Search results for "Mayor de Blasio"

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Sandy Legacies

Five years later, AN considers Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York’s built environment
Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City almost five years ago today. Since then, the built environment has undergone substantial changes. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reflects on those first few months post-Sandy, and looks at some initiatives that are reshaping the city to withstand future storms. Shortly after the storm, AN editors reflected on the extent of the infrastructural damage in a heatless Tribeca office. Though uncomfortable, the office was more habitable than many coastal neighborhoods, including Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Breezy Point, a Queens neighborhood at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula that was gutted by fire. In NYCHA developments citywide, 80,000 tenants were without heat or electricity for weeks, the result of floodwaters that topped 11 feet. After assessing the scale of destruction, FEMA updated its flood maps, a reflection of the epic scale of destruction, adding 35,000 structures to Zone A, areas most likely to be impacted in a major storm. The total scale of the loss was great; in New York and New Jersey, 182 people died, and the Northeast coastline sustained $65 billion in damages. In the months afterward, the Department of City Planning presented a guide to storm-proofing buildings. A little more than a year later, the Department of Buildings released building codes for new residential construction and apartments over five stories to make it easier for people to stay in their homes in the event of a severe storm. Architecture for Humanity and AIA New York rallied designers to help with relief efforts, and Garrison Architects was just one firm to answer the call to action. The architects, known for sustainable modular buildings, erected a prefabricated emergency housing prototype in downtown Brooklyn that still stands today. In June 2013, state, local, and national stakeholders launched Rebuild By Design, a federal competition to design more resilient coastline in New York City and the tri-state area.  In August 2013, then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced 69 rebuilding initiatives designed to stitch New York's built environment back together and prepare infrastructure for future floods. Flooding put the subways out of commission, and repairs to the heavily damaged L train tunnel will suspend Brooklyn-to-Manhattan service for 18 months, starting next year. The storm exposed the vulnerability of New York's aging infrastructure, but it also created a space for art and reflection. Situ Studio salvaged boardwalk planks from New York and New Jersey for Heartwalk, its Times Square Valentine's Day installation. MoMA PS1 opened a pop-up geodesic exhibition space in the Rockaways in April 2013 as part of EXPO 1: NEW YORK, showing museum-solicited ideas on transforming the city's waterfront.  Architect Roderick Wolgamott-Romero built a massive treehouse from Sandy-felled oaks at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

. . .

This is by no means a comprehensive look at the thousands of initiatives, local and national, that have shaped the city in the five years after Hurricane Sandy. Below, we scan some initiatives that are remaking the built environment. For housing, Build It Back is one of the city's key programs to quickly rebuild dwellings in waterside neighborhoods post-Sandy. So far, the city reports its Build It Back program has completed repairs on around 7,200 structures, or 87 percent of the housing in the program. Since its launch in 2013, the program has rebuilt almost 1,400 of the most severely damaged homes, raising them on stilts above the floodplain. Another 6,500 homeowners, many without flood insurance, received reimbursements for repairs and technical support. “As we near the end of the Build It Back program, we are continuing to make steady progress," Mayor Bill de Blasio said, in prepared remarks. "We have succeeded in getting more than 10,000 families back in safe and resilient homes and stronger communities. We have more work to do, and this program will not be done until every family is home.” Though the city is close to reaching its goals, last year the program's creator slammed Build It Back as a "categorical failure," largely because it didn't get residents back in their homes quick enough. "After the multi-billion dollar rebuilding process ends, neighborhoods will see a hodgepodge of housing types: elevations, demolitions, in-kind repairs—is that the best outcome?"asked Brad Gair, former head of the mayor's Housing Recovery Operations, at a July 2016 hearing. "Have the billions invested in infrastructure projects to reduce flood risk made our coastlines safer?" DNAinfo reported that Gair questioned the government's capacity to set up "what amounts to a multi-billion dollar corporation" in a few months to speedily re-home people. At that time, Mayor de Blasio stated that the program's work would be complete by the end of 2016. Today the Daily News reported that almost one-fifth of the 12,000-plus families in the program are still waiting for a buyout or work to wrap up on their properties.

