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Opinion: How to Protect Cities From a Private Development 'Feeding Frenzy'

A New York city councilmember, trained in urban planning, presents ideas for protecting tenants and small businesses in the ongoing economic downturn.
September 3, 2020, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Brooklyn Redevelopment
Gerald Trudell

Brad Lander, member of the New York City Council representing parts of Brooklyn with a master's in urban planning, writes in The New York Times about the need to empower public and social interest in the real estate market in the wake of the coronavirus depression—preventing a 'feeding frenzy' by private developers. 

So as the havoc of Covid-19 stirs the same dire warnings of New York’s demise as were heard during the 1970s fiscal crisis, history provides lessons in how not to respond. Fortunately it also provides a lesson for how we can rebound, using social ownership of land to help create a just, vibrant and durable recovery.

Citing the examples of Penn South in Chelsea and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Lander also proposes legislation that outpace anything in D.C. or Albany that would support tenants and small businesses through the economic difficulties of the pandemic. 

Instead of letting distressed properties be auctioned off when owners default on mortgages and taxes, the city should step in. We could acquire and hold these properties temporarily through a city-controlled land bank, based on legislation I’ve introduced, and then transfer them to a growing network of community land trusts, nonprofit entities that hold land in perpetuity for publicly beneficial uses.

The time to protect the interests of the public from the power of big money, according to Lander, is now—even if some of the long-term effects of the economic downturn aren't yet apparent.

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Published on Wednesday, September 2, 2020 in The New York Times
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