Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Elena Conte, and I am the Director of Policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development, which has been working closely as part of the Thriving Communities Coalition.
First, I want to thank the Commissioners and the staff for the inclusion of the topic of comprehensive planning in the Preliminary Staff report. This is a recognition that there has been major public outcry that the current planning system is failing to support the New Yorkers of today, and is not set up to meet our ever-growing future needs. The status quo cannot stand.
I have had the privilege of testifying in multiple arenas on this topic and I look forward to participating in upcoming working meetings to address the details of operationalizing the recommendations. For tonight, the most important point I want to raise is that as a city we can and must build on your preliminary recommendations and go deeper to make meaningful changes. We are prepared to do so with you.
To your question of whether those united in calling for comprehensive planning are clear in their vision of it, below, we’ve submitted an eight-point summary that aims to clarify the major components for you.
I will focus on points three through six right now:
3) Citywide and localized analysis –
This cohesive data analysis is well within the existing capacity of the Department of City Planning, and many aspects of it are currently being performed in ad hoc and distributed ways. Streamlining it, and adding a few key citywide measures will strengthen existing systems as well as make it easier for communities to get the information they want to know at intervals when they need it for local planning.
4) Process for balancing local and citywide needs through community planning
This local engagement and investment in planning will build buy-in to the entire process and allow for communities to choose the ways they want to move forward, squarely in the context of being part of a larger whole. This is accomplished by having the public contribute in the process of creating the goals of the whole (instead of being told about what they are from “on-high”) and supporting communities to define their visions effectively.
5) Equitable distribution of resources
To achieve this, all the goals and targets of the components of a comprehensive plan need to be in one place and to speak to each other, as well as be measured and reported on.
6) Coordinating with capital budget
Divorcing or distancing budgeting from planning deprives the process of purpose and impact. There are historical precedents in New York and models that can guide us in the effort to reunite planning and budgeting. This is requisite for overcoming historic disparities.
In sum, a comprehensive planning cycle must result in a single, easily identifiable framework to repair our broken, piecemeal system. Integrating and aligning planning, policy-making, and the budget in an intentional way is needed to achieve our equity goals. We can and must step into our knowledge and vision to accomplish this. We look forward to working closely with you to craft a proposal for the ballot.
On Tuesday, April 23, the 2019 Charter Commission released a preliminary staff report that included consideration of a planning cycle, that would create synergy and coordination between existing planning documents, ensure that plans address anticipated future challenges with specific indicators for measuring progress over time, with short-, immediate- and long-term planning issues in mind, and a process for communities and stakeholders to meaningfully weigh-in on planning decisions. The staff report makes a start, but fails to accomplish the overarching goal of a comprehensive citywide planning process that would address the lack of transparency, coordination, and equity in the current process.
Whