In my previous piece I looked at the top 10 causes of the gap between what we need to build to hit the national 300k target and what we are planning for and building.
I’ll call this the ‘planning gap’, planning here having a dual meaning both town planning and programme planning by developers.
As a number of commentators pointed out these problems are largely due to the introduction of a neo-liberal philosophy dismantling planning institutions, and a failed attempt to bridge the gap with systems of ‘spontanious order’ such as the NPPF presumption. I use the term neo-liberal normatively only to describe an institutional ideology.
Where preceding waves of neoliberalization resulted in the limitation of democratic control over economic policymaking, the present nationalist wave captained by Donald Trump and his copycats is defined by efforts of political illiberalization, brazenly seeking to undo the institutional setup of liberal-democratic checks and balances, seeing legislative and judicial branches of government subjected to a power-hungry executive.
This is not confined to one party. The most striking development is English local politics has been the rise of Advocado Nimbyism (green on outside brown on inside) , equally amongst Lib-Dems, Greens, independents conservatives and any Labour group in opposition to a conservative Group proposing Green Belt release. The enemy of planning here is a retreat to the local and a denial of the ability of increased supply to meet need.
Hence despite history disproving the Neo-liberal hypothesis government has been thrashing around for institutional solutions to meeting national objectives. Part of this is seen in bodies such as the Policy Exchange, Centre for Cities and Create Streets backing zoning. If done well it would help, but there is no sign of it being done well because of an almost complete lack of analysis of the ‘planning gap’ and how to fix it, what are the institutional barriers to delivery and how to fix them.
If you are to rebuild planning from its ruins I suggest the following.
Looks at housing need (national uncapped) functional region (travel to work area) and determine what are the key issues and risks. This is the approach adopted in project/programme management. You look at your targets (project controls) and look at the systematic risks from worst to least and tackle the root causes of the risks. Such an approach requires collaboration between Central and Local Government and should I suggest be led by Homes England. Looking at West Yorkshire for example we have key risks such as a weak market, with oversupply of apartments able to be absorbed by the market, constrained urban areas to the North and West, weak transport connections in many areas etc. The gap issues will be very different than Oxford say where there is uncertainty over employment growth, the number of overspill houses from London, water supply and rail investment. Doing such an exercise would give some spatial awareness to Government and stopping it persuing impossible policies, such as increasing housing targets for Brighton by 35% whereas it can can only meet 1/3rd of its current target by being surrounded by a National Park. It would also see potential synergies and solutions between subregions
I have to be careful what I say here as I might be working on this project soon.
The broad outlines of the high level masterplan for Neom – the largest planning project on earth has been announced.
Saudi Arabia has announced a huge new zero-carbon city to be built at NEOM in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
The project named “The Line” will be home to a million people and have no cars and no streets, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a video released on Sunday.
The city will be a 170 kilometer belt of “hyper-connected future communities,” and will be built around the natural environment, he said.
“We need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one,” Prince Mohammed said at an event to launch the city.
“By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels. 90 per cent of people breathe polluted air,” the crown prince said.
“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution? Why should we lose one million people every year due to traffic accidents? And why should we accept wasting years of our lives commuting?” he asked.
Later. Al Arabiya quoted the crown prince saying that the infrastructure of the project is set to cost between $100 to 200 billion, and that the project was announced after three years of planning. The crown prince also said the backbone of investment would come from Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund – the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – as well as local and international investors for the Neom project.
The project is a direct response to some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, such as infrastructure, pollution, traffic and human congestion, NEOM said.
Construction of the revolutionary city will preserve 95 per cent of nature within NEOM and will commence in the first quarter of this year.
The project forms part of extensive development work already underway at NEOM.
The Line’s communities will be cognitive and powered by Artificial Intelligence and the city will comprise carbon-positive urban developments powered by completely clean energy.
The project will be an economic engine for the Kingdom and will drive diversification in line with the Vision 2030 reform program.
The city will create 380,000 jobs and will contribute SR180 billion ($48 billon) to domestic GDP by 2030, the crown prince said.
Walkability will define life in The Line and essential services such as schools, medical clinics, leisure facilities, as well as green spaces, will be within a five-minute walk.
In addition to this, high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions will ensure that no journey will be longer than 20 minutes.
