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July 21, 2020
by AIA New York
Image: Fuzheado via Wikimedia Commons.

Despite concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, New York is moving ahead with its reopening. New cases and fatalities have fallen dramatically since the virus began, but health and economic challenges still linger. Many questions remain about how effectively and equitably our state and local governments will manage the reopening. How they do this will have a significant impact on the design and construction industry.

Earlier this week, New York City entered Phase 4 of the reopening. Some outdoor cultural spaces, such as zoos and botanical gardens, can reopen, yet restrictions remain on many indoor activities, most notably dining.

The City has responded to lingering concerns about indoor dining by allowing temporary outdoor dining in streets and plazas. AIA New York has strongly supported this innovative use of public space to keep restaurants afloat. However, city enforcement of rules surrounding these temporary outdoor dining areas has been haphazard, creating trouble for restaurateurs and design professionals.

Furthermore, there has been criticism about who is benefiting from these design solutions. New York has opened streets not only to dining, but to pedestrians and cyclists as well. Similar efforts have occurred nationally, though there has been criticism that the primary beneficiaries have been predominantly upper-income white areas. In New York for instance, open streets were initially not planned in more marginalized communities.

In addition to not benefitting from changes in City policy, marginalized communities have also been bearing the brunt of the City’s pullback in public services. While many City agency functions have resumed during the reopening, Mayor de Blasio continues to withhold the resumption of Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This ULURP halt has seriously delayed major affordable housing projects, which are particularly needed as New Yorkers grapple with a weakened economy. Fortunately, after pressure from AIANY and other groups, ULURP will be restarted.

While the reopening has been beneficial in some respects for the design and construction industry by allowing for work to resume, enforcement and equity issues have posed serious challenges. AIANY will continue to fight to make New York a fairer and more just city as it reemerges from the shutdown.

 

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