwood said.

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A Grander Concourse
The city's proposal envisions apartment towers and waterfront open space as a focal point of the Lower Concourse rezoning.
Courtesy NYC DCP

Designed by Alsatian-born engineer Louis Aloys Risse, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx was modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and boasts one of the highest
concentrations of art deco architecture in the world. But not all of the great boulevard’s five miles are so distinguished. Along the southern tip, stretching from 150th Street to the Harlem River, gas stations, auto body shops, and disused lofts predominate, remnants from the area’s industrial past.

A map of the recently approved rezoning.
The city hopes to transform the area's disused waterfront.
Historic loft buildings will be preserved, some as residences, others as factories.
Now, the city hopes to transform this stretch of Mott Haven into a modern-day, mixed-use, mixed-income community—a 21st-century version of Risse’s vision—through a rezoning plan approved by the city council on June 30. The plan, which covers a 30-block triangle where the river bends, calls for a mix of preservation and new construction to create market-rate and affordable housing and some manufacturing, while opening up parts of the waterfront for the first time in decades.

Though some contend the plan may only spur further gentrification of the South Bronx, it has been widely embraced for its equity. “I think the community as a whole will create an environment for development we have not seen in a long time,” said Cedric Loftin, district manager for Community Board 1. “It creates an opportunity for jobs and housing.”

The heart of the plan transforms the lowrise industrial landscape into midrise residential lots, mirroring the eight- and 12-story apartment houses to the north. In a much bolder move, most of the formerly industrial waterfront is being given over to the type of highrise development that now characterizes the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, with 40-story residential towers surrounded by parks and open space. A 2.2-acre park is also planned for the upland section of the district.

The Department of City Planning, which developed the rezoning plan, has set aside loft buildings adjacent to MetroNorth and the Major Deegan Expressway as manufacturing facilities that would retain so-called green-collar jobs. Meanwhile, lofts in more suitable areas will be converted for residential use. The plan uses the city’s inclusionary housing bonuses to encourage affordable housing development by offering additional density in exchange for making 20 percent of a project affordable.

But Harry Bubbins, executive director of Friends of Brook Park and a longstanding critic of the rezoning, fears it could have adverse impacts on surrounding areas. “It’s the same cookie-cutter gentrification model the Bloomberg administration has deployed throughout the city,” Bubbins said. He argued there is not enough infrastructure or public amenities to support an influx of new residents.

Chauncey Young, the education organizer at Highbridge Community Life Center, maintained a healthy skepticism about the city’s goals. “Our concern is how long it’s going to take,” Young said. “These are the guys that promised us a park after the Yankees took ours, and still nothing’s been built. As long as they keep their promises, though, this plan can work.”

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

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HARPing on Affordable Housing
The HARP program is as much about protecting surrounding neighborhoods from blight as it is about completing stalled projects.
Matt Chaban

Last year’s bursting real estate bubble left the five boroughs littered with vacant and half-built projects, many of them market-rate units few can now afford. But city officials are hoping to rescue some of those stalled projects, create much needed affordable housing in the process, and begin to steady the real estate market as a result. Wednesday, the City Council and Bloomberg administration announced a $20 million program known as HARP—as in Housing Asset Renewal Program—that would subsidize the conversion of upwards of 400 stalled market-rate units into affordable ones.

By thawing frozen projects, the hope is to free up financing to finish construction on those that are not yet built and to fully occupy those that are. (The imprimatur of the city should help with financing, as well.)  Meanwhile, the city will help stabilize these buildings and their surrounding neighborhoods, thus avoiding the blight that plagued the city during the decline of the 1970s and 1980s. With 138 stalled projects confirmed by the Department of Buildings, and countless more unaccounted for, there are plenty of projects in need of support.

“Private developments that sit vacant or unfinished could have a destabilizing effect on our neighborhoods, but we’re not about to let that happen,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “This program holds out the promise of addressing the unintended blight caused by vacant sites, while transforming what would have been market-rate buildings into affordable housing for working class New Yorkers.”

