Press Releases

For Immediate Release
September 8, 2016

Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471

City Planning Commission (CPC) Chairman Carl Weisbrod Gave The Following Remarks At The Association for a Better New York Breakfast On 9/8/16

Good Morning. Thank you, Bill, for the kind introduction. And, thank you for the invitation to speak today. It’s wonderful to be back at ABNY among so many friends over so many years.

I admit I am still a little stunned to be up here, rather than in the audience with you listening to someone else talking.  I truly thought my government career was over long ago.  But, the opportunity to work at City Planning – to help guide the most exciting city on earth for generations to come – just proved overwhelmingly seductive.

Planning for the future of New York is more important today than ever. More and more people are voting for urban life. It is where the jobs are. It provides community for families, culture, and a dynamic lifestyle for those of all ages. And its density is the catalyst for its vitality. The role of city government is critical to this – and is most effective when it operates in partnership with civic organizations like ABNY and with many of you in this room.

Let me begin by taking a look back.  I’ve had the great privilege of serving five different Mayors – first under John Lindsay. 

In the late sixties and early seventies, Mayor Lindsay was a lonely voice pleading for our national government to pay attention to the pressing needs of cities. But the federal government - for the most part - did not step up, and the dramatic social changes of the times put enormous burdens on city government. They added to the significant erosion of basic services, the 1970s fiscal crisis and a sharp decline in our population.  

The city even considered implementing a policy of “planned shrinkage” – to retreat from crime-ridden neighborhoods stricken by abandonment, to focus principally on “saving” the central business districts, and to build defensively. Some of the worst architecture we live with today was designed to wall off those inside from the disagreeable aspects of urban life on the outside. 

I am always reminded of my former boss, Ed Koch, when he was campaigning for Mayor in 1977.  An elderly woman in Brighton Beach tugged on his shirt and said, “Mr. Koch, Mr. Koch, make the city what it once was.”  And he responded, “Lady, it was never that good.”

But, even with less-than-robust Federal investment in the years since and the 10% population loss in the 1970s, our city – in no small measure thanks to the leadership of ABNY – rose to the challenge, and avoided the collapse that befell many older cities in the East and Midwest.

We did it by tapping into our core values – diversity, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, respect for talent and commitment to social justice.
We are now the envy of the world – the Gold Standard. And we will not waver in ensuring our continued status as the world’s pre-eminent global city.

By 2000, New York reached an official population of 8 million for the first time, formed on the heels of immigration flows that brought an unprecedented mix of ethnicities. With our continuing incredible growth, we face complex planning challenges once again.

Our current growth is reminiscent of the city’s last period of substantial expansion, at the turn of the 20th century.

Think about this: one hundred years ago the city welcomed several million immigrants – our population rose from 3.4 million in 1900 (right after consolidation) to 6.9 in 1930! 

As Manhattan peaked in 1910 at over 2.3 million, the City looked at ways to disperse the population. We built the bulk of the intense infrastructure we have today – subways, bridges, tunnels and housing.

The pioneering 1916 Zoning Resolution, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, was a groundbreaking tool for guiding the city’s urban footprint that expanded between the end of World War I and the Great Depression, and then again after World War II into the 1960s – all the while maintaining our underlying ethos - our willingness to welcome people from all over and embrace growth.

Yet, the growth of today is distinct from the 1920s. Let’s talk about what’s happening with our population, economy, housing and infrastructure and three big questions that I believe we as a city must answer. 

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and housing in this new economy?

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like stress on our infrastructure?

And, finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

I believe we’ve made some progress – which I’ll talk about in a moment– but we can’t rest on our laurels just yet. And we must continue to think anew – and act anew – to find the right answers.

Let me start with people: the City’s population right now of 8.55 million is the largest in history. Our growth is due both to positive natural increase – residents are living longer, want to stay here and raise their families - and positive net migration – people from all over want to come here. We added more than 375,000 people since 2010 alone, which is like absorbing Tampa.

And, as in the 1920s, the most significant growth is in the outer boroughs. In the last five years, Brooklyn saw the largest increase, 132,000, followed by Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. Queens and Staten Island are at their all-time population highs – although Staten Island’s growth has dramatically slowed. The Bronx is close to its historical 1970 high of nearly 1.5 million. Interestingly, although Manhattan is growing, its population is still more than 680,000 below its 1910 peak. A point we often forget when we hear about overdevelopment.

The biggest difference between the 1920s and today is that 100 years ago it was possible to grow by building on farmland in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Today, we are growing in a mature city, full of established neighborhoods, with little vacant land. This is central to understanding our current challenges.

