Pratt Center Research

Urban Manufacturing

What Makes the City Run: Preserving space for critical economic activities

Report  |  April 18, 2016

What Makes the City Run: preserving space for critical economic activities analyzes strategies for preserving affordable space for industrial uses and the well-paying blue-collar jobs those sectors provide. Preserving industrial space is critical to the city’s basic ability to function – to transport, store, assemble, prepare, repair and/or move everything a city needs, from building supplies to school buses. Industrial companies and jobs are at risk of displacement as Manufacturing-zoned areas are converted to housing,  and as the demand for space for hotels, entertainment venues, mini-storage and other non-industrial uses drives these uses further from traditional central business and commercial districts into previously solid industrial neighborhoods.

The extraordinary diversity of NYC residents requires that we cultivate an economy that offers varied opportunities for work and entrepreneurship and ensures pathways of economic opportunity for the 40% of New Yorkers who have only a High School degree or less. This means supporting and growing our industrial sectors, not allowing them to be degraded by escalating land values that force businesses out of the city. Both Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have voiced support for the strategy of limiting the proliferation of non-industrial uses such as hotels and mini-storage, to strengthen core industrial areas, but the implementation of such controls has not yet occurred.

The City needs new tools that can more precisely guide development in its industrial areas to achieve more balanced growth. This report focuses on how those new tools, particularly Industrial Employment Districts (IEDs), may work by taking an in-depth look at their potential application in two different Brooklyn neighborhoods - East New York and Gowanus. The report recommends:

  • The creation of a Special Industrial Employment District to strengthen core industrial areas. In these areas, non-industrial projects could only be developed pursuant to a special permit process, which would provide an opportunity for review and vote by the affected Community Board and Borough President, as well as the NYC Planning Commission and City Council.
  • Recognition that many industrial uses require ground floor space and increasing density may not always be an option.
  • Reforming the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) so it can assess the impacts of proposed development, including that the proposed development does not change the industrial character of the area.
  • Establishing non-profit management and/or ownership of production space in mixed-use districts. The special permit process would give the City the leverage it needs to negotiate appropriate use and enforcement provisions, such as the establishment of a mechanism that vests ownership or management of production space in a non-profit organization whose mission includes the preservation of industrial space.