City officials expect only some units of buildings entering HARP will be converted to affordable units--just enough to get them back on track.
Matt Chaban

The program is the result of a council taskforce on affordable housing launched in 2008, though many of its ideas crashed along with the housing market. Instead, the taskforce began outlining HARP, which speaker Christine Quinn introduced in February during her State of the City address. The council then turned to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to implement the details and administer the program, which is still in the pilot phase. The cost is also shared between the council and the city through the reallocation of existing capital funds.

The city will issue a request for funding applicants—a sort of RFP with a rolling deadline—in July that is expected to run through December. Applicants will be judged on three criteria: those who offer the deepest discounts, require the least amount of subsidy, and provide the most “stabilization” to the neighborhood. For instance, a single building in need of subsidy in a ten block radius would be more likely targeted than 15 buildings in need within a five block radius, according to Andrew Doba, a council spokesperson.

While details of the plan are still being worked out, the expectation is that most of the money will be spent in the outer boroughs, where the greatest speculation and destabilization took place, and also where the city can stretch its money the furthest. For each unit of a project pledged as an affordable rental unit, applicants will receive $50,000 an amount officials emphasize is about a third to a half as expensive as the typical rate paid for new affordable units. Both unfinished and finished-but-empty projects are eligible for the program, though the expectation is that only a portion of a project’s total units would be converted from market-rate to affordable.

Vacant yet completed projects, such as 66 North 1st Street in Williamsburg, are also eligible for the program, and could account for a sizable portion of the funds as they can be more readily occupied.

But first those seeking money must agree to take a loss on their projects, as the city insists that the program is not intended as a handout or bailout. “This will require real sacrifice from the banker and the developers,” Catie Marshall, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said. “We’re not going to bankrupt anyone, but we’re not making them whole, either.”

Marshall said the department expects to get many of its applications from banks that have foreclosed on projects and want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. When money will begin to flow out remains to be seen, but it could be as soon as the department begins getting applications back. “We could start working on projects, depending on what comes in and how clean it is, by the Fall,” Marshall said. If the pilot phase goes well, the city will consider expanding it or even making it a permanent housing program.

Developers large and small, not-for-profit and high-end are already hailing the project. “I see a plus-plus for the city of New York, both for the people in the neighborhoods, who won’t have to look at these half-built buildings anymore, and the affordable housing users who will have shelter,” said Vincent Riso, a principal at the Briarwood Organization, which has been developing affordable housing since the 1980s.

Projects proposed for empty lots are also eligible, though few are expected to qualify because of the considerable amount of subsidy they would require to get off the ground.
Matt Chaban

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, acknowledged that while the program would not directly benefit his members—many of the city’s biggest name developers—it would provide a benefit by absorbing excess inventory and stabilizing lending. “I think it’s a creative use of rather limited city resources, and at the same time to throw a little help to a developer in challenging times,” he added. “It will create opportunities that did not exist before.”

And given the continued stasis in the financial markets, HARP could be the only opportunity for developers to get projects off the ground. “There’s so much inventory, why would a bank finance any new construction?” said Julien Vernet, Briarwood’s marketing director.

The only criticism of the program so far was that it would primarily support middle-income families because lower income housing would require greater subsidies. “They can either serve a large number of folks with a moderate income or less folks with low income,” Josh Lockwood, executive director of Habitat-NYC, said. “We just hope there’s room in the conversation for low-income families.”

But Lockwood was also quick to praise the program as one-of-a-kind. “They’re light years ahead of anywhere else just trying to make this work,” he said. “I just hope other cities will follow.”

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Sustaining the Pratt Center

Looking back through the past five decades of development in the five boroughs, the Pratt Center for Community Development has played an active role in the issues shaping the city. From RFK’s community development agencies in the 1960s to housing preservation and building reclamation in the 1970s and ‘80s, from community development and job creation initiatives in the 1990s to community rezoning plans over the last decade, the center has been an important influence in the city’s typically top-down planning and land-use policies.


