New York Magazine Casts a Cynical Eye on “Bloomtopia”

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New York Magazine’s Chris Smith, who calls congestion pricing a trojan horse, suspects fewer cars and more trees may be a "green screen" for mayor Bloomberg’s real estate development agenda:

Mayor
Bloomberg’s Earth Day speech compiled 127 ideas for making the city
more "sustainable" by 2030. But congestion pricing has dominated the
conversation ever since. Which may be just what the mayor needs to get
the rest of PlaNYC going.

Last week, the mayor added $150 million to the city budget to launch
his 2030 initiatives. Yet he’s deferring some relatively easy
fixes like pushing harder to "green" the building code. And the
sketchiness of when and how he intends to deliver on the grandest ideas
feeds suspicions that PlaNYC is a green fig leaf for boosting
real-estate development.

Bloomberg has created a profoundly hopeful moment in the environmental
life of the city. It would be truly depressing if the primary result of
the Olympics bid and PlaNYC turns out to be the same: lots of big new
buildings, only this time with Bloomberg’s million new trees growing in
the shadows."

Photo: BigMikeNYC/Flickr

  • Anne

    NY Magazine decrying real estate development?? Puh-leeze!!

    Also, the writer’s concern about “where to put all those trees” seems pathetically Manhattan-centric… even 3.4 Central Parks is a relatively small area compared to the five boroughs. There are plenty of neighborhoods in the city with no green for many blocks.

  • JD

    From New York Magazine:

    “This time, the central goal—a radically greener, more self-sustaining city—is both worthier and more diffuse. Bloomberg has created a profoundly hopeful moment in the environmental life of the city.”

    Chris Smith wants Bloomberg’s plan to work. But he doesn’t believe congestion pricing is for real. Smith is no dummy.

  • How can pricing not be for real? Even if B’s evil endgame is all of Manhattan looking like midtown, he can not get there with a car-choked transportation network. He is fighting back the automobile, and that is all that matters right now. We can chain ourselves to old buildings later (and be glad they aren’t underwater).

  • R

    He does have a point about pushing harder to “green” the building code…

  • PlaNYC is just that: A Plan.

    The proof that Bloomberg means it, is that he will continue to push this in the budget and with the new transportation commish.

    The real risk is not that Bloomberg is insincere, it’s that he’s too much of a political oddity for his successor to carry much of this through…900 days is not a long time in politics.

  • d

    “It would be truly depressing if the primary result of the Olympics bid and PlaNYC turns out to be the same: lots of big new buildings, only this time with Bloomberg’s million new trees growing in the shadows.”

    Isn’t a cleaner, more sustainable city likely to result in more real estate development? If it’s easier to get around, if mass-transit is improved, if more neighborhoods get parks…won’t all of those things make city life more attractive? How is this prospect depressing?

    Even if PLANYC is a “fig leaf” for creating favorable development conditions, so what? Would it be better for those buildings to be built anyway (as a growing NYC population will likely necessitate) without the trees in their shadows? I’m not sure what the writer wants or expects.

  • brent

    “he’s deferring some relatively easy fixes”-There are plenty of leaders who will take on the easy fixes. I estimate there are about 49 out of 50 leaders who will tackle the easy problems. Let them. It takes a real leader to face difficult challenges.

    I also don’t think Chris Smith supported his claim that the hidden agenda behind congestion charging is to benefit developers. But let’s say this is in fact the motive. Then I think it would be fair to say, “If there is congestion pricing, it will improve the quality of life in the city. This might lead to development. If nothing worthwhile is done about traffic, quality of life will be degraded and there will be less development because fewer people will want to live in NYC.” So what’s the problem?

  • NIMBY alert. When someone says:

    “It would be truly depressing if the primary result of the Olympics bid and PlaNYC turns out to be the same: lots of big new buildings, only this time with Bloomberg’s million new trees growing in the shadows.”

    I tend to suspect that they are not just against badly designed development but against smart growth in general.

    Bloomberg is talking about building more housing near transit stations, and this sort of smart growth is good for the environment AND is good for real estate developers.

  • JD

    The problem is the mayor has two more years of his lame duck term left. This is any mayor’s period of minimum influence. Yet Bloomberg is calling on the notoriously balky and territorial state legislature to pass radical (for them) legislation that would antagonize important voting blocs and create a development fund that gives the mayor more power and the legislature less.

    The clock is ticking and the legislature is expert at killing time. For opponents of congestion pricing to win, they simply have to not lose (an Albany specialty is delaying votes) and the clock will run out on the mayor.

    Savvy political reporters like Chris Smith (who has been on the beat for 20 years) understand this and are focused on the things in the plan the mayor has control over.

  • Eric

    I think a lot of you guys miss Chris Smith’s point. This is the reporter who wrote what is probably the definitive Mainstream Media article on “Atlantic Yards.” This same Mayor gave the store away to Bruce Ratner and the ESDC on that deal, and almost everything about “Atlantic Yards” contravenes the really positive 2030 plan that the Mayor just put forth.

    And don’t give me any whining about transit-oriented development and density. The act of building highrises and an arena over a transit hub does not in itself make it “transit-oriented,” especially when it includes 3,800 parking spaces, the hub is already near capacity, and there’s no real plan for managing traffic (let’s not forget that massive “interim surface parking lot.” Not to mention the most f***ed up “public” process ever.

    So forgive Mr. Smith if he’s just a little bit skeptical. The proof will be in the pudding — not the plan.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Everybody has there own 800 pound gorillas in PlaNYC. Mine is the absence of any sort of space in the plan for industry. Ignoring the cross-harbor freight tunnel and marginalizing maritime related industries doom future employment prospects for working class New Yorkers. That this constituency will rebel against the congestion price provisions is fairly predictable, and that politicians who want their vote will pander to them is as well. Bringing Ed Ott, the municipal workers and the building trades along will not necessarily sell blue collar NYC on this vision.

