How Broken Planning and Development Processes Hobble the Potential of Neighborhoods

A stinging critique of the public review process in New York City.

Read Time: 2 minutes

November 30, 2020, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Newtown Creek

PimmyTan / Shutterstock

A recent critique of New York City's planning and development approvals processes, written by Justin Davidson, centers on Gowanus, Brooklyn, where a massive cleanup effort is now underway on the Gowanus Canal, along with a neighborhood rezoning study.

Both efforts have the potential to remake the neighborhood for a more equitable and salubrious quality of life for residents, according to Davidson, but the rezoning plan has fierce opponents, the cleanup will be subject to the fickle nature of federal bureaucracy, and the city's budget is "splintering" under the pressures of the pandemic.

"Those caveats shouldn’t be allowed to kill a good proposal or dampen its ambitions but rather prod the city to perfect it, and especially to demand the best design that New York’s architectural talent pool can offer," writes Davidson before expressing doubts about that potential outcome. "The rezoning may well get approved before de Blasio exits office just over a year from now, but to do so it will have to survive a planning system that has become unwieldy, unfair, and oriented toward mediocrity."

Gowanus is far from the only neighborhood cited in this article to describe the opposition forces to planning and development processes in New York City, as a defining characteristic of the newly progressive political climate, headlined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, also includes fierce opposition to large-scale planning and development. "[C]aution has escalated to blanket hostility," writes Davidson.

"That urge to drive away private developers, and replace their clout and capital with public funds, is profoundly self-destructive, especially as the city’s budget withers before our eyes. Reflexive rejection is tragic because low-income areasneedrobust and thoughtful development," writes Davidson.

Key to the reality of the city's development opposition, Davidson argues, is the city's public review process: "The public-review process has a ritual, theatrical quality: months of persuasion, rejection, and mutual accusations of bad faith, frequently followed by a lawsuit. One side tries to eke out as many square feet out as possible, the other tries to knock the number down, or else extract concessions: a public plaza with benches, say, or some leftover space for a community center."

Wednesday, November 25, 2020 in Curbed

Green bike lane with flexible delineators and textures paint in Hoboken, New Jersey

America’s Best New Bike Lanes

PeopleForBikes highlights some of the most exciting new bike infrastructure projects completed in 2022.

January 31, 2023 - PeopleforBikes

Aerial view of MBTA commuter rail station in Concord, Massachusetts among green trees

Massachusetts Zoning Reform Law Reaches First Deadline

Cities and towns had until January 31 to submit their draft plans for rezoning areas near transit stations to comply with a new state law.

February 1, 2023 - Streetsblog Mass

Green alley under construction

Green Alleys: A New Paradigm for Stormwater Management

Rather than shuttling stormwater away from the city and into the ocean as quickly as possible, Los Angeles is now—slowly—moving toward a ‘city-as-sponge’ approach that would capture and reclaim more water to recharge crucial reservoirs.

February 2, 2023 - Curbed

Texas Capitol Building

Property Appraisal Caps Unlikely to Pass in Texas

Critics of a proposal to limit property value increases to reduce homeowners’ property tax burden say the measure would destabilize the housing market and cause cities to raise other taxes to compensate.

47 minutes ago - Houston Chronicle

Aerial view of residential development near beach in Oahu, Hawaii

Hawaii State Bills Could Limit or Expand Affordable Housing Law

Some legislators see a law that provides a zoning exemption to affordable housing builders as a necessary way to alleviate the housing crisis, while others worry about the impact of fast-tracked development on land zoned for conservation.

1 hour ago - Honolulu Civil Beat


Cleveland: The Nation’s Most Equitably Walkable City

A new study assesses which cities have the broadest access to walkable neighborhoods.

2 hours ago - Streetsblog USA

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.