. . .

All along the city's 520 miles of coastline, new dunes, bulkheads, and sea walls are intended to prevent the catastrophic flooding that characterized Sandy. Even with the latest interventions, is New York City really prepared for another superstorm? While offering hope for a more resilient future, new climate projections sow doubt on the city's viability over the next century and beyond. A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that floods that with a high-water mark of 7.4 feet could hit the city once every 25 years, and the same level of floods could come as frequently as every five years between 2030 and 2045. Superstorms could be more intense, but modeling indicates that they would move further offshore. In response, the city is tackling the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, a plan to flood-proof Manhttan's east side. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is erecting flood protection on Staten Island's east shore, and it is planning to build a barrier in Jamaica Bay, Queens. The Governor's Office of Storm Recovery is spearheading the Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project and Living Breakwaters, two resiliency strategies at the southern tip of Staten Island. None of these massive projects have yet broken ground.
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Bezos Bids

New York City's bid for Amazon offers up four neighborhoods, but no extra incentives
Last night, major buildings and billboards around New York City, including the Empire State Building and One World Trade, were lit in orange, the color of Amazon's logo, in support of the city's bid to host Amazon's HQ2, its headquarters outside Seattle. Overall, the application submitted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation is unremarkable. It points out that Amazon can hitch on to the tech industry already in the city, and highlights the talent, the city's infrastructure as a "proven ecosystem for innovation" and its track record of implementing grand plans. The application also underscores New York City as a bastion of higher education and a host to thriving industries beyond tech, including fashion, media, and manufacturing. What the bid did not do is provide a plan for how the company would integrate with a single neighborhood in the city. Unlike other candidate cities, it did not offer extra subsidies or tax breaks for the tech giant. Four neighborhoods are forwarded as potential sites for HQ2: Midtown West, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Tech Triangle, and Long Island City. All of these neighborhoods applied for inclusion in the EDC's application through an RFP released by the city, and were selected largely due to their access to public transit lines and housing markets ripe for expansion. New York's application was accompanied by a letter to Jeff Bezos, the Chairman and CEO of Amazon, co-signed by more than 70 elected officials from New York. The letter focuses on the city's role as a transportation hub for the East Coast and Mayor Bill de Blasio's commitment to sustainability through the city's OneNYC plan. In the EDC's promotional video accompanying the application, a mouse scrolls through a faux Amazon page for the city, listing "product details" like 2.3 million residents with bachelor's degrees or higher, the largest number of Fortune 500 companies of any city, and 9,000 startups. Near the end of the video, Mayor Ed Koch is even resurrected in the form of a customer review dating from 1986: "New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse." Rehearse for what exactly, we wonder. HQ3?
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zero emissions

