Sneak Preview of Bloomberg’s 21st Century Urban Vision

As reported in today’s Observer a team working under Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has, for the last year or so, been secretly developing a sweeping, new urban planning vision for New York City. In its scope and ambition, the Observer compares the plan to the 1811 layout of Manhattan’s street grid system and the 1929 Regional Plan that gave us many of today’s highways and parks.

A significant piece of the plan was developed by Alex Garvin & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the planning and development of the urban public realm. Garvin is best known to many New Yorkers as the lead planner for the NYC 2012 Olympics bid.

The aim of the Garvin Report, as it is referred to by some insiders, is to provide strategies and opportunities for increasing New York City’s housing supply in a way that improves, rather than degrades, New York City’s quality of life. Expecting the city’s population to increase by as much as one million by 2030, the Report says, "The city must invest in its public realm to prevent unplanned growth from undermining its competitive advantage."

Towards this end, the Garvin Report presents specific opportunities to build up to 325,000 new housing units with virtually no "residential displacement." All of this housing would be constructed on platforms built over railyards and highways, on underused waterfronts, and by investing in surface transit "to stimulate development in areas without nearby subway service."

The Garvin Report, published May 26, 2006, also recommends a set of strategies for improving New York City’s public spaces and surface transit systems. As described in the executive summary:

The city’s streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas can become a "mixed-use" public realm that balances pedestrians and cyclists with motor vehicles and mass transit. Greening boulevards, protected bike lanes, Sunday closings, and pedestrian reclamations are four strategies to create this balance on streets throughout all five boroughs.

The Garvin Report takes care to note that it is not "city policy." Rather it is an "Opportunity Analysis" suggesting the "most physically, financially and politically feasible" ways for New York City to manage growth and maintain its competitive edge in the coming decades. As of yet, it is not known whether the Garvin Report has influenced any city policy. It may just be yet another study gathering dust on a shelf in City Hall.

Streetsblog was given a copy of the Garvin Report by a City Hall insider in June. Not wanting to jeopardize the potential for this innovative plan to move forward, we held off on writing about it. But with the Mayor’s long-awaited speech on land use and transportation four months late and postponed indefinitely, with transportation and public space issues nowhere near the top of the Bloomberg Administration’s second term agenda, and with the story out in today’s Observer, there doesn’t seem to be any point in continuing to hold this.

As such, we are releasing Garvin & Associates’ Visions for New York City: Housing and the Public Realm in its entirety via Streetsblog. Below, you can download the document as a PDF file:

Full Report (6.45 MB)

Or download the report piece by piece:

Introduction (0.6 MB)

Part I: Increasing the Housing Supply

Ch.1: Platform Opportunities (1.0 MB)

Ch. 2: Waterfront Opportunities (1.1 MB)

Ch. 3: Transit-Oriented Development Opportunities (1.4 MB)

Part II: Improving the Public Realm

Ch. 4: Public Realm Opportunities (2.1 MB)

Next Steps (0.4 MB)

Note: These PDF files were made by scanning a photocopied paper document, so the image quality is poor.

  • mfs

    wow thanks for posting! This is pretty visionary and inspiring.

    I do want to point out that the recommendation to redevelop Sunset Park waterfront (as well as part of the LIC and Bronx recommendations) conflicts with the administration’s newly-adopted policy to retain industry there. The report acknowledges this in the “next steps” section.

  • mfs

    Also i eat my words in the post below where I say that not much of it has been discussed before.

  • JK

    I’m glad you released this. I like your pre-amble:

    “with transportation and public space issues nowhere near the top of the Bloomberg Administration’s second term agenda.”

  • alan

    Hey, any reference at all, in any of this, regarding security implications or increased emergency service demands or response time issues or additional insurance costs or….. anything acknowleging a Post 9/11 NY?


  • Dan


    I didn’t see anything but I imagine that nothing makes it more difficult for first responders to get to disasters than traffic. I see ambulances and fire trucks struggling(sometimes dangerously) to force their way up crowded avenues. Also, as urbanists of all stripes have noticed having “eyes on the street” greatly increases the relative security of neighborhoods, and nothing would acomplish that goal better than making sidewalks and parks more liveable.

    Also, think of how much easier it would be to guard against car/truck related threats when there are 1/3 fewer cars on the roads.

  • anon

    Takes forever to download – WTF!!!

  • JK

    Regarding Post 9/11 security

    Alan raises a really good point, and suggests an opportunity to improve the public realm that the report overlooked. Both before and after 9/11 there was interest in the City of London’s “Cordon of Steel” security measures which followed a massive IRA truck bombing. “The City” sharply reduced vehicle access to the financial district. Similarly, here in NYC it was proposed that large sections of the financial district be pedestrianized. That idea seems to have lost momentum, though I dont remember why.