Now, as sustainability comes to the fore, the center announced last week that Adam Friedman will take the reins at the center. Friedman, the former director of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), has made it his mission to help push sustainability at the community level and to continue the work of integrating the Pratt Institute’s diverse art and design faculty into the center’s work.

“That’s why I came, to bring all these resources to bear on the issues,” Friedman said in an interview. “The issues really aren’t that different with NYIRN, but the center can provide so much more support.” For example, Friedman said he would push for more local resources to be used in the school’s industrial design department. “It creates good paying jobs for local manufacturers while also building important understanding and relationships for students,” Friedman added.

Gary Hattem, chair of the center’s advisory board, said it is this unique approach to economic development that captured the board’s notice. “I think he can leverage the design capital of the institute with his incredible skills in economic development and sustainability,” Hattem said.

In addition to his work with NYIRN, Friedman served as director of economic development for former Manhattan borough presidents David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger. He has also taught urban planning at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and in 2005 he convinced the city to create Industrial Business Zones, one of NYIRN's longstanding goals to protect manufacturing businesses in New York.

Given the current economic downturn, and the city’s still high cost of living, it is a challenging time for the center, but these challenges underscore the importance of its mission. For Friedman, the key to preserving communities is not just about affordable housing and the quality of the urban fabric, but also creating and retaining sustainable jobs. “Part of the challenge is how you make these communities more hospitable for organic economic growth,” Friedman said.

That challenge remains to be addressed, but Friedman’s work at his previous job provides a template. At NYIRN, Friedman and his team fought to protect blue collar work—say, from encroaching hotel development—as well as create new models such as higher-end artisanal manufacturing and sustainable production.

“He’s a great leader with a diverse constituency, from labor to business to government,” Mike Pratt, chair of the institute’s board of trustees, said. “He really understands this city, and he’ll put that understanding to work at the center. We’re thrilled to have him.”

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Second Life
A local community group is trying to transform 23 Caton Place, a half-built property in foreclosure in Kensington, Brooklyn, into affordable housing.
Matt Chaban

Twenty-three Caton Place is like countless other developments that have sprung up across the five boroughs toward the end of the recent real-estate boom. A mix of middlebrow architecture and high-end finishes built in Kensington, Brooklyn, the 107-unit complex was overleveraged and ill-timed. It now languishes half-built and in foreclosure, its developer in bankruptcy and some 140,000 square feet of concrete left looming over the neighborhood.

But there is something special about 23 Caton that sets it apart from many of its sullen siblings, something that might also one day bind them all together: a neighborhood community group that had long opposed the project is trying, with the help of local politicians and former Pratt Center director Brad Lander, to buy the property and transform it into affordable housing, arguably the first such effort of its kind in the city.

The plan is still in its earliest phases—the first stakeholders meeting was held Tuesday—and could take years to resolve, but its backers are already hopeful that their efforts might serve as a blueprint for the plague of similarly stalled developments sprinkled throughout the city.

The development is adjacent to the Kensington stables, the last horse stables serving prospect park.
Matt Chaban

“Essentially, we are hoping to make lemonade out of lemons,” Mandy Harris, founder of the neighborhood group, Stable Brooklyn, wrote in an email. “The building is in serious financial trouble and it is a blight on the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood are generally pretty progressive-thinking, so we started daring to imagine what could be done with it that would actually benefit the community in the long term.”

Having worked with Lander on a rezoning plan for the neighborhood in response to 23 Caton and two other major luxury developments that cropped up in the low-scale neighborhood, Harris and her group turned to him for advice. The idea is to find a sympathetic developer who will buy the property from its lender, Corus Bank, and redevelop it.

Megan Miller, another member of Stable Brooklyn and a practicing architect, said that Corus has already suggested that it would sell if a reasonable offer was made, and that roughly 100 different parties have expressed interest to the bank. (Bank officials did not return calls seeking comment.) The problem is the bankruptcy filing, which began in Connecticut in August of last year. Numerous liens have been placed on the property as a result, and untangling them could take years, greatly slowing the process.