NYC releases major climate change plan aligned with Paris Agreement
This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration released the 1.5ºC plan – a far-reaching new plan intended to align New York City with the principles established during the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. "In the Trump era, cities have to lead the way when it comes to fighting climate change," Mayor de Blasio stated in the plan's announcement. The 1.5ºC plan – a name drawn from the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to a 1.5º Celsius increase – is focused on six areas of action: recycling, waste, buildings, energy, transportation, and carbon neutrality. The plan marks the latest development in a series of commitments made by the city to reduce emissions. Last fall, the administration released the 80 X 50 Roadmap, which outlined a commitment to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Earlier this summer, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order opposing President Trump's intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and outlining the City's commitment to upholding it. At the beginning of September, the de Blasio administration released a plan to update the aging infrastructure of existing buildings over 25,000 square feet by 2030, with strict penalties enacted afterward for those who don't comply. As the 1.5ºC plan states, the administration will apply emissions requirements to new construction and renovations across the five boroughs, and "adopt 'stretch' versions of the energy code in 2019 and 2022." "Stretch" here refers to leniency toward the developers' approaches – the City will reportedly provide metrics on energy efficiency but not stipulate how developers should meet those targets. As with earlier plans, the city will use Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs adapted for commercial and residential buildings, allowing utility upgrades to be paid off through property bills rather than out-of-pocket. Enacting 100 percent renewable energy in city government operations and buildings is another key aspect of the plan. The emissions of city agencies alone account for eight percent of the city's total greenhouse gas emissions from electric appliances, and 1.5ºC aims to replace all energy infrastructure used by the city with renewable alternatives. Their timeline for this? "As soon as sufficient supply can be brought online." In the near future, the City has stated their intention to commence 50 new solar projects on public buildings sometime this fall, which would bring it a quarter of the way towards its goal. With regard to the transportation sector, the plan reiterates a proposal Mayor de Blasio made in early August to create a tax on millionaires generating up to $800 million in funds to upgrade the NYC subway system. It also includes a proposal to expand infrastructure for bicycles (including protected lanes) and electric vehicles (including charging stations). Notably, the plan also outlines a goal of establishing a carbon neutrality protocol in partnership with other cities around the world including C40 – a network of 90 international cities already committed to climate leadership – meant to establish common definitions for the reduction of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. In a public statement about the plan, New York Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg stated that with New Yorkers' heavy use of mass transit, bicycles, and walking, "New York City produces the fewest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any U.S. city." A statistic like this should be used as a baseline rather than a benchmark. As the 1.5ºC plan evolves, hopefully the administration will release more specifics on the methodology they intend to apply to new developments to modernize energy use citywide, and clarify whether any penalties will be applied for those who don't comply. This morning's announcement has probably piqued the ears of a number of developers who may be wondering the same.
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Hikers and Bikers

The Regional Plan Association wants to connect 1,650 miles of trails in the tri-state area
Last week the Regional Plan Association (RPA) released a report proposing the creation of a 1,650-mile trail system linking Manhattan to the outer boroughs and tri-state area. The report, Accessing Natureis part of RPA's Fourth Regional Plan, which is slated for release later this fall. If the entire plan came to fruition, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents would be able to hike and bike a combined distance equal to that between New York and Colorado. The plan links new trails to existing ones and puts over 80 percent of the region's residents within two miles of a trail while unifying the tri-state area's existing natural resources into a contiguous network. By connecting regional rail lines to trail networks, knitting together 141 parks, and transforming underused energy corridors (like power line route) into pathways, RPA hopes to encourage outdoor recreation and economic growth in adjacent communities. The plan targets almost 300 municipalities that would become "trail towns" connected to a whole system. RPA hopes that the developing infrastructure could support tourism and hospitality industries in smaller locales. Equitable access to trail systems and outdoor resources has also been proven to promote physical and mental health, creating opportunity for nearby residents to be active. Partnerships with local stewards and organizations will be integral to realizing the plan. At its Urban Core scale, the proposal includes 111 miles of trails within New York City limits alone, including an entire ring around the city harbor linking Jersey City to Staten Island to Brooklyn, then up along Lower Manhattan. A north-bound trail running directly up Broadway (aiming for the eventual total pedestrianization of the street) would connect Upper Manhattan to the waterfronts in Queens and the Bronx—part of which would only be possible if Rikers Island was closed and consolidated. The proposed trailways in New Jersey come out to a 417-mile system, still largely incomplete. The trail system would extend westward from New York down the Morris Canal into Lehigh Valley, wrap around the D&R Canal, and branch out to cover the entire length of Jersey Shore at the high-water mark. At almost 600 miles, the Mid-Hudson circuit is the largest part of the plan, but also the section with the most existing trail infrastructure. Large swaths of this connector provide sweeping views of the Hudson Valley, connecting existing pathways all the way up to Albany. Ideally, this would create a direct route for New York City residents to upper valley trails (and westward to the Erie Canal), as well as bridging directly into the Appalachian Trail. The Connecticut extension, at 170 miles, rounds up a 1994 RPA proposal for a greenway along Merritt Parkway and the East Coast Greenway, stringing together near-coastal cities of the Long Island Sound to inner-state agricultural landscapes and smaller towns (the Parkway, which is gorgeous, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991). Another connector links the East Coast Greenway to the Appalachian Trail to the north. The proposal for Long Island stretches out at 318 miles, repurposing the former Long Island Motor Parkway as a trail spanning the entire length of the island from the New York Harbor to Montauk. Coastal trails bridge out to the Long Island Greenbelt on the Sound side and to the Long Island Seashore Trail on the coastal side from Jones Beach to Fire Island. The RPA and its partners are currently moving forward on fundraising and implementation, which will require a long-term commitment to trail maintenance – no small task for such an extensive system.
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Green City

