Profiling the Most Powerful Planning Director in America

Eleven years into a likely twelve-year tenure as director of the New York City Planning Department, Julie Satow explores the accomplishments, and unfinished agenda, of Amanda Burden.
May 21, 2012, 12pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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With 40 percent of the city rezoned, large swaths of its waterfront reborn, and an abandoned railroad remade as a hugely successful park during her tenure, observers are beginning to reflect on the unprecedented changes that have shaped New York City since Burden was appointed head of the Planning Department in 2002 by new mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Her fans say that Ms. Burden is a visionary who will leave behind a much-improved city. 'There is no question that under Amanda's leadership, New York has experienced a renaissance,' said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York, 'with more development of parkland, waterfront and infrastructure over the last 10 years than in the 100 years before it.'"

"But critics say that the sum total of Ms. Burden's ambitions will be a gentrified city that no longer has a place for working-class New Yorkers."

"The overall effect of the city's rezonings has been incredibly dramatic in terms of the creation of expensive, market-rate housing and typically middling at best in terms of affordable housing," said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation."

Satow traces Burden's trajectory from "it girl" of the go-go 1960s, to her training as an urban planner, to her surprise selection by Mayor Bloomberg. Although her accomplishments to date will shape the city for decades to come, with the Bloomberg administration's window closing (and likely her's with it), a number of high-profile projects (including the rezoning of Midtown East) are left to be completed. Meaning Burden's imprint on the city is far from finalized.

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Published on Friday, May 18, 2012 in The New York Times
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