In Our Backyard
In Our Backyard invites listeners to explore the nuances behind some of New York City’s land use battles. Co-produced by the NYU Furman Center and the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute's Reporting the Nation graduate program, the series focuses on four different New York City neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Soho, Sunset Park, and Inwood. Listeners will hear from community organizers, elected officials, and housing policy experts to understand the choices neighborhoods across New York are facing. In Our Backyard encourages listeners to go beneath the surface of the proposed developments and understand what’s at stake in each debate. While many of these land use discussions have been paused by the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations about how to provide safe, affordable shelter to all New Yorkers have new urgency as we strive for an equitable recovery.
Listen to In Our Backyard below, or at Reporting the Nation's Pavement Pieces.
Episode 1: Crown Heights
Our first episode takes listeners to Crown Heights, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in central Brooklyn, where some residents fear that two proposed residential towers will block the sunlight upon which the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s greenhouses rely. Rents are rising fast in Crown Heights, and affordable housing is increasingly hard to find, but will community members welcome more housing even if it may come at the expense of a thriving botanic garden?
- Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability (Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Katherine O'Regan)
- City NIMBYs (Vicki Been)
Episode Note: The Spice Factory proposal discussed in this episode falls under the New York CIty’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which requires a portion of units built in rezoned parcels to be set aside as affordable housing. However the 50 percent subsidized affordable development proposed at the Spice Factory site exceeds the MIH requirements.
Episode 2: Soho
Our second episode focuses on Haven Green, an affordable housing development for older adults who have experienced homelessness proposed for the current site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. How can communities balance the need for housing with the need for green space when both are at a premium? How does New York City’s urban land use review process ensure, or not, that the city takes many perspectives into account? Do wealthy neighborhoods like Soho have the duty to welcome new development and share their amenities with lower-income households?
- Neighborhood Defenders (Katherine Levine Einstein)
- The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children (Raj Chetty, Nathanial Hendren, Lawrence F. Katz, Opportunity Atlas)
- Strategies to Boost Housing Production in the New York City Metropolitan Area (Citizens Budget Commission)
Episode 3: Sunset Park
Our third episode revolves around Industry City, a large shopping complex in Sunset Park, that is poised to increase its square footage from 5.3 to 6.6 million square feet as part of a comprehensive rezoning. Developers believe the rezoning will bring new jobs, while residents fear those new opportunities will attract wealthier households and displace a part of Brooklyn many hold dear. Do new jobs and commercial activity lead to gentrification and displacement?
- Making Sense of Incentives: Taming Business Incentives to Promote Prosperity (Tim Bartik, Upjohn Institute)
- Who’s to blame for high housing costs? It’s more complicated than you think. (Jenny Schuetz, Brookings Institution)
- Workforce Housing and Middle Income Housing Subsidies: A Primer (Jenny Schuetz, Brookings Institution)
Correction: This episode cites a statistic that 57 percent of current workers at Industry City are from Sunset Park. In fact, 57 percent are residents of Brooklyn, as reported by an HR&A Analysis in 2017.
Episode 4: Inwood
Our final episode focuses on Inwood, one of the last affordable neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Inwood rezoning has faced community scrutiny and legal challenge since it was proposed in 2018, and its future remains uncertain. When a city with a scarcity of housing can’t build more, what happens? How can communities ensure their neighborhoods will stay affordable if wealthier households will move in regardless of whether or not there is new development?
- Does gentrification displace poor children and their families? (Kacie Dragan, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Sherry Glied)
- Do New Housing Units in Your Backyard Raise Your Rents? (Xiaodi Li)
- The Effect of New Market-Rate Housing Construction on the Low-Income Housing Market (Evan Mast, Upjohn Institute)
About the Podcast
Development was long thought to be the engine of growth and prosperity in urban centers like New York, yet in recent years, the fear that such growth leaves low-income people behind has increased. Local residents and activists have a long list of worries when it comes to new developments: decreasing property values, increasing cost of living, obstructed views, rising crime, rapid gentrification, or loss of green space, to name a few. Proponents of development argue it brings an array of benefits including a larger housing stock to meet high demand, job creation, access to opportunity, and, potentially, more economically and racially diverse communities.
While people are familiar with high-profile examples of community opposition to development, like Amazon’s HQ2 in Long Island City, in reality these types of debates and discussions happen all the time. Few projects nowadays come without controversy, and opposition to development at large seems to be increasing. Does new development accelerate gentrification and displacement? How do communities reconcile creating affordable housing with other neighborhood and citywide priorities? How can communities reconcile different neighborhood needs, like housing and parks, when they all compete for the same finite amount of space? In Our Backyard looks to leading researchers, community advocates, and everyday New Yorkers to explore answers to these difficult and emotionally charged questions. The podcast was co-produced by Profesor Yvonne Latty's Reporting the Nation graduate program and the NYU Furman Center.
Producers: Yvonne Latty, Charles McNally, Benjamin Heller
Editor: Sam Eagen
Reporters: Sydney Fishman, Bessie Liu, Maureen Mullarkey
Special Thanks: Luis Hernandez