New York City targets greenhouse gas emissions of buildings in new plan
Inefficient architecture and infrastructure is among the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions in the United States and consume 70% of the nation's electricity. In New York City, fossil fuels burned to provide heat and water to buildings are the number one source of emissions – 42% of the city's total. This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new plan to drastically reduce the emissions of aging buildings across the city. Despite Trump's hasty withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement, de Blasio pledged to adhere to the treaty and accelerate New York City's action to cut its fossil fuel emissions. If approved by the City Council, owners of buildings larger than 25,000 square feet must invest in more efficient infrastructure (including boilers, water heaters, insulated roofs and windows, etc.) by 2030. This applies to around 14,500 private and municipal structures across the city. Owners of buildings that have not complied will face penalties beginning in 2030, ranging from fines of $60,000 a year for a 30,000-square-foot residential buildings to $2 million for a 1 million-square-foot buildings). Penalties may also include restrictions on future permitting for noncompliant owners. The plan also aims to produce 17,000 middle-class "green jobs" by 2030, including plumbers, carpenters, electricians, engineers, architects, and energy specialists. The announcement has given climate advocates a much-appreciated boost of public support, but also raises concerns for homeowners and renter advocates. The New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition tweeted at Mayor de Blasio that the city's promise to "stop landlords ... from displacing tenants or raising rents based on the cost of improvements" was only really possible if rental laws were changed to begin with: What does this all mean for architects working today? This latest development might be applied to provide a new standard for new structures built between now and 2030 (and long after) to incorporate more common-sense energy efficiency features. The Mayor's office has not responded to AN's query on whether this program or its penalties will apply to buildings constructed from 2017 onward. This new legislation marks the first major step by New York City to work toward the goals outlined in the de Blasio administration's 80 X 50 Roadmap – which commits to reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. Donna De Costanzo, Director of Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) remarked on the plan: “Reducing the amount of energy used in the buildings in our city will put money back in New Yorkers’ pockets while improving air quality and creating jobs."
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Fantasy Island

Thomas Heatherwick's Pier 55 is dead
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In the Zone

A tale of two flood zones: NYC nabes rezoned for new building and buy-outs
Two New York City neighborhoods heavily affected by Hurricane Sandy received City Council go-ahead for two new (and very different) rezoning plans last Thursday, September 7. The first was the approval of Mayor Bill de Blasio administration's proposed rezoning of Far Rockaway, a historically under-served coastal neighborhood. This is the neighborhood's first rezoning since 1961. The plan committed around $288 million to commercial development, public amenities, schools, and affordable housing in the downtown area. This includes more than 1,000 affordable housing units, 250,000 square feet of commercial space to attract new businesses and jobs, the neighborhood's first new library since 1976, and its first new park since 1960, according to local City Council member Donovan Richards. Additional funds will renovate and build new parks as well as improve open space at the public housing complex. This development plan is the result of two years of community engagement. For Staten Island's East Shore, the City Council approved the creation of a new Special Coastal Risk District. This plan, a response to flood vulnerability, will buy out two swaths of land – including parts of the Oakwood Beach, Graham Beach, and Ocean Breeze neighborhoods – and tightly restrict future development. Any land re-use will be restricted to the creation of open space. The goal of creating the Coastal Risk District is to form a storm surge barrier between the coast and developed areas. Of the 10 neighborhoods identified by the Bloomberg administration for rezoning after Sandy, the Staten Island's East Shore is one of only three neighborhoods that has advanced to City Council with an actual proposal addressing flood risk. In the plan, homeowners in the two areas of the Coastal Risk District will be offered a voluntary buyout of their homes at pre-storm values, and those who choose not to participate will be very limited in how they rebuild their homes. Those in affected areas now face the question: continue on living in a designated flood zones under the new, restrictive ordinances, or move to a more secure inland location but lose their home? For many, this is not an easy choice, and voluntary retreat is disproportionately skewed to affect low- and middle-income households. As New York approaches the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and watches Houston and Miami begin the process of recovering from Harvey and Irma, it's clear that the need to build resilient cities is more urgent than ever.
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Statues Have Limitations

