Questioning New York City's Sustinability Plan

<p>With Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan defeated, can the city's vision for long-term sustainability be achieved?</p>
April 21, 2008, 1pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Mayor Michael Bloomberg's unprecedented long-term sustainability plan for New York City, PlaNYC2030, is a year old. But the failure (at least for now) of what the mayor's office declared to be a keystone of the plan -- congestion pricing in Manhattan -- should lead to some serious reflection about how to create a workable long-term plan for the city."

"Whatever the merits of congestion pricing, its defeat reveals a fundamental flaw in the mayor's approach to long-term planning that was obvious to many urban planners from the start. The plan was prepared by the mayor's staff and a team of outside consultants, and designed in such a way that civic, environmental and neighborhood groups could not truly engage with the administration in a two-way dialogue about the plan."

"Why should it make any difference how the plan was developed? If it's a good plan, why not just line up and move on? Unfortunately, that was the message coming from City Hall about congestion pricing, and it didn't work. While many of the other 146 proposals in the mayor's plan are also good ones, they too will go nowhere fast unless top-down planning in City Hall can meet bottom-up planning in the city's neighborhoods on an equal footing. And many of the proposals in the plan would have been even stronger from the start if they had been enriched by lively public discussions and debates. That kind of debate improved the congestion pricing plan, making it simpler than when originally proposed and adding provisions for residential parking and help for lower income New Yorkers who drive into Manhattan. This indicates that even if discussions take much more time -- and the congestion pricing debate took almost a year -- they are a fundamental part of the planning process and should not be cut short.

With only 20 months left in the mayor's term, the big question now is what parts of the plan will survive into the next administration? Will term limits limit the dreams of long-term planning? The answer to these questions will depend on the large pool of civic, environmental and neighborhood groups that for a long time has proposed long-term solutions to the city's problems and so applauded the mayor's plan, but were left to play second fiddle in the new City Hall concert. Mayor Bloomberg can accomplish many things in 20 months just by using financial resources normally available to the executive branch, only to see the next mayor change priorities and divert resources."

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Published on Monday, April 21, 2008 in The Gotham Gazette
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