The concept of a high speed spine as the backbone of the city between Tiran (bridge to Eygyt) and Tabuk is a good one, as is walkable car free neighbourhoods, ive designed such. Don’t be alarmed by the idea of abolition of streets. That’s a transliteration problem. Streets and alleys (pedestrian) having different terms. It doesn’t mean the la Courbusiuan abolition of the street.
The problem is efficiency of movement.
Lets say there were two ‘neighbourhoods’ per km with a radius of 400m (5 minute walk) and lets say these were clustered so they covered 50% of the line with gaps between clusters. So that is 170 neighbourhoods.
1 million/170=6,000 per neighbourhood over 50 ha which is reasonable with a density of around 240 dph (net density) given typical assumptions on Arabic household sizes and no developable areas – around 4-6 storeys on average.
The fastest hgh speed train would take half an hour to get from one end to another. You would not want high speed stops less than 40km apart, so three. Then you would need to step down to a regional metro stopping every 4km or so and then to a local system stopping every 500m. If you didn’t then you would have to wait at every station all 170 of them as a local system took many hours. Autonomous vehicles ae no solution. They take too much road space and their weight makes particulate matter pollution worse. If your relied on them you would need a Sheikh Zaid Road type highway with 50 plus lanes. There is no substitute for metropolitan and local level transit.
So you can see the problem with an entirely linear system. It work well at the regional scale (i.e. japan) and along corridor within cities but it does not work well at a city scale. You can of course run four and six track systems but the problem is that it is like building a ladder to climb up rather than a system of ladders and balconies. You are adding lengths, and hence time, to journeys, and time has a generalized cost. Reducing generalized cost of travel is creating urban economies of agglomeration. You reduce that to the mathematical minimum in an entirely linear system. You also constrain headway and overall capacity as on train would have to wait behind another (and of course Hyperloops dont have capacity)
Roughly here’s how I would redesign it to be efficient. Three city hubs where employment would be concentrated. Each would have in parallel and perpendicular looped RER style regional metro system with around 80 stops, then feeding into perpendicular looped stops per neighbourhood, so around four neighbourhoods per district centre.
This overall would form a grid at around 45 degrees to the spine adapted to the areas of relatively level topography. A flexible grid being much more efficient as you don’t have to wait for the very last piece of the line to be finished before the areas can be occupied.
It is a depressing time. No-one is really preparing local plans with enthusiasm and speed.
Why should they when so many ambitious planning efforts have so spectacularly failed.
I pity chief planners making recommendations on what to do on their local plan reviews.
Most councillor’s of course see plan making as nothing but a lose-lose situation.
The idea of the NPPF was that the consequences of ‘build what you like where you like’ would be so painful lpas would get on with plan making.
But most found it easier simply to blaim government for losses of planning by appeal. And if you were a Green Belt authority there was no pressure whatsoever.
Hence local plan making and adoption contines to slow to a crawl.
What are the reasons for this? None of which were anlaysed in the planning white paper.
The first is a systematic shortfall in OAN targets. This will get worse in the latest national housing need system which effectively plnns for a capped shortfall for at least the next five years.
The second is the complete lack of a system for redistributing overspill of OAN from land and environmentall constrained areas.
The third has been the failure of joing plan making efforts.
The fourth has been the structural inability of plans to deal with large scale long term startegic sites and the failure of the goverment to support them with infrastructure and land assembly at existing use values.
The fifth has been the lack of political courage of so many athorities to plan given electoral threats of the Advocado Nimby alliances of Green Lib Dems and anto development indpendents.
The sixth has been in the light of political threats smoke filled room processes to decide preferred options and a lack of transparent inquiry into realistic strategic options. Combined with a gap in skills of local planners in preparing strategic plans.
The seventh is the weak demand in some parts of the North for large scale and high density sites.
The eigth is the unwillingness of many developers to release for development consented sites whilst land values appreciate.
The ninth is the deliberate slow rate of development of many housebuilders to build above the local ‘absorbtion rate’.
The tenth is the lack of funding for the proportion of local housing need that is affordable.
I think this is a pretty comprehensive list.
However even if all of the national and development sector constraints were removed you still have the problem in the middle. The unwillingness to plan.
I see two options:
The first would be to set a statutory timescale for planning whereby if you didnt have new plans in place old plans would expire. Green Belt and al. The put the fire up them approach. That would work.
The second would be to take the heat off by having independent commissions, on which local planners would sit, producing plan options. With local politicians voting on the one to go to examination.
I note that many areas with zoning, where of course if you don’t agree zoning you have no control, work of the basis if indepedent planning commissions making recommendations.
K&C They had to after TfL camera data showing an increase in congestion.
Friday 8 January 2021
Following representations from groups and partners in the borough, the Council will be revisiting the decision to remove temporary cycle lanes on High Street Kensington.
The Council’s Leadership Team will look again at the factors, the evidence, and views from all sides of the debate, but without the Lead Member for Transport. This will ensure a fair and frank discussion, and a balanced decision based on a new report with the latest evidence.
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said:
“I have asked the Council to look again at the decision to remove temporary cycle lanes on Kensington High Street, and I will be seeking views and a decision from the entire Leadership Team. We will do this without the Lead Member for Transport in the interest of fairness and balance.
“It is important we consider the most up-to-date information and views we have available, and so officers have been asked to prepare an up-to-date report for us to consider at our meeting in March. I know the depth of feeling on both sides of this issue, so it is important we make the time to consider this further and understand how the Council can be a leader in all forms of active and sustainable travel.”
I explore in my forthcoming book why the latest round of joint strategic planning – West of England, North Essex etc. has failed.
There are many reasons but it can be summed up with one analogy – they were cut and shuts – and as such they were doomed to fall apart. They were local plans glued together, by local planners running them as large scale local plans.
Strategic Plans are different beasts, and have one job – allocation of strategic sites and strategic areas for protection.
The M4 is of course the only strategic route into south Wales (the two lane M50 is not a real motorway). It also has become the main focal point for employment growth with many locations only accessible by car. Cardiff and Newport have two junctions each leading to junction hopping. The M4 is only congested at peak suggesting its strategic function is stymied by local commuting; which is not what motorways are for.
With the M4 relief road stymied the Welsh Government set up the Burns commission ( South East Wales Transport Commission), led by the former Treasury Secretary, which issued a final report at the end of November.
“do the things the Welsh Government has failed to do”.
The UK internal market bill recently given royal assent effectively gives the UK government the power to devolve transport and economic regeneration if they wish, meaning they could force through a project such as the M4 relief road.
Simon Hart said UK ministers would “much prefer” a “collaborative project” to tackle congestion around Newport and the Brynglas tunnels.
He added that while they “probably could” bypass Welsh ministers it would be “complicated” and “controversial”.
Lord Burns said in the report
“It is clear that people in South East Wales do not have good alternatives to the M4. Many people have little choice but to use the motorway, given the lack of public transport options. We believe that a competitively priced, efficient and reliable public transport network could become the first choice for many travellers.”
Lord Burns added that “even a moderate reduction” in cars on the M4 could “result in a significant improvement to the travel flow”, while the shift to public and active transport would have wider environmental and health benefits.
Now Boris has set up his own commission on Union Transport connections
The review will look at how to boost transport infrastructure throughout Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England via road, rail and air, and across the Irish Sea.
It will examine how such links could be improved to fuel the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, improving connections, creating new ones and levelling up access to jobs and opportunities.
Whether Boris Johnson gets his much-loved Irish Sea bridge will grab the headlines but this report is likely to contain much more including alternatives to the scrapped M4 Relief Road, as well as suggesting improvements for rail links between Scotland and England.
Its proposals centre on improving train services between Cardiff, Newport and Bristol by upgrading the four track South Wales Main Line, so it can be used by more trains with more flexibility. For the first time, this would allow for local, commuting services to run frequently without disrupting express rail services.
The Commission also suggests an ambitious railway station building programme, which would add six stops between Cardiff and the River Severn. To complement existing stations at Cardiff Central, Newport and Severn Tunnel Junction, the proposed new stations would be Newport Road (Cardiff), Cardiff Parkway (St Mellons), Newport West, Newport East (Somerton), Llanwern and Magor.
The rail backbone would be supported by new rapid bus and cycle corridors across the region, especially within Newport. Taken together, over 90% of Cardiff and Newport’s population would live within a mile of a railway station or rapid bus corridor if the proposals are taken forward. Many these recommendations can be delivered through upgrades to the existing rail and road network.
As a rail guy I can’t see Henry going against the Burns commission, especially as the technical rail work has been done. What is remarkable is that the Cardiff – Bristol Severn Rail Corridor already has 4 track but doesnt function as rapid transit, and it comes through through main stations and so doesnt need any tunneling. Creating 4 track for Northern Powerhouse Rail will probably cost 20 billion. Here it could be done for 200 million.