  • comentz

    U.S. News and World Report’s latest cover story is about the American Commute. The issue also contains an interview with Dan Doctoroff, which can be found at:
    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070429/29gridlock.doctoroff.htm

  • Oh come now, let’s not start capitalizing “Mainstream Media” here. It’s just New York magazine, and we don’t have to rally behind anyone who may have been right on unrelated issues. I was skeptical of the airy PlaNYC too–before it included congestion pricing. Now I am thrilled that the issue is up for serious debate years before we expected it to be.

    What’s the easy alternative again? Add-ons to the byzantine city building code? That is not saving the world, or even improving our lives. That is progressive bullshit. Maybe next week Mr. Smith will demand more “affordable housing” to go with his regulations that make it more expensive to build. Meanwhile, we have a decent, unexpected shot at the most promising livable streets reform of our time. We see who is willing to make sacrifices for conservation, and for whom it’s never going to be exactly the right time, the right mayor, or the right set of progressive adjectives. May the doers win.

  • Danno

    Dont believe the hype
    Bloomberg and his real estate pals are looking to push the International Building Code which is a disaster in a dense urban area like NYC.
    Dont think so it allows the construction of 4 story wood frame buildings (His so called affordable housing plan)
    One less means of egress, so if you have fire you get the people out and loose the building
    Look up the international building code and find out. That is what he is pushing for PlanNYC

  • momos

    An official who works in the Mayor’s Office told me Bloomberg has privately been convinced of the need for congestion pricing for a long time and originally wanted to introduce it last fall. His political advisers were dead set against the idea and convinced him not to go through with it then.

    This official, who has briefed Bloomberg several times on various policy proposals, says the mayor is chiefly concerned with two things on any given issue: the incentives a policy creates, and how stakeholders will respond to an initiative.

    Bloomberg’s reputation as a pragmatic technocrat is well established. Rohit Aggarwala openly says PlaNYC began as a strategic planning exercise for longterm land use. A real estate agenda at work? Perhaps. Land use lead to considering transportation, which lead to considering air quality, which lead to considering energy, and thus PlaNYC was born.

    The constituency supporting PlaNYC is a coalition of idealists and business. The idealists recognize in the plan many ways to finally address environmental injustice, end pro-auto transportation, improve air quality, etc. Business interests recognize it as vital to their longterm financial health.

    Idealists (I’m one of them) are critical in ensuring the plan achieves its social promise. But idealists should not profess shock or cynicism that business is a driving interest in the plan, either. We know this about Bloomberg: he is market friendly and ultimately views government’s responsibility as one of configuring incentives so that business and other actors in society will produce a socially optimal result.

  • JD

    Momos

    Add the transit union and construction trades to your list of congestion pricing supporters. These interests have deduced that billions for transit improvements are to their benefit. We need to hear more from labor and construction interests ASAP.

  • Eric: I am also against Atlantic Yards. I want pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods near transit, and Atlantic Yards is decidedly not pedestrian-oriented.

    But, as I said originally, a NIMBY is “not just against badly designed development but against smart growth in general.”

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    The transit financing piece is only going to repay what Giuliani and Pataki cut from city and state financing of the MTA capital plan creating the enormous budge hole looming in the future of transit. Nonetheless Roger Toussaint supports the plan and will work to pass it politically. Ed Ott heads the central labor council but comes from the municipal worker side of the fence. The building trades also correctly view more money in building buildings than parking lots. However, their members live in outer Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island (if not Jersey and CT), and are big SUV and truck guys. They are the chief political supporters of Weprin, et. al.

    Bloomberg let the political moment for this pass when he opened up the bridges to single occupancy vehicles after 911. It might be noted that he did so after the loud urging of Sam Schwartz who was “consulting” for the restaurant and parking industries at the time. Schwartz came out with a lunatic piece today in the Daily News that will again help doom congestion pricing and then went on WNYC to hype it.

  • Eric

    Charles,

    I re-read Chris’s piece after reading the comments, and I still think his point is being misconstrued. I think he’s saying: “Mr. Mayor, don’t let the Lew Fidlers get in the way of this.” I think he supports smart growth. And congestion pricing. But he’s hoping that when all is said and done, the score is: real estate developers 50, liveable streets idealists 50, not Trump and Ratner 95, the rest of us 5. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I read it.

    As for Sam Schwartz, yikes. If he hadn’t already lost all credibility when he signed on as a consultant to “Atlantic Yards,” that surely was the final stake.

  • lee

    nic, is there a link to that article online, I can’t seem to track it down.

  • Damian

    Labor and construction advocates are pro-development, period. They’re strongly in favor of Atlantic Yards and anything else that gets them jobs. Don’t look to them to differentiate between sustainable, neighborhood-oriented development and the kind of high-rise nightmare Ratner and Doctoroff are pushing on us.

  • cancerisagrowth

    Chris Smith’s seminal article on Atlantic Yards, from last August, is here:

    http://newyorkmetro.com/news/features/18862/index.html

    and for Doc Barnett above, there is no finer political writer in the city than Chris Smith, say what you will about New York Magazine, at least it isn’t the NY Times.

  • He’s got himself a seminal fan base, that’s for sure. I don’t read New York, but Smith’s conspiratorial drive-by on PlaNYC is unimpressive on its own. What’s the take away? That fig leaves and trojan horses are catchy metaphors? I keep reading it to see what the point is, but the best I can come up with is a different cliche: sour grapes. I didn’t think much of B either until two weeks ago, but I’m happy to reevaluate under the new, vastly different circumstances.

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