“I’m afraid five years from now, it could still be as is,” Miller said. Lander joked that “this is no Chrysler,” referring to the speedy bankruptcy being engineered for the auto manufacturer by the Obama administration. For its part, Community Board 7 has proposed turning the site into a school, because, as district manager Jeremy Laufer put it, "We don't want to see a dormant, half-built building there forever. It's dangerous, an eyesore, and damaging to property valuies."

Another challenge, albeit an intriguing one, is presented in the architecture. Despite frequent criticisms that the flood of luxury developments that have hit the city are anything but, there is still a certain formula that pervades, which often calls for balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and other architectural amenities that can be difficult to reverse in a building as far along as 23 Caton, which was designed by Karl Fischer Architect.

A rendering of the original building, designed by Karl Fischer Architect.
Courtesy Karl Fischer Architect

"It's not a clean box," Miller said. "It has all these geometries, so it's a bit pre-determined as to what you would end up with." Given that any affordable housing proposal would require these built-in "luxury" features to be "dumbed down," as Miller put it, that could actually increase the cost of the project and make it difficult to create affordable units.

Miller was also concerned about the structural stability of the building, though the Department of Buildings recently inspected the site and determined it sound. Given the current economic doldrums, Miller admitted that in the end, many architects might leap at the chance to work on the project.

Still, the group is moving ahead with its plans in the event a developer expresses interest. Should that happen, it appears they will be stepping into a favorable political climate.

In her State of the City address, Council Speaker Christine Quinn outlined plans similar to those Stable Brooklyn has proposed. A council spokesperson said details are still being worked out, and are largely contingent on the city’s cash-strapped budget, but the idea is to leverage city financing to lower rents in completed buildings that currently lie vacant, as well as to entice builders to finish half-built projects.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the department is considering similar measures, though they are less determined at this point, and lean more toward occupying existing buildings, as that is seen as a more cost-effective approach.

Even if comprehensive plans are developed to reclaim these myriad sites—such as tax breaks, special financing, and other incentives—there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, Lander said. He said that because each development has its own set of constraints, its own set of creditors, and its own set of legal proceedings, each would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, a process that could take decades.

“It makes an awful lot of sense,” Lander said. “A lot people are talking about this. The problem is, how do you do it?”

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No One Buying New Housing Marketplace
There has been a lot of talk lately about how it is now up to the government to spend stimulate our way out of the current economic doldrums, and how much of that will come through infrastructure spending. One place where such investment is critically important is affordable housing, especially in light of all the foreclosures. While New York has fared better than other areas on that front, it is still unwelcome news that the city has rolled back the timeline for its New Housing Marketplace Plan. Back on December 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave one of his weekly radio addresses, which focused on the rising foreclosure rate and how his administration was coping with the challenges that presented (text). In addition to mentioning expanded mortgage advice and anti-abandonment measures, the mayor highlighted the New Housing Marketplace Plan, which is run by the city's Department of Housing and Preservation:
"The New Housing Marketplace - our Administration's affordable housing initiative, and the most ambitious such effort ever made by an American city. Our ten-year goal is to fund development and preservation of 165,000 homes - enough to house the entire population of Atlanta."
But, the mayor continued:
"Now, with the economy stalling and even the most qualified developers having a hard time getting credit, we know we can't keep that pace up. So we're stretching out our schedule for completing the second half of our housing program to six years instead of the five years we'd planned for at first." [Emphasis added.]
As the Times pointed out today, "Mr. Bloomberg announced the extension in December during a speech and in one of his weekly radio addresses, neither of which received much attention beyond housing advocates." Whether it was impacted by the news the day before that HPD head Shaun Donovan would be taking over HUD for the Obama administration, we're also not sure (the HPD press office has yet to return our call). But according to the Times, a spokesman for the mayor said the extension was tied to Bloomberg's announcement in May that he would stretch a four-year construction plan for the city to five years amid signs of a declining economy. Still, this isn't exactly news. In September, when the mayor was trumpeting the successes of the program at its halfway mark, the Observer was already calling them into question. Eliot Brown reported that the administration was already shifting gears:
[A]s the financial industry hits major turbulence and the city’s once lush climate for development turns dry, the Bloomberg administration is struggling to meet its goals for new construction (currently targeted at 91,637 units) and will likely need to shift the balance more toward preservation (73,395 units).... Although city officials say the original plan emphasized preservation in its early years, the reality of an inclement market has caused reevaluation, and the administration says it will likely need to lower its goals for creating new units, and increase its goals for preserving current ones.
There are other factors at play, such as the impact of changes to the 421-a tax program, which, along with inclusionary housing bonuses--like those in many recent rezonings--encourage for-profit developers to include low and moderate income housing in their projects through tax breaks. But still, with the paucity of credit having dragged the city's construction sector to a halt and many predictions of a new recession, what the administration can do to continue to stimulate affordable housing remains an open question. This is especially bad news for out-of-work architects given all the affordable housing work they've had of late. Perhaps the mayor should try giving Secretary Donovan a call.