What is frustrating is that all these options open up because there is for a the first time a well funded strategy. There have been many el cheapo reports about rapid transit is south wales over the years which ask for everything and deliver nothing. Also the Newly formed Transport for Wales for the first time is looking at modes across the board and land use transport integration. Contrast that with Highways England and the Lower Thames Crossing.
If the Welsh Government is canny they will now look at rates of return and do full feasibility studies. Spin it as ‘Severn Express’ project, delivering the kind of benefits of NPR but at a fraction of the cost. Boris would buy into it as he could use it as a means of rubbing Sturgoens nose in it.
I would suggest the sensible thing to do is run express tram trains (3 carriages) on it with high frequency.
A phase 2 of the project would be to extend tram train running along the Seven Valleys corridors – what is currently the South Wales Metro project. Tram trains would allow for on street running in Cardiff City centre and an improved link to Cardiff Bay. Imagine being able to commute from Pontyprydd to Amaon in LLanwern?
Current development plan sites along the M4 corridor should be rezoned as logistics sites only and charged ramp control should be used at peak times as a revenue source for the rail proposals.
The sensible new station locations are already major growth nodes (Llanwern) or could be, please no Cardiff Park – Marshfields instead.
This is in marked contrast to the current approach. The report
In Emerging Conclusions (July 2020), we explained our finding that land use and transport decisions are contributing to congestion. In particular, our judgement is that a root cause of M4 congestion is that many important origins and destinations have been located close to the motorway without meaningful transport alternatives.
We have found prominent examples in housing estates, employment sites and retail parks. In the absence of more developed transport alternatives, the motorway has been a natural axis around which to plan developments.
While it may not always have been a conscious decision, the location of existing settlements and topographical constraints means the available land has generally been close to the M4.
Without a change in approach, this looks set to continue. In the future, both Cardiff and Newport are planning for physical and economic growth. The areas for development tend to be located in an arc across the northern and western fringes of Cardiff and in the east of Newport. These sites are relatively close to the M4, on the edges of built-up areas and often poorly served by public transport. Other things being equal, we expect these developments to increase use of the M4 and hence congestion.
Certain patterns of land use can support the effectiveness of the network we are recommending, allowing a positive cycle of development and patronage to develop. For example, increasing public transport services to a station allows a greater number of people to access that area, which may prompt either a rise in population or employment density around the station, creating more demand for public transport and hence building the business case to increase services further.
By changing land uses as we develop a new public transport network, we can positively influence these cycles. While they may take a number of years to come to fruition, the risk of not taking action is that alternative cycles persist instead. For example, decreasing public transport services to a station increases cardependenc e of the people who live and work in that area, increasing demand for car travel, causing congestion, requiring either additional roadspace for cars or prompting relocations to places further afield and hence undermining the economics of existing public transport services.
An approach to development that does not depend on cars is possible. Other successful city regions internationally and in the UK have located and designed new developments so that they can be served mainly by public transport and active travel. 306 As cities and towns develop, they have the opportunity to increase the concentration of development. Sustainable transport is most prominent in those places which are compact, dense and promote a variety of land uses.
These features can be characterised as ‘Transit Oriented Development’ (TOD)…planned and projected growth. We understandthis necessarily involves more housing. However, we believe it is possible to provide medium density developments while promoting high quality public realm and green spaces. Indeed, we strongly believe the nature of a place is enhanced if it allows for a greater provision of walking, cycling and public transport….
We make three land use recommendations which reflect the development opportunities which arise from the network approach….
First, we recommend an increase in mixed use developments.
Second, we recommend employment be located within towns and city centres and not on the outskirts close to the motorway
Third, we recommend densification around the stations and corridors of the network…
We recommend the Strategic Development Plan should deliver the function of master planning the region, which cannot be done on an individual Local Authority basis. This master planning should identify the strategic locations most suitable for development in South East Wales. A proactive approach is necessary given the difficulty of retrofitting existing developments with transport infrastructure. A case in point is our recommendation for a new rail station at Newport West to provide access to the large employment sites; the options for the station and bus access is constrained by past decisions. 320 Our view is that regional planning is most effective when there is regional governance in place. This is only partially the case in Wales. We therefore welcome the establishment of statutory Corporate Joint Committees (CJCs) to provide for coordination across Local Authorities.
What we have in South Wales therefore is the ONLY urban region in the UK to have a comprehensive intermodal transport and land use plan in genesis which could be backed by a statutory strategic plan. It is the only urban region with a potential pathway to zero carbon growth. Wales puts English Planning, and Boris, to shame.
The following is pretty obvious but I have never seen it set down.
The three reasons being:
Shortfall in stock of housing sites in Local Plan: When you allocate a site in a local plan the stock of potential housing sites increases. As the plan ages and isn’t updated the stock shrinks.
Shortfall in the flow of Allocated Housing Sites to Permission: Once it is the stock it needs to flow from an allocation towards delivery. The flow also includes windfall sites.
Shortfall in the flow of Permitted Housing Sites to Permission: Now it is down to housebuilders to get building.
Shortfall in the flow of housing sites coming into the Local Plan: This can be represented by a formula representing the flow of numbers per year that need to be added to a local plan to replenish its stock to target, based on the length of the plan and frequency of review. So if a plan 15 years has a 6,000 target it needs to replenish 2,000 new units every 5 years. Any delay the flow increases.
I have mentioned this before but never fully set it out. It intrigued the ministry. What is interesting is its potential to get rid of diversionary bullshit (of which the LGA are the experts) about what the real source of the problem is. If you have sufficient site level data (which at the moment you only have in London) you can set out the contribution of each component and set out the rate at which each needs to increase to reach target. This would be far better than intervention measures such as the Delivery Test which only monitors one. What is more it makes it possible to use stock/flow simulation models (using ODE equations in a computer model) to forecast future supply.
in 1994 John Prescott launched the ‘Northern Way’ programme. It was rumored at the time the North needed to have something like the Thames Gateway. In 2010 it was abolished by the incoming conservative government. Yet its aim are very similar to the Northern Powerhouse as launched by George Osborne.
Why did it fail?
Its funding was tiny, 100 million over 10 years equivalent to 150 million today. By comparison this was 10% of the funding for New Deal for Communities. At the time the Treasury kept strict rules on investment, and when it finally did undo the taps it was focused on the NHS. The budget had to be sliced from the DCLG budget rather than in the past regional policy being run from the department of industry, which since the 1970s had seen massive cuts in its share of national budget.
It was driven by Regional Development Agencies. Which had a business and property. City Region government outside London had been abolished. Though the Northern Way focused on functional city regions, these had no mayoral seat at the table. Also the weft of the trans Pennine belt conurbations was watered down by including isolated towns such as Hull, which have limited potential for increases in productivity through increased agglomeration and very rural areas, which required different solutions than a national corridor/cluster based strategy. Of course we see much the same mistake in the powerhouse where we see what the Irish call an ‘something for every crossroads town approach’ something for everywhere rather than focusing on growth corridors, which again we see in the silly arguments for ‘gods own country’ Yorkshire government, which would be as disastrous as James Palmers focus on the fens approach in Cambridgeshire. This is not a argument against investment in rural areas and remote towns, rather a national programme focused on corridors and clusters should not stray outside these areas. Other areas need different funding streams and different governance. Otherwise you just get a great watering down with big lines running everywhere – which means investment focussed nowhere, as you see in the TfN transport strategy. Which is why I say Northern Powerhouse should be focussed on the trans Pennine corridor and not stray north to the Yorkshire Dales and North or East of the A1M
There was no analysis of why there was a GDP output gap and its causes – in other words why it needed levelling up. You read policy documents focussing on strengths but not weaknesses or threats. Also there was no analysis of the economics of agglomeration or of productivity.
There was limited, little or any, study of capital improvements to improve corridor connectivity. For example a transport prospectus from 1995 had no maps and no proposals other than a vaugue injunction to improve connectivity between trans Pennine cities. Sadly you also get the same deflation looking at regional strategies of the period, vague wordy documents of objectives without seriously studies and visonary spatial proposals. Without a visionary and very expensive capital project which had serious political support it was never too big to cancel. Small plans are easily cancelled.
Bradford is unusual amongst Northern Mill town in that is built on top of a watershed not at the base of a dale. This created problems in water supply for industry and canals came late to Bradford and closed early. For rail the problems are even more pronounced. More than one none connected terminus was built and the height difference between them (21m) made a tunnel impactical whilst maintaining the stations.
