Press Releases

For Immediate Release
October 24th, 2014

Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471

MUNICPAL ARTS SOCIETY SUMMIT Building a City for All New Yorkers

Carl Weisbrod's Remarks at the Summit

Good morning,

I want to express my thanks to Margaret Newman, Vin Cipolla, Genie Birch and the Municipal Art Society for inviting me to speak this morning. I congratulate you on the 5th year of this summit.
The themes for this year’s summit are equity, place and opportunity.  These themes are central to the work we do. The de Blasio administration is focused on integrating all of them into our planning and general approach to governing. As the Mayor has made clear through his ambitious housing plan as well as his other aggressive initiatives such as  “One City Built to Last”, and “Vision Zero”, the need to  increase opportunities, to reduce inequality, to improve safety and to enhance a sense of place is essential to achieving our goals.

I spoke in May at your event for New York’s New Leadership about the Mayor’s housing plan which had just been released. And I know the panel just after this will be focusing specifically on housing, so let me use this opportunity to speak briefly and more generally to our approach to neighborhoods, and spend a bit of time discussing our increased involvement in strategic capital planning and also touch on what we are doing in East Midtown.

We at City Planning are taking a ground up approach to our neighborhood planning efforts. Working closely with all stakeholders, elected officials, community residents and business leaders, we are developing frameworks for growth that will provide affordable housing, much needed retail and amenities, jobs, services and resiliency. 

We know that neighborhoods are often wary of increased density. Their fears are often understandable. We must be able to effectively and credibly allay their concerns by assuring that increased density will be accompanied by public investment in infrastructure – including schools, open space, better transportation and a more attractive streetscape – as well as enhanced services that will provide the needed support for both existing and future residents.

Therefore, central to our work now, will be City Planning’s new role working closely with the Office of Management and Budget, the Mayor’s Office of Operations and the Office of Resiliency and Recovery in developing the City’s Ten Year Capital Strategy.

For the City, this is a significant departure from decades of what have been, essentially, bilateral negotiations between OMB and the City’s capital agencies, with limited coordination among them as to where investments are being made.

While maintaining the fiscal discipline the City has demonstrated for decades now, the upcoming Ten Year Capital Strategy aims to align the City’s spending on strategic priorities in order to create a plan that not only improves and maintains our infrastructure in a state of good repair and fulfils regulatory mandates, but also, allocates capital investments that promote equity, economic growth, energy efficiency, resiliency and sustainability on a neighborhood level.

By its very nature, shifting priorities in the City’s capital investments will take time. A first step in this process is to create a central resource for city agencies with essential data and analysis to help make coordinated, informed decisions about effective and strategic use of capital dollars.

Utilizing this central shared resource, we will develop a long term strategy that aligns agency specific plans, with multi-agency initiatives like Housing New York, One City Built to Last and PlaNYC. The result will be to make our capital strategy more strategic and more coherent, while reflecting the values of the de Blasio Administration – and the themes of this Summit.

Through the release of the Ten Year Capital Strategy we also hope to make the plan and planning process more easily accessible to all New Yorkers, incorporating relevant maps, diagrams, and descriptions of how the capital strategy will improve City systems and neighborhoods, and ensuring appropriate opportunities for public input.

What will all this mean? This will translate into improved quality of life in neighborhoods throughout NYC. Over time, I anticipate that with new housing the City will be able to fund schools when needed, more open space, better streetscape and updated infrastructure.

Even as we attempt to make our capital investments more strategic we also must ensure that our economy continues to grow. There is no timelier example of our commitment to economic growth than our two track plan for East Midtown which began public review on Monday. The rezoning of the 5-block Vanderbilt Corridor, just west of Grand Central, is the first phase of the de Blasio Administration’s two-part strategy to revitalize East Midtown as a world-class 21st Century commercial district, attract more quality jobs to New York City, and deliver vital infrastructure improvements to accompany potentially greater density in the area.  We are proposing that area landmarks would be able to transfer more of their unused development rights to potential receiving sites in the Vanderbilt Corridor as well as providing increased flexibility regarding the conditions by which the public could allow these development rights to be transferred.

We are also proposing a new Special Permit that would allow developments in the Vanderbilt Corridor to obtain increases in density in exchange for very specific improvements to the area’s infrastructure – mainly the Grand Central transit complex – and to the public realm.  These improvements would have to undertaken at the developer’s risk and would have to be completed before any bonus space was allowed to be occupied to assure that the public gets the benefit of its bargain. 

Developers could choose to utilize the Special Permit for public improvements, the increased flexibility and capacity for landmarks transfers, or some combination of each to achieve higher density.  But the most important point is that each such development would be subject to public scrutiny and review by the community, the City Planning Commission and the City Council through ULURP.

The proposed zoning change for the Vanderbilt Corridor is the centerpiece of efforts to ensure a vibrant and enhanced future for East Midtown which is something that the surrounding community and indeed the entire city desires and needs.

We are also concurrently reviewing the first private application to utilize the proposed new special permit for a major new office building at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue that would provide a $210 million package of on-site and off-site transit and pedestrian improvements to the Grand Central Station complex and its immediate area. It has been estimated that this new modern office building would also pay approximately $50 million in annual real estate taxes- many times more than what is currently paid in taxes at the site – and revenues that are sorely needed by the City to meet our ambitious social and infrastructure needs.

Our Vanderbilt Corridor initiative is a different approach than you have seen previously in East Midtown, but one that we are confident will see much needed infrastructure improvements delivered before the increased bulk permitted comes on line. It addresses many of the issues raised regarding last year’s proposal. 

I also want to acknowledge Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Dan Garodnick for their leadership of the community planning process for the larger area, or track 2 of our approach to what they are calling Greater East Midtown, which has now shifted into high gear and is expected to result in recommendations to the Department of City Planning next Spring.

I am so pleased that the Municipal Art Society is an active participant on the Garodnick-Brewer Steering Committee, along with representatives from the relevant Community Boards, real estate and business interests, the historic preservation community and labor. I am optimistic that this Steering Committee shares our goal for a revitalized East Midtown and I look forward to its recommendation.

Ground up neighborhood planning, our increased involvement in strategic capital planning and promoting economic growth are all guided by the values of the de Blasio administration and essentially congruent with the themes of this Summit.  Together we can create an urban environment that supports economic growth and opportunity while also fostering a sense of place and community.

I look forward to working with you to make these goals reality.