Hope for Housing (Update: And Carrión)
President-elect Barack Obama named Shaun Donovan, chair of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD bio), to serve as his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The announcement came during his weekly web-address: AN had heard from a number sources that Donovan--an outside candidate--had taken a month off in late October and early November to prepare a white paper on affordable housing for the Obama campaign, though HPD did not return numerous calls seeking confirmation on this or his possible nomination. Well, now it's official. If confirmed, Donovan will be returning Washington, where he served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Multi-Family Housing in the Clinton Administration. A graduate of Harvard, Donovan has been acclaimed for his work on the mayor's New Housing Marketplace plan, which seeks to create 165,000 affordable units over a decade through construction and preservation. Get acquainted with the appointee's thoughts on housing policy, which AN published after a chat with Donovan last year. Update: Both Posts--that being The New York Post and The Washington Post--are reporting that Bronx Borough President Adolofo Carrión Jr. will serve as Director of Urban Policy for the Obama administration. The Bronx Beep had been also in the running for the HUD position, though whether he has been awarded a greater or lesser prize remains to be seen as the exact mandate of directorship has yet to be laid out by the administration, as we reported. Carrión is less known for his work on land-use issues than his compatriots in Manhattan and Brooklyn--partly a result of the relative levels of development in each borough--though the Baychester-raised Bronxite did receive a masters in planning from Hunter, according to his official biography, followed by stints at the Department of City Planning, Bronx CB5, and local non-profit developer Promesa before he moved to City Council and then the borough presidents office. Politco points out that the number of New Yorkers in Obama's cabinet is beginning to rival the number of Illini there, which hopefully means the Feds will stop ignoring the city as it has in the past.
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Nine Million Stories in the Naked City?
Red Hook, 2005

Demographers say that New York will grow by a million residents within the next 25 years, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants to plan for them. An as-yet unreleased report commissioned by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff makes some interesting recommendations—like decking over the Sunnyside yards and parts of the Brooklyn-Queens expressway—but doesn't get into the nitty gritty of who might actually pay for them. Is the report, Visions for New York City, really that, or is it a map for the next generation of developers? By William Menking and Anne Guiney. Photography by M. E. Smith.

In his 2006 State of the City address, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised to deliver a strategic land-use plan that would encompass housing, transportation, and infrastructure for all five boroughs, and would be closely tied to redevelopment initiatives already underway. For a city whose planning process has historically been decentralized, it was welcome news. Word of the report began circulating several months later, and this August, a copy appeared on the website Visions for New York City: Housing in the Public Realm (which has not been officially released yet, and is therefore presumably still in draft form) covers much of what the mayor suggested it would, but comes from a different quarter than many expected: It was commissioned by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and prepared by Alex Garvin & Associates for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). (The two worked very closely together on NYC2012, the bid to bring the Olympics to New York.) As it makes explicitly clear, Visions for New York City is not official policy, but when it is ultimately released, will nonetheless likely provide the framework for coming discussions about what New York will look like in 25 years, and how the city will get there.