  • Ananda

    A good point was raised in the Observer article below: this is so late into his 2nd term, what could possibly result from all this work – the master plan etc? Is he hoping his successor will continue it? The likelihood of that depends on who his successor is.

  • Eman

    Mayor, are you listening? The public would like to see these plans move forth….!

  • mfs

    or at least made subject to the realm of public opinion.

    a knowledgable colleague told me that this is probably one of several proposals that will be folded into the plan. Other consultants have probably focused on economic development, transportation, freight, etc.

  • The Lowly Pedestrian

    Well, even if *some* of this were implemented, we would have a bigger, better city. Kudos if it goes forward.

    Of course,it’s great that Transportation is growing more and more as an issue in City politics. So hopefully this will be at the forefront (or at least a top 3 issue) in the next Mayoral campaign.

    It’d be interesting to see how tolling and congestition pricing can be leveraged being the political hot potato it is. It’d be great to get the council unanimously behind all of these kinds of measures, but I suppose that is impossible with knee-jerk-reax politicans out there like David Weprin and most-ridiculous-mayoral-candidate-to-be Marty Markowitz, who haven’t the first clue on transportation policies.

  • JC mafia

    They need a regional plan that focuses on increases the transportation netowrk to new jersey, as that is where the majority of growth is and will occur in terms of high rise development, they need to the port authority build anothe PATH train…this one to serve Bergen County, as well as installing bus lanes in the holland tunnel so people from NJ can have a one seat bus ride to lower manhattan, let’s face it, the only rich people will afford housing in NYC, and rich people love their cars and don’t use public transport much.

  • J:Lai

    First of all, thanks for making this available for download. I’ve just begun reading it, but already I am very impressed at the scope and the vision.

    The type of thinking evident in this report is necessary if NYC is to continue to be among the most important cities in the world. The types of measures in this report, as well as many of the changes supported by streetsblog regarding transportation, will happen out of necessity. However, these are major changes to the way that things are currently designed to work, and they will happen on the scale of decades.

    I disagree with the comment above from JC mafia. This report specifically addresses how NYC can add significant additional housing within the city, and specifically targets this goal in order to maintain a stock of affordable housing. Using areas outside the city, like NJ, as a housing source for the city leads to sprawl and is the exact growth pattern that we should be trying to avoid.

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  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    From the Caro book on Moses “The Power Broker”–

    “It takes more than a good idea to make a great public improvement. The fact is that such things happen when there are leaders available, ready and eager to take advantage of the logic of events. Even then the whole result is accomplished only by a series of limited objectives, over a surprisingly long period of years.”

    Moses was only be able to work his magic (or evil) by being around administration after administration, Republican and Democrat for about half a century. That was before term limitations and the suburbanization of political power in New York State. There are many good ideas in this plan and others, some like congestion pricing are quite obvious. There are bad ideas as well, like the insidious and structural de-industrialization implicit in the New York-as-playground-for-the-rich that Bloomberg and Doctoroff have posited.

    Like Moses Bloomberg wants monuments, mostly stadiums, to his legacy. Coliseums and convention centers cannot replace the working waterfront. Yeah its nice he wants to make cars pay part of their cost, yeah its smart to reclaim the wasted automobile space for housing. On the other hand, he has presided over rampant down-zoning that will make all this much harder to accomplish. He has done nothing to structure our politics in a way to create a balanced city going forward. And, he has done nothing to create an independent urban center of gravity inside the suburban expanse.

    Development means having a high level of productivity in many areas, education, research, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation and industry. How specifically will transportation improvements be financed, how will the congestion charges be cut up and where will the money be dedicated to? These are not addressed.

    Look at one single capital improvement. The Gowanus Expressway. Tunnelling it is clearly the hope of the Borough of Brooklyn thereby reclaiming the real estate value of that scarred space. That will cost money. A tunnel can easily be afforded by tolling the traffic from Staten Island and Jersey that travels it daily. From where will come the political will to ask Staten Island and Jersey to pay for what is in effect an improvement for Brooklyn. They have real estate to sell too.

    In the end Bloomberg will settle for demolishing the House that Ruth Built and taking credit for MTA improvements that the State and the Feds will mostly finance. The longer term shift in power and structure that will allow New York City to reclaim a balanced political economy will have to wait for some future leadership with an explicit urban empowerment agenda.

  • Walt

    Those platform develpments are the darlings of infill development. If done comphrehensively they can really infuse some new vibrany into the urban core without sacrificing established neighborhoods. Hope those plans become reality.


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