What is the one thing that would make Brooklyn better?

by Jo Anne Simon

The one thing that would make Brooklyn better is a new approach to land-use planning. Brooklyn, and particularly my district, has land-use planning woes galore. When one considers almost any issue, one sees that all roads lead to real estate. School seats? Real estate. Transportation? Real estate. Hospitals? Parks and open space? Again, real estate. 

The fundamental problem is we don't plan adequately or comprehensively. The sheer number of parties developing real estate--private owners, the city, the state, public authorities and the federal government (often roadways)--do it according to different processes and in their own vacuums. Each assesses impacts under the different laws. There is a great deal of public sentiment and frustration that by the time a project gets to any public review/comment stage, there is little substantive change that can be made.

When the public tries to engage, it feels spurned, leading to frustration and disengagement. Our laws assume that disclosure and mitigation alone are sufficient. Increasingly my constituents are saying that this isn't enough. By not engaging the public at the ground level, we miss trends--look at efforts to save the G train: Demographic trends indicated increased need for the line, but the New York City Transit Authority proposed to cut it. In 2004 the Downtown Brooklyn Plan centered around commercial uses without having performed a market assessment. The community recognized that the next market was housing. In the decade since, Downtown Brooklyn has experienced skyrocketing and skyscraping residential development but without the infrastructure--physical or social--to support it. In the Hoyt- Schermerhorn project, we community leaders successfully planned with government, but that doesn't happen often. We simply need to find a better way of integrating the public with real estate decisions, so that our schools, parks, hospitals and environment aren't afterthoughts. 

Reprinted from City & State, July 28, 2015