In the event short sighted planning in the post war period saw both termini truncated (which is why Bradford does not have a grand Victorian railway station) and much of the land demolished for post war developments like roads and shopping centres that either never took place or, like a shopping mall, took years to commence.
Many different schemes have been proposed from tunnels to surface level. There is even a 1911 Act of Parliament involving a tunnel and bridge over Forster Square. Similar schemes have regularly been proposed but cost of course is an issue. Though estimated at 120 million the cost is miniscule compared to other schemes on a national level measured in billions.
The galvanising issue now is NP Rail, though this is likely to bypass the centre of Bradford maybe only having a park and rail stop to the south of the city at Low Moor.
Personally I think with the demise of the eastern branch of HS2 to Leeds a route via the Woodhead tunnel tunnel from Manchester branching off to Sheffield and Leeds. It would be much the cheapest option (estimated savings of 20-21 billion) then building through quite urbanised trans pennine corridors north of Manchester. The Network North consortium have recently proposed this.
People will ask what about Bradford, well I don’t think a NPR station at Bradford not linked to existing rail lines would be a good idea at all, a parkway only station would just encourage road traffic in a city notorious for it lack of regional integration. It would be far better to develop a tramtrain rapid transit system comprehensively serving the whole of West Yorkshire with on street running between Exchange and Interchange stations in Bradford City centre. Their would still be steep gradients at each station. The solution would be to develop railway spirals (below) at each point.
This could also utilize former railway lines such as the Shipley Great Northern Railway branch line which via Thackley would create a fast new route to Leeds and link Shipley and Leeds directly, with a new spur to Leeds/Bradford Airport, and utilising existing track to interchange at Low Moor. Also without reversing and terminus headway for sub-regional trains capacity would be dramatically increased. I also give shout out to this Leeds Crossrail proposal to end so many trains terminating at Leeds which is the cause of so much congestion. With the capacity issues solved in Leeds city centre future street running in Leeds can serve much the same network as the Leeds Supertram proposal – but with much more segregated track in congested areas, removing a major objection to Supertram and learning from successful tram proposals in other cities
A tram train has already been studied by the West Yorkshire combined Authority. Though it didnt look at the Bradford stations connectivity issue. With on street trams failing several times in the last 30 years in Leeds Tram Trains are the way forward and much less expensive. It is now being trailed between Rotherham and Sheffield.
What is now needed from Transport for the North is a coherent and costed study to:
Integrate HS2 to rail, including a NPR rail route and major cities
How this should integate to other rail improvements including tram-train based regional metro routes
I forever live in hope, how this can drive zero and low carbon options for major development in Leeds-Liverpool-West Yorkshire- South Yorkshire transpennine growth corridor.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would overhaul New York City’s long-term planning processes, eliminating duplicative procedures, streamlining agency coordination, and establishing a more proactive, holistic approach to land use and budgeting that prioritizes racial and economic justice.
For decades, the city’s zoning, land use, and development have been subject to disparate sets of mandates and guidelines, some overlapping and redundant, in the City Charter, the city’s foundational governing document. There are more than a dozen planning documents that determine how infrastructure is built and how communities and boroughs grow.
Over the last two years, Johnson and his colleagues, particularly Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso, have been attempting to reform those processes into one centralized comprehensive approach that would act as an overarching strategy for everything from housing creation to school construction, public spaces, transit access, and economic development. The approach would bring about more equitable and sustainable growth across the city, addressing long-standing disparities and needs, particularly in Black and brown communities, while also meeting citywide goals.
Council members along with the Thriving Communities coalition of advocates and experts unsuccessfully proposed such a comprehensive planning framework before a Charter Revision Commission last year. They sought to have the commission present the policy to voters in the form of a ballot question, but the commission decided against including it in its final list of ballot proposals.
“We have a piecemeal and top-down approach to land use and planning and we can’t afford to carry that ineffective approach into our future. The stakes are just too high,” Johnson said Wednesday, as he announced the new legislation and released an accompanying report, “Planning Together.” The report outlines the city’s broken planning procedures that have created inequities and critiques city government’s inability to realistically evaluate, budget, and build major infrastructure projects through the capital budget.
The report and the legislation, Johnson said, would “give us tangible and useful tools to plan for our future…We’re going to have clearly-defined, measurable, citywide goals, and every neighborhood is going to develop their own land use plan. These are real concrete things that New Yorkers can actually wrap their heads around.”
The new legislation, which includes City Charter amendments, would incorporate and re-jigger all the current elements of city planning into a comprehensive planning strategy over ten-year cycles, mandating a regular effort at thoughtful, coordinated growth and that decisions on land use and the city budget actively seek to rectify historic inequities across the city for low-income communities of color and to prevent the displacement that may be caused by forces of gentrification.
The plan will be a living document, changing every five years to keep up with the evolving needs of the city and based on regular engagement with communities. If the legislation is passed in 2021, the ten-year process would begin in 2022, with a Long Term Planning Steering Committee and an assessment of needs from community boards. The plan itself would first be published in 2025, and then amended in 2030 as citywide goals, needs and land use actions are reassessed.
It would require regular appraisals of infrastructure needs, short- and long-term risks and the impact of land use decisions. The proposed bill would require that the city prioritize community input and create new, local decision-making bodies to weigh in on land use and development processes. And it would set quantifiable targets for “housing, jobs, open space, resiliency infrastructure, schools, transportation, and other infrastructure.”
A comprehensive plan – New York is the only city never to have had one, even Houston which doesn’t have zoning has one, is a good thing. However the process is unlikely to result in an uplift in New Yorks low development rates.
To understand you have to understand the background of the Bloomberg era. This saw targeted upzoning of some areas, mostly poorer areas in Harlem, and downzoning in areas such as Staten Island and Lower East side. This had little to do with accessibility. Most of the downzoning occurred in places close to stations.
You also have to understand that very little of New York is zoned for conservation. Only around 3% of lots are in historic districts (equivalent to conservation area). Overall New York could easily triple their coverage IF it reduced the two thirds of the lots zoned for single family dwellings. Formally ‘redlined’ areas are underepresented.
Of course residents of well heeled brownstones can lobby harder for protection. But the problem is not protection but downzoned and lowzoned areas not worthy of protection.
The risk is a thread amongst ‘left nimby’ discourse of ‘hey if white people can get downzoning in the name of racial and social justice so should everybody else’. The totally discredited idea that the best way to stop gentrification is to stop development.
The City’s piecemeal approach to planning responds best to the neighborhoods with resources to agitate for change, which has resulted in an uneven, unequal, and unfair distribution of zoning policy—and the de-prioritization of the needs of low-income people, immigrants, and people of color. Over the last several decades, many of New York’s well-resourced neighborhoods have successfully advocated for restrictive and exclusionary zoning that prevents the development of critically needed affordable housing in transit-rich neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, less privileged communities with fewer resources to organize have often either been left with outdated zoning that encourages car-centric urban design and includes no housing affordability requirements whatsoever—or targeted for increased density with little explanation or citywide rationale for why their neighborhood must bear the burdens of growth over other neighborhoods. These restrictive, exclusionary rezonings and uneven applications of zoning policy across diverse neighborhoods have exacerbated racial and socio-economic inequality in New York City.
Although in and of itself the Planning Together document is spot on on the issue of injustice it says nothing about the biggest injustice, the shortage of homes and places of business. As such it could be used simply to pressure for downzoning of racially diverse areas and create a backlash in historically valued neighbourhoods. As we know in so many cities this doesnt end well and can exacerbate tensions.
The rezoning process needs to be done very carefully and they should start now with a comprehensive historical and character survey of New York as background evidence.
The way I advocate to zone to to classify areas on a two dimensional matrix, the first axis is suitability for density and the second is suitability for change. On the first you classify areas against transect (Central urban to suburban fringe), accessibility to transit and accessibility to services, and the other you classify areas as with Intensify, manage or conserve. For each classified area you specify the acceptable form, either contextual or an appropriate form for intensification. There would then be no ‘special zoning districts’ pickling areas like most of Staten Island as one dwelling per lot.
Also I would drop emotive terms like ‘upzoning’ and use the term ‘Urban Living’ which Bristol invented. Urban living being basically areas where you can live without a car and have appropriate urban form to create the population density to facilitate this. The key question in the neighbourhood consultation being – what FORM of urban living is appropriate here.
Though there are many that have said that zoning in New York has become so legally complicted it will never have a comprehensive plan the massive rezonings on form based lines in cities like Florida and Milwaukie suggest it can and should be done.
The Grasslands Trust team blog about nature conservation and broader environmental issues, always with a focus on our threatened grassland habitats. The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Trust.