Testimony to the New York City Charter Revision Commission
August 23, 2010
Good evening. I’m Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Community Development. We want to thank the Charter Revision Commission for its thoughtful recommendations for revisions to the City Charter, and especially for the proposal to include waste transfer stations and transportation facilities in the Atlas of City Facilities. This provision will present a much fuller picture than has existed in the past of the environmental burdens faced by low-income communities across the city, and supports informed decision-making about siting polluting facilities. Ultimately, New York City has a greater opportunity to see a fairer distribution of polluting facilities as a result of this measure.
Yet much more needs to be done to ensure that the fair share provisions of the City Charter can actually be implemented as intended and generate truly fair distribution of facilities around New York City. Tonight, we urge you to further improve to the Atlas of City Facilities, to add power plants and other pollution sources that still are not included in the proposed text change. We also hope that a future Commission will consider a full reinvigoration of fair share. This will require a more deliberate approach to the gathering and use of information about facilities’ impacts. City agencies routinely collect and analyze detailed data on existing conditions and program outcomes to drive decision-making and resource allocation. Similar analysis is urgently needed to inform fair and appropriate siting decisions for facilities that serve public purposes. Data on emissions, pollution, public health outcomes, and other basic indicators of local environmental burdens is an essential foundation to an informed and fair siting process. Leaders in the environmental justice movement have a base of knowledge, experience and expertise on which proposals can be built, and we look forward to allying with them to develop and work toward the implementation of a fair and protective siting process.
We also want to reiterate what we have now said at three previous Charter commission hearings and have heard from many others who testified: Land use in New York City is in urgent need of reform. While other cities and regions have embraced participatory long-term planning as the foundation of land use decisions, New York zones first and asks questions later. The result too often is development that contradicts communities’ stated needs, overburdens infrastructure, and undermines the long-term sustainability objectives of PlaNYC.
We have heard and agree with commission members’ concern that land use demands careful and thorough review. The Pratt Center urges the appointment of a commission as early as feasible following Election Day to ensure that it has adequate time to tackle this vital responsibility and build the land use planning infrastructure this great city deserves and needs.