The introduction to Visions for New York City cites a projection from the Department of City Planning (DCP) that by 2030, New York City's existing population of over 8 million will exceed 9 million, if not sooner. It makes the reasonable argument that while the city's current economy is strong and has a well-planned infrastructure and a high quality of life, this cannot be ensured if growth happens in an unplanned fashion. The report thus makes a series of recommendations on where the city might house this population and how to improve its infrastructure.

Visions for New York City is divided into two sections: Increasing the Housing Supply and Improving the Public Realm. The first, and more comprehensive, section essentially looks at what developers call soft sitess in all five boroughs, i.e., areas that are now either underutilized, such as neighborhoods zoned for industrial uses where little industry still occurs, or rail yards or highways which could be decked over and turned into blank development sites. Some of the many sites Garvin & Associates studied are the Sunnyside Yards in Queens, portions of the Bronx and Harlem Rivers in the Bronx, Staten Island's north shore, and the sunken section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Cobble Hill. The report further suggests that increasing mass transit into underserved areas will stimulate development. It also acknowledges the unlikelihood of securing major public investments to extend existing subway lines, and concedes that the creation of light rail or bus rapid transit systems is far more feasible.

Sunnyside Yards, 2001

Red Hook, 2003

These potential building sites would allow for the creation of between 160,000 
to 325,000 new residential units with virtually no residential displacement,, depending on how densely each site is zoned. Such a significant amount of new housing without any displacement is politically appealing, but of course there is a catch: The largest and most promising site is the Sunnyside Rail Yards in Queens, which would need to be decked over before it could be developed as housing. It is close to Manhattan, and if developed, would reconnect Astoria to Sunnyside Gardens, which, from an urban planning standpoint, would be an additional benefit. But at 166 acres, the very aspect that makes it so appealing —its size—is likely to make it politically and economically difficult to pull off. The site has been coveted for development since the Regional Plan Association's 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs proposed it as a place for an intermodal train station to relieve overcrowding in Manhattan. And while the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the majority of the site, this summer, real estate attorney Michael Bailkin purchased a development option on part of it, which raises the financial stakes for anything that happens on the site. Without massive city subsidies, the cost of building such a large deck—the relatively diminutive 13-acre deck planned for Manhattan's Hudson Yards is estimated to cost $350 million—is likely to discourage anything but extremely high-density or luxury housing. According to Vishaan Chakrabarti, a senior vice president at The Related Companies who served for two years as the Manhattan director for the DCP, making some of that new housing affordable will be difficult. "The implication of the report is that all of the housing will be market-rate, but when you are talking about building housing on platforms, there are economic drivers that make [building any of it as affordable] difficult," Chakrabarti said. "We have not yet perfected the mechanism to harness market forces to build affordable housing, though it is not for a lack of trying." He added, "I was hoping to see something about this in the report."

The Sunnyside Yards are not the only familiar item on the list of suggestions: as D. Grahame Shane, a professor of urban design at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (and a contributor to AN) said, "The list of development opportunities reads like a record of every university urban design studio for the last 15 years." That said, the report does represent an effort on the part of Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff to think spatially about the future of the city. This is something architects and planners have long hoped would be true of city politicians. But Ronald Shiffman, a former City Planning Commissioner himself under Mayor David Dinkins and director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, nonetheless had reservations about Visions. "These same politicians are afraid to engage the public in a discussion to flesh out its finer points," said Shiffman. "They have come up with a proposal but don't discuss the social infrastructure: They don't say how this million new people will make a living. I'm glad that they are looking at it, but they also need to engage the broader community on other levels. This whole new population won't work in offices."

