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February 23, 2007
by Bill Millard

Event: Mayor’s Plan for NYC 2030 New York New Visions: An Evolving Conversation
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.05.07
Speakers: Rohit Aggarwala, PhD — director, Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability; Donald H. Elliot, Esq. — Hollyer, Brady, Barrett & Hines; Frank Fish, FAICP — BFJ Planning; Mark Ginsberg, FAIA — Curtis + Ginsberg; Jerilyn Perine — executive director, Citizens Housing and Planning Council of NY; Joseph Tortorella, PE — vice president, Robert Silman Associates; Thomas K. Wright — executive vice president, Regional Plan Association
Moderator: Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA — Hutton Associates & New York New Visions
Organizers: New York New Visions; AIA New York Chapter Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Courtesy plaNYC 2030

Courtesy plaNYC 2030

The easy take on the mayor’s potentially prescient PlaNYC 2030 process is that it’s an exercise in collective doomsaying, a deep dark pool of worst-case scenarios. Despite some early press coverage boiling down the message to “the city’s going to become a rat-hole again, just as it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” city sustainability director Rohit Aggarwala actually takes a chipper tone. With demographic projections calling for a population of 9.1 million by 2030, the associated problems and risks aren’t hard to identify, whether it’s the chronic affordable-housing crunch, the shortage of trained engineers predicted by Joseph Tortorella, or the surprising fact (raised by Aggarwala in a global-warming context) that NYC ranks second only to Miami in hurricane risk exposure. Major infrastructure here is many decades old; flood lines are likely to rise; the transportation system is already congested enough to cost the city $11.5 billion annually in lost productivity. In this context, preventing trouble by projecting possible versions of it looks prudent, not alarmist.

Having an optimistic outlook while assessing the challenges is constructive initially, but the key term is “initial.“ At this stage, PlaNYC is defining broad targets and gathering data through task-force sessions, not prescribing solutions. Questions of means and accountability will inevitably enliven the debate. Executive vice president of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), Thomas Wright, called on New York New Visions (NYNV) members to serve as “civic cannon fodder,” drawing community leaders’ attention to these priorities. The real fireworks will come when costs and sacrifices have to be specified. The GreeNYC component, for example (the others being OpeNYC and MaintaiNYC), includes an ambitious four-point plan: cutting global-warming emissions by 30%, attaining the nation’s best urban air quality, cleaning up all contaminated land, and opening 90% of the city’s waterways for recreation.

Other stated goals of the overall program include improving park and playground access throughout all boroughs, adding transit capacity, and developing backup systems for the water network. Education, employment, and crime are conspicuously underemphasized in the official brochures distributed, but panelists emphasized the interconnection of those variables with the physical changes under discussion. Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council of NY, urging a renewed effort to secure support for public housing, offered a useful summation of the human bottom line: “If our neighborhoods stop being little factories to manufacture hope of entering the middle class, we’re in real trouble, because the million people who are coming are not all coming with MBAs.”

Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Oculus, Icon, Content, and other publications.

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