You hear about new NYC mega-projects all the time these days (or, at least, you hear about them if you obsessively read NYC real estate and urban planning websites). And just walking around town it sometimes feels as if there are huge new towers being built every couple of blocks. Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, the Greenpoint Landing project, Long Island City’s Hunters Point South, Williamsburg’s Domino Factory “conversion”… it all seems a little overwhelming. But guess what: the number of new apartment units currently on the drawing board versus the number of new apartment units we’ll need for our predicted, upcoming population boom? Not even close.
Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that NYC’s population is expected to increase by an astonishing one million residents between now and 2040, which, almost needless to say, is way more people than anyone right now has any idea where to put. In fact, even though the Bloomberg administration has spearheaded nearly 120 rezonings in neighborhoods all over town in the last twelve years–either allowing residential communities to grow in one-time industrial zones, or increasing limits on building height and size in existing residential areas–a study by Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate says that even this rapid pace of new construction won’t be nearly enough.
The challenges are many. First, how can the city maintain the fantastic, distinctive character of its diverse neighborhoods even while it allows and encourages development to proceed full-steam-ahead. Simply throwing up massive glass towers everywhere definitely doesn’t do the trick… not too mention the problem of providing the necessary infrastructure to accomodate all the newcomers, public transportation and schooling being the most difficult issues.
Second, if the city is going to continue to populate our “100-year floodplain”, aren’t we just asking for disaster? Last week Bloomberg announced the beginning of a plan, a 430-page, $20 billion proposal, featuring some 250 recommendations just to get the process started. Included in the report: removable flood barriers and berms that could be inserted into sidewalks, dunes in the Rockaways, wet lands in Coney Island, and, most ambitiously (and not included in the $20 billion price tag), the creation of Seaport City, a kind of Battery Park City located south of the Brooklyn Bridge which would not only house tens of thousands but also act as storm wall for lower Manhattan.
If the population projections are true, we’re going to need to start planning now. And not just luxury housing, the kind most developers favor (due to it’s cost effectiveness and better rate of return), but middle and lower income housing as well. All while trying to protect the city from what are projected to me more severe and frequent storms. A large challenge lies ahead.