NYC announces commission to review public monuments
Today Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed the members of a hotly-anticipated commission to review the city's public monuments for "symbols of hate" amid a national climate of elevated bigotry and ascendent white nationalism. The commission, officially dubbed the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, will have three months to develop new guidelines for how the city addresses monuments perceived as "oppressive" and "inconsistent" with the city's values. These values are not strictly codified, but the Mayor's speechifying on monuments issue over the past month suggests they align with liberal ideals of tolerance, fairness, and equity. The 18-person commission is co-chaired by Tom Finkelpearl, the commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. Its members include experts in law, public art, diversity, and preservation, and LGBT issues, as well as two architects: Mabel O. Wilson, a scholar of race and memory and an associate professor of architecture at Columbia GSAPP, and Michael Arad, the designer of the World Trade Center Memorial. Four city agencies—including the Public Design Commission, which reviews and approves public art—are ex officio members of the commission. Additional members may be announced before the first meeting. In addition to providing general recommendations on city-owned statues, it will review a few hot-button monuments, most likely starting with the J. Marion Sims statue in Harlem near Central Park and Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle. Both works have drawn strong condemnation from anti-racist protestors in recent weeks. “I'm confident that this process will produce a conversation capable of examining our public art through the accurate, contextual historical lens that it deserves," said Mayor de Blasio, in a prepared statement. As the Mayor found out personally a few weeks ago, this is not an easy task. When he announced the commission, de Blasio, who has Italian heritage, said he was not necessarily opposed to removing Columbus. This statement provoked the ire of some Italian-Americans New Yorkers who view Columbus as a national hero. In light of the hot political climate (it's an election year, after all), the commission is moving fast to issue recommendations for the city's public works, as well as draft policies the city could advance to live up to its values. The group will put out its findings by the end of the year, but before then, the public can weigh in on the controversial monuments through DCA's website (link forthcoming). Across the country, cities are re-evaluating their approach to public commemoration. In the dead of night last month, Baltimore and New Orleans removed their Confederate statues in light of the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rally to save that city's Confederate monuments. That day, a rally participant drove his car through a group of counter-protestors, injuring 19 and killing one.
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Revitalizing Ruins

Abandoned NYC hospital to be redeveloped as affordable housing
Hoping to bolster its stock of affordable housing, New York City last week issued an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) to redevelop the long-abandoned Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn into 500 supportive and affordable apartments. The 146,100-square-foot complex includes three buildings and open land that have been sitting empty since 1983. “It makes no sense in a community desperate for affordable housing that that prime site has been sitting here all this time," Mayor Bill de Blasio told a local town hall, according to DNAinfo. Brick structures on the site were built between 1915 and 1930. One is being used as a homeless shelter and the other was recently taken over by squatters. According to the RFEI, plans for the site need to consider its historic character, repurposing materials and the historic facades. However developers will be able to demolish one or more of the buildings “based upon highest level of feasibility.” A previous plan for redevelopment was halted in 2012 when the developer was indicted on bribery charges. De Blasio, who released his Housing New York plan shortly after taking office, has promised to add or preserve more than 200,000 affordable housing units in the city within ten years. “When more than 50,000 New Yorkers sleep in homeless shelters and hundreds of thousands more struggle to pay high rents with meager earnings, the City fails to live up to its promise of opportunity,” noted the report. The city recently reported that it has financed 77,651 affordable homes since January, 2014, putting it “ahead of schedule” to reach its goal.
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Diversity Disparity

