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Will Robert Lieber’s Successor Finally Fill the Gaps in PlaNYC 2030?

3:12 PM EDT on May 19, 2010

Robert_Lieber.jpgNYC Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber. Photo: New York Daily News

City Hall has another big vacancy to fill. This morning the Bloomberg administration announced that Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, is returning to the private sector. Lieber's portfolio includes the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning. His departure could create a window of opportunity to fill some of the biggest gaps in the city's sustainability agenda, PlaNYC 2030. 

Lieber has been a central figure in the administration's planning and development policy since taking the helm of EDC in 2006. In December 2007, he assumed his current post, succeeding PlaNYC architect Dan Doctoroff. From mega-developments like Hunter's Point and Willets Point to smaller rezonings around the city, Lieber's had a hand in guiding what gets built in New York City, and where.

Lieber's replacement will inherit responsibility for two of the city
agencies doing the most to add more traffic to New York City's streets. DCP has shown no inclination to reform parking policies that devour real estate, inflate housing prices and increase car ownership rates across much of the city. EDC continues to subsidize projects that add massive amounts of parking for no justifiable reason. All this new off-street parking creates incentives to drive, generating traffic that impedes bus service and degrades the appeal of streets for walking and bicycling. These policies stands in clear opposition to PlaNYC's goal of reducing automobile use and prioritizing sustainable transportation.

The next deputy mayor for economic development can complete some of the biggest missing pieces in PlaNYC. Here's what two of New York's leading transportation advocates say Lieber's replacement can do for sustainability.

Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White highlighted the Economic Development Corporation as particularly in need of a sustainability shakeup. "The EDC's inexorable march towards more parking and car-oriented development is tarring the mayor's otherwise green record," said White. "This is the mayor's last, best chance to reverse course and bring land use policy into alignment with PlaNYC."

Lieber's successor could do more to make New York City's growth both environmentally sustainable and socially equitable, said Tri-State Transportation Campaign director Kate Slevin.

"In stark contrast to his environmental and transportation policies, Mayor Bloomberg’s development policy has largely favored the elite," she said. "Loosening parking policies for the richer half of New Yorkers who own cars, pushing forward large, controversial development projects, and allowing suburban-style development to occur in transit-dependent neighborhoods all point to the need for a different approach from the new deputy mayor."

Slevin put forward one development project she'd like to see Lieber's replacement put his muscle behind -- tearing down the Sheridan Expressway. "The replacement of the underutilized Sheridan Expressway with affordable housing and parks," she said, "is one of the city’s best opportunities to promote economic development and smart growth in a manner that benefits the working and middle classes."

The mayor's office says that no decision has been made yet about who will replace Lieber, but the speculation has begun. Crain's reports that current EDC head Seth Pinsky could be a top internal candidate, but that Bloomberg may follow his recent hiring pattern and choose another outsider like Howard Wolfson or Stephen Goldsmith.

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