Another basic fact: the city is aging, although not as fast as the rest of the country. Nationally, the number of people 65 and over is expected to double, to 82 million, by 2040. The city’s senior population is projected to grow by 41% or an additional 400,000, to a total of 1.4 million by 2040. However, although we certainly have to plan for our growing senior population – as I’ll discuss in a moment - we will remain relatively youthful. 

Since 1970, New York City’s share of immigrants has doubled. More than 3.1 million - or, 37%- of our 8.5 million residents are foreign-born, and about 40% of those arrived here in 2000 or later. One-half of all New Yorkers now speak a language other than English at home.

Most notably, since 2010 our Asian and Hispanic populations have dramatically increased, accounting for more than 80% of the City’s population growth and over half of Brooklyn’s in the last five years. We now have over 2.4 million Hispanics, more than any other city in the United States. We are home to the largest Chinese population outside of Asia.

Immigrants play a key role in the city’s overall labor force. Nearly half of all employed residents are foreign-born, and that’s similar across most age groups --  and, a range of industries.  

People from all over the world can feel at home here. 

We attract the best and the brightest from around the country. People moving here have higher educational attainment than those moving out. Young, domestic migrants and immigrants are helping populate our labor force and fuel our economy, the kind of growth and opportunity that the city was starved for in the ‘70s.

The city has the most dominant, diverse urban economy in the world. More than 4.3 million jobs, an all-time high. More than a quarter million jobs have been added since Mayor de Blasio took office. We’re in the middle of the fastest two-year growth on record and the largest streak of private sector job creation over any five-year period since at least the ‘80s, perhaps in history.

The over 500,000 jobs added in five years equals almost half of the total private employment in Chicago.

Think about that!

We also outpace the nation: if you compare the third quarters of 2010 and 2015, NYC private sector jobs have increased by 15.2%, compared with 11.2% nationally.

The city’s economy continues to diversify, with our top three growing sectors largely mirroring population growth, as well as a shift toward new typologies of office-based employment.

And, all boroughs are benefitting. Absolute job gains were heavily concentrated in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, which absorbed almost half of all gains between 2010 and 2014. But, the rate of growth is faster in areas outside Manhattan, like in North Brooklyn and Western Queens.

Strides in technology – like needing less space to store files that can be preserved electronically and the imperative for more collaborative work environments - have impacted space requirements for office-based jobs. Office space typically was about 250-300 square feet per person. Now, for many industries, it’s close to 180 square feet.

However, these trends have squeezed workers and residents, even when they have jobs or apartments, even when the economy and the housing market are growing.

I appreciate concerns about maintaining neighborhood scale and character, as well as the importance of maintaining the great variety among them. But, our city is growing without room to spread its physical boundaries. We must not forget the city is more than just its physical shell.

As an administration, we are committed to increase the supply of affordable housing, while enhancing quality of life.  Access to housing is also about giving people access to opportunity. It’s hard to seek an education, and get the training you need to build your skills and climb the ladder of success, without an affordable roof over your head. And, by the way, more than a quarter of the families in homeless shelters have at least one working adult – gives you a sense of the housing crisis.

Infrastructure investments – from transportation, to open space, to water and sewer lines, public school buildings – are required. Our economy is booming, but too many of the new jobs – in restaurants, home healthcare and retail stores - are at the lower end of the wage scale.
So, let me now talk about what this means for 21st century planning.

The 1916 Zoning Resolution, couched as a health and welfare measure, began as a passive instrument that set limits on building form, size and use. It told a developer what could not be built. But it had a more profound objective and consequence:  it established planning as a core governmental function.

Zoning is, in a real sense, a system of priorities that shift to reflect the needs and consciousness of changing times.

In 1961, zoning went from being just a control over what should NOT happen, to becoming a proactive tool for what SHOULD or COULD.

Since 1961, zoning has continued to evolve - most recently, with ZQA – Zoning for Quality and Affordability - one of the most significant modifications since ‘61 – and MIH – Mandatory Inclusionary Housing - the most far reaching, rigorous program of its kind in the country.

Both address the needs of our growing population competing for a supply of housing that simply is not growing quickly enough. Over half of renter households – which make up two-thirds of all households - pay more than one-third of income on rent.

We need more new housing generally. As last week’s New York Times noted, as the supply of market-rate housing has grown in Downtown Brooklyn, market prices are coming down.  The laws of supply and demand are still relevant. That’s good. And this relief in Brooklyn market prices will ultimately ripple through to other neighborhoods.

