Since 2002, when she was appointed director of New York City planning by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Amanda Burden has "overseen the wholesale rezoning of the city, with 115 rezoning plans covering more than 10,300 blocks," The New York Times reports.
In a long article, The Times assesses the achievements of Burden, who is likely to remain in charge of city planning for the 19 months remaining in Bloomberg's third term.
Among the article's findings:
• “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.”
• With great attention to detail, Burden has frequently required new developments to "be in the height and style of surrounding structures," despite criticism from some who regard the results as being too conservative.
• Burden argues that upgrading of neighborhoods—called "gentrification" by some—generates jobs, provides housing, and brings in tax revenue for the city. She points out that on her watch, the Bloomberg administration has undertaken financing 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014. Of those, more than 130,000 units have been built.
• On the fast track now is the rezoning of Midtown East, an area running roughly from 40th to 57th Street, east of Fifth Avenue. Height restrictions are expected to be eased there, allowing many old buildings to be replaced by taller new buildings.
Speakers at the Regional Plan Association's April 27 regional assembly in New York, attended by Better! Cities & Towns, pointed out that most of the buildings in Midtown East are not up to the current standards of leading companies. Midtown East was downzoned years ago, to help push substantial development farther west, toward Times Square. Now that the area around Times Square has added large buildings, Mayor Bloomberg believes it's time to redevelop the eastern blocks, maintaining New York's position as a world business center.
As-of-right versus negotiated development
The Times quoted said Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association and director of its Center for Urban Innovation, as saying that because of the city Planning Department's negotiation with developers on large projects, as-of-right development has pretty much disappeared.
In a Regional Plan Association session, Vitullo-Martin expressed unease with the decline of as-of-right development. "There is something to be said for a more free-flowing market," Vitullo-Martin said.
On the other hand, negotiation of development projects sometimes produces good results for cities. The success of Vancouver, British Columbia, in attracting a large residential population to its core has been attributed in part to the negotiation and review carried out by city planners.
During the 20th-anniversary Congress for New Urbanism in West Palm Beach earlier this month, there was spirited discussion on whether codes should be made simple and straightforward enough so that developers know what's allowed, and so that they don't have to negotiate their way through a political process.
That was one of the aims of the form-based code that was written for West Palm Beach by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in the 1990s. (It was replaced more recently by a more complicated system, giving city officials more ability to intervene. Some speakers at CNU maintained that simplicity and predictability are better than a system that often ends up being politicized.)
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