New York City covers 302.6 square miles of land. And on every block, and every borough, land use regulations shape the city’s life: where we live and where we work, our monthly rents and our daily commutes, who attends which schools and breathes what air. The next mayor—through their control over agencies like the Department of City Planning and their influence in the City Council and in Albany—will play a critical role determining the city’s land use policy and faces difficult choices in imagining the city’s land use future.
The NYU Furman Center’s series, How New York’s Next Mayor Can Shape Land Use and Planning, explores some of the most important and pressing land use questions facing the next administration. The series covers six key issues: where the city should prioritize new residential development; how best to use inclusionary zoning to produce affordable housing; how to balance neighborhood, citywide, and regional interests in land use; what outreach and studies should be performed before a rezoning; whether to allow different, often-smaller, types of residential unit than are currently permitted; and how to approach land use on NYCHA’s campuses. The series aims to provide the background and policy analysis to inform a public debate on these central issues.
302.6 was written by Noah Kazis, Jay Cullen, Adam George, and Charles McNally.
Some of the most important questions in land use policy today concern not what may be built, but who decides. Land use law can shift power to different levels of governance, from the state to the city to the neighborhood. This brief explores who has a voice in New York City land use decisions, and how the next mayor may adjust the balance between neighborhood voices and citywide needs.
Where to Build
There is immense need for additional housing in New York City. In accommodating more housing, a fundamental question for city officials—and especially the mayor, who oversees the agencies responsible for land use planning—is where to allow that housing to be built.
Inclusionary housing (or “inclusionary zoning”) is an important and popular tool used by many cities, including New York City, to produce long-term affordable housing. The next mayor will have to assess what is working with inclusionary housing, what is not, and how to build on and adjust them moving forward.
Rezoning Process Reforms
Some of the most contentious local politics in New York City involve rezonings, especially those which allow for increased development and density. Many stakeholders think that the rezoning process should be reworked—in one direction or another—to better account for considerations that they feel are under-valued. While most reforms to the land use process would require City Council legislation and revision of the city charter, the mayor will play a central role in shaping any change in this area.
Alternative Housing Types
Demographic shifts have led to an increasing number of New Yorkers living alone, but New York’s housing stock remains largely geared toward larger households. The next mayor will need to consider whether Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), Single-Room Occupancy Units (SROs), and micro-units can help New York City address its affordability and homelessness crises.
NYCHA’s Public Land
Physical conditions in many NYCHA buildings have deteriorated, affecting residents’ health and wellbeing. As part of raising funds for repairs, NYHCA planned to use its developable land and air rights to generate $3 billion. Whether and how to unlock the financial value of this public asset is a critical policy choice facing the next mayor.