But, land costs and construction costs put new housing out of reach for most. Tax reductions, direct capital subsidies, cross subsidies from market rate housing and rezonings that can reduce land costs and increase potential capacity are required – often in combination – to create affordable housing.

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan – the most ambitious and progressive in the nation – is on-budget and ahead of schedule at the two-year mark, with over 53,000 affordable housing units financed so far. This means enough homes for 130,000 New Yorkers. In no small measure, this is due to the Mayor doubling the 10-year capital funding for housing. But, we would be even further along if we had a successor to 421-a.  Nevertheless, more new affordable housing is now underway than in any year since HPD was founded in 1976.  More preserved than in any year since Ed Koch was Mayor. I would like to acknowledge the amazing work of Commissioner Vicki Been.

New zoning tools are also an important part of the program to ensure the public and private sector work well together. The underlying foundation of MIH is more economically diverse neighborhoods. We are still too segregated by income.  The evidence is compelling that poor children who grow up in economically diverse neighborhoods tend to do better. We owe a path to upward mobility to our kids and our grandkids. So, whenever we create more residential capacity through zoning, between 20 and 30% will have to be permanently affordable. Close to 2,000 MIH units are in our pipeline and a major one - La Central – was just approved yesterday.

ZQA has made it less expensive to build affordable and senior housing, in part by eliminating unnecessary parking requirements. It offers more options to seniors.  It will enhance quality of life in our distinct neighborhoods with better ground-floor retail spaces and more inviting courtyards. It will be possible to build Continuing Care Retirement Communities – of which we currently have none.  Lifelong partners may face different health and housing needs as they grow older.  CCRCs allow them to stay together as they age.  It is unacceptable not to provide a means for them to do so.  

Yet, despite the critical need for housing, large sections of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn are still below their 1970 density. And, there are other areas where new housing can build on the qualities of existing communities.

That is why we are conducting planning studies in a variety of neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

The first is Brooklyn’s East New York, where there’s capacity for growth: today’s population is nearly 20,000, or one-third, below its historic high of 66,000 in 1950.  Former residents voted with their feet to leave as conditions deteriorated.  And, let’s face it: the area has been largely neglected by administration after administration over the past half century.  We’re changing that.

We project almost 6,000 new units of housing will be produced, with City subsidies helping to reach a range of lower incomes. Moreover, it is the first neighborhood where MIH applies. Whether we are addressing housing needs in East New York, or Washington Heights, or Greenwich Village, MIH assures a guaranteed amount of affordable housing to go along with market-rate development so that, over time, neighborhoods reflect more of the economic diversity that sociological evidence makes clear is important. 

But, our plan in East New York goes far beyond zoning. The Mayor has created a $1 billion Neighborhood Development Fund exclusively for those neighborhoods where we are undertaking comprehensive, growth-oriented plans.

East New York was the first to tap into this fund: that means more than $250 million for a new school, a community center for youth, better open space and parks, a rebuilt Atlantic Avenue and an enhanced Industrial Business Zone to foster new jobs. We are not simply rezoning -we are creating a better environment so current and future generations have a fair shot at opportunity and housing in this new economy.

We also want to assure our continued dominance as the business capital of the world.  To do so, we must provide the modern space and first class public realm that befits the world’s business capital. 

The development of Hudson Yards is well underway.  Last year’s passage of the Vanderbilt Corridor Text Amendment permitted more modern commercial space in the immediate vicinity of Grand Central Terminal, while guaranteeing major improvements to its critical subway complex.

Last week, we issued the Scoping Notice for Greater East Midtown. That proposal, which will enter the review process before year-end, would permit greater as-of-right bulk in return for dramatic public realm improvements, major transit investments, and historic preservation of some of our most beloved midtown buildings.

But our innovation economy is growing faster than our traditional FIRE sector. Rising land values in traditional office areas, especially when competing with residential, and the demand for more collaborative work environments have led growing businesses to look in nontraditional, less-space constrained areas. This has led to the conversion of some industrial space to office use-- reducing the supply of space for key industrial functions and driving up the cost of doing business in the city.

I’ll give a few examples. The City Council recently approved a new eight-story Williamsburg office building at 25 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn’s first ground-up, unsubsidized speculative office building in decades, while requiring the building to help a substantial amount of space for industrial use. Our objective is to encourage growth in new innovation districts where office and light industry can be mutually supportive. Rudin Management and Boston Properties are developing a mixed-use commercial/industrial space at Dock 72 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And, in Downtown Brooklyn, the Planning Commission approved yesterday a development at 141 Willoughby Street that will include office space and affordable housing.