NYC's new cultural plan is a roadmap through changing times
Since the NYC Mayor’s Office released its first cultural planCreateNYC, in July, many have taken stock of the work that must be done to build equitable access to cultural institutions and increase staff diversity. Recently the New York Times released new data on several of NYC’s major cultural institutions that illuminates a striking disparity between institutions with and without a focus on racial parity among its employees and board members. The data show that while some institutions do employ staff members representative of their communities, boards and senior leadership are largely white. In the case of Studio Museum in Harlem both the staff and the leadership reflect the broader racial diversity of NYC. All cultural institutions currently receiving city funds must submit diversity plans within the first year of CreateNYC in order to continue receiving public support. While achieving more representative leadership is a high priority within the first year, accountability measures have also been set to ensure that cultural institutions are increasing access for those with disabilities and abiding by the city’s aggressive sustainability goals. These two provisions in particular will have an effect on the way private institutions that accept public money will develop their capital investments strategies and set the stage (so to speak) for progressive architectural environments. While CreateNYC has been in the works for months, cultural landmarks and institutions are receiving renewed attention as central figures in a national debate over identity following the traumatic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Earlier this month Mayor De Blasio called for a 90-day review of New York City’s “symbols of hate,” commissioning a panel that will develop methods for altering or potentially removing public objects that espouse hate or intolerance of any kind. Now, the city is considering placing explanatory plaques next to controversial monuments that will contextualize the racist actions of the people they depict for a contemporary audience.
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Stayin' Alive

What’s being done—or not—to save Manhattan’s small businesses from Amazon and big box competition

Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.

Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.

Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.

Why is this happening?

The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.

High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.

This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.

But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.

The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.

In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.

Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.

No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.

Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.

Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.

A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected the city council's proposal to alter commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill (sponsored by Councilmember Dan Garodnick) that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 in annual rent didn’t make it into the final 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.

Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.

But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.

“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”

Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.

When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”

Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.

But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.

It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.

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Taking Its Toll

Governor Cuomo proposes congestion pricing as a way to fund transportation repairs

With New York City’s subway system in a dire state—extensive delays, people getting trapped in subway cars, derailments—public officials have been scrambling to find a way to repair its aging infrastructure. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a "millionaire's tax" for wealthy city residents that would pay for infrastructure upgrades and reduced fares for other riders.

Now, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo revealed his own plan to raise funds and ease traffic at the same time: congestion pricing.

Congestion pricing was brought up by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ten years ago but was quickly shut down because of concerns that it favored Manhattan residents. Cuomo is bringing it back as a solution to the city’s current transit crisis, according to The New York Times.

By putting tolls on roads and bridges leading into Manhattan, a constant funding stream will be created. It will also help to reduce traffic flowing into the city and on gridlocked streets. Congestion pricing is already in place in other cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore.

Cuomo is piggy-backing on Bloomberg’s failed plan to create a new congestion pricing scheme that will win crucial support from stakeholders, including the State Legislature. “Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” Cuomo said to the Times, though he added that his plan would be significantly different from Bloomberg’s.

Move NY, an independent transportation group, revealed its own congestion pricing proposal, offering a glimpse of what Cuomo’s plan may look like. Drivers would pay a toll of $5.54 in each direction for the four bridges that cross the East River into Manhattan, and also a toll to cross 60th Street in Manhattan northbound or southbound. The plan also proposes lowering tolls at other crossings. Move NY estimates that this system could yield around $1.47 billion in annual revenue, of which most would go towards repairing infrastructure. Alex Matthiessen, leader of Move NY, told The Times that group is talking with Cuomo's administration about developing the proposal.

While both de Blasio’s tax plan and Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal have been getting attention, it does not solve the immediate issue of raising $800 million for emergency funds to finance immediate repairs on the subway. The state has already contributed $400 million and expects the city to fund the rest.