 Sunset Park, 2005

 Sunset Park, 2005

This oversight on the part of the report has serious drawbacks, according to other observers. Laura Wolf-Powers, chair of Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment at the Pratt Institute, believes that Visions uses a narrow and shallow definition of the public realm, since it only discusses housing and to a lesser account some transportation issues. "There are many important quality of life issues that are not acknowledged in this report, like sanitation and waste water remediation facilities. Not only that," she added, "these uses are often located in the very manufacturing zones like those along the Bronx and Harlem Rivers that the report would give over entirely to housing." While these sites might be better used as housing, these functions must go somewhere. It's not news that manufacturers and industrial businesses that want to remain in the city are having trouble finding affordable space. The East Williamsburg Industrial Park, for example, which is home to over 2,500 small businesses, is facing residential encroachment from gentrifying sections of Williamsburg and Bushwick. One of the areas cited in the report as worthy of future study is the Sunset Park waterfront, which is mostly industrial today and has been recently designated as an area that the city has committed to keeping that way. While Visions acknowledges the value of the area's current character and only recommends converting 90 acres of surface parking (operated by the Department of Small Businesses) into sites for development, it still proposes 27,400 new units of housing, which would undoubtedly put pressure on the area's industrial functions.

Infrastructural capacity is a looming issue, said Chakrabarti, and one that cannot be ignored. Nor should it preclude the kinds of conversation that Visions will surely raise: "Energy capacity and wastewater treatment are real problems. We have capacity now, but not for another million people. Still, I don't think you can say, 'We don't have the infrastructure, so we can't fulfill the demand for housing.' It just means that housing will get more expensive."

The very fact that the report was commissioned from a private planning firm 
and did not come out of DCP is telling about the nature of its recommendations. There is an underlying assumption that public investment will allow for private sector development; the ultimate feasibility of finding these public monies is skated over. In the past, the city's planning reports have come out of the DCP, or people engaged with the Planning Commission—like Robert Wagner, Jr.'s 1984 New York Ascendant under Mayor Ed Koch—but Visions rarely mentions the DCP and any role it might play in planning for the future. (Doctoroff's office and the DCP both declined to comment for this article.) In fact, the report details a list of government agencies that must coordinate to make such far-reaching new policies work, like the EDC, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD), the Department of Transportation, but goes on to suggest, "The Mayor's Office must delegate management for these projects, as doing so is integral to their execution and ultimate success." While some might see this as a cession of public authority, Chakrabarti points out that sometimes, outsiders can say things that City Hall cannot. "There are often conflicting goals in terms of what is good for the city as a whole and what an individual neighborhood may want, especially in regards to density," he said. "An outside consultant can make important suggestions that are politically difficult."

One wonders if the secretive nature of the process, and its stress on the primacy of the private sector, is a product of Doctoroff's recent trouble with getting the West Side Stadium built, which was the sine qua non for bringing the Olympics to New York City. Several of the larger sites mentioned in Visions for New York City are on land that is at least partially owned by the state, not the city, which means that they are exempt from the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and thus due much less public review. But the controversy and public acrimony surrounding Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal—which also involves decking over infrastructure, public subsidy, and no ULURP—the now-defunct West Side Stadium project, and the World Trade Center site should suggest that proposals with only a nominal amount of involvement are no less immune to trouble than those which involve public input. When Visions is released, no doubt in a modified form, we hope that it is treated not as an identification of development sites across the city, but the starting point for a comprehensive and very public conversation about New York City's long-term needs. 

William Menking and Anne Guiney are editors at AN.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS: When photographer M. E. Smith noticed one day about 10 years ago that the subway station at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn had been torn down, he decided to start documenting the changes in the city around him. As the pace of development picks up and once-desolate areas fill with commerce and people, his photographs have inevitably taken on a documentary quality. A show of his work in and around New York was recently on view at Cooke Contemporary in Jersey City (see Functional Shift, AN 16_10.06.2006).