In Long Island City, particularly along the Vernon Boulevard corridor, we anticipate creating a 24/7, mixed-use, innovative community that strikes an appropriate balance among residential, commercial and industrial uses. Spin-offs from Cornell Tech will be a significant catalyst for new commercial growth along this Queens waterfront.

We have an obligation to protect and, where possible, expand our manufacturing and industrial sectors. These jobs, recently stabilizing after decades of decline, are an important support to other sectors and to assuring continued economic diversity. Proactively promoting commercial office uses, as well as the creation of a special permit for hotels and regulating self-storage in our Industrial Business Zones, will further protect our industrial areas. We are also in the midst of a comprehensive study of the North Brooklyn IBZ – one of the city’s most important industrial districts.

It is a fact, however, that our dynamic growth has put enormous pressure on the city’s infrastructure, already strained by age, and by the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. Subway ridership is at its highest since 1948, particularly during off-peak hours. Even the very definition of peak hours has changed, as the standard 9-5 work day has evolved.

Simply keeping the city’s infrastructure and public facilities in a state of good repair requires sustained investment. But we also have to invest in growth. City Planning has created a new partnership with the Office of Management and Budget to better align the City’s ten-year capital planning process in order to link infrastructure investments more closely to growth. We established a Capital Planning and Infrastructure Division, which blends fiscal responsibility and smart, strategic planning for making investments where we anticipate growth, principally through the regular capital budget process, but also deploying the NDF I mentioned.

Our robust, comprehensive collaboration across relevant city agencies and communities in all five boroughs also helps. We are especially focusing on opportunities - and welcome projects - that propose to bring jobs closer to where people live and housing closer to jobs. This approach not only relieves stress on infrastructure, but also benefits those who don’t live close to transit – usually lower wage workers.
And, it’s also why we are looking at the Brooklyn-Queens Connector – the BQX – and implementing a citywide ferry network.

And we can’t stop at the city’s borders. We are the engine for the region, but our vast infrastructure network is what allows the region to support us. Our growth is constrained if the region is not doing well – be it through the housing choices the suburbs provide, the jobs to which residents increasingly reverse commute, or land we protect in the Catskills so millions can drink clean water every day.

The number of residents commuting to jobs in the region is growing at a faster rate than those commuting in. We must plan around non-traditional commuting patterns especially in the Bronx, where the potential of new Metro North stations, create both economic and housing opportunities, but also in Brooklyn and Queens. However, we are still missing key regional transit improvements needed to support increased trans-Hudson commuting.

Recently I created the first-ever regional planning division at City Planning to cultivate select opportunities for bilateral/multi-lateral cooperation and programs that can benefit the region as a whole. Other regions of the country have done a better job at this and we should catch up.

Zoning is an important tool for planning, but, as I hope you can tell from what I’ve described this morning, it is not the only one. Planning must engage local communities, and must think about demographics, economics, infrastructure, design, neighborhood character and, yes, politics.

Be it through our revised zoning code, through our comprehensive neighborhood planning studies and our capital planning, or through our regional efforts, we have started to address those three semi-rhetorical, but answerable questions I asked you earlier this morning.
And, particularly for the last one- how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst -, to conclude, I’d like to circle back to today’s demographic trends.

The success of any great city lies in its capacity to reinvent itself over time, to transition. The energy unleashed by the huge and continuous ebb and flow of people fuels our success.  The population dynamic that characterizes the borough I was raised in - Queens – shows an astounding capacity to embrace change, in a way that leads to an almost constant replenishment of neighborhoods. New York City is arguably more multiracial and multiethnic than at any time in its history.

This “demographic ballet” is, without a doubt, a source of strength for the city.

But, identifying transitions in a city where transitions have become the norm is challenging by any measure, given their number and complexity.  When “transition” is used, it implies that neighborhoods are moving from one state to another, a temporal movement from one condition to another; but, what if communities are continuously evolving -- where the equilibrium that is established is based on change as the norm?

Finding the appropriate equilibrium requires government, as well as civic institutions, to take a broad and inclusive view of the city’s needs, and to resist parochial temptations.

Our values of embracing diversity, welcoming entrepreneurial spirit, benefitting from the sparks of innovation and creativity that result from density, are what attracts people to New York and are what keeps most of us here.  These are not just abstractions.  They are not just citywide values.  They are the essence of “community.” 

Diverse neighborhoods don’t just benefit the newcomers, they benefit existing residents as well, and their children who will, of course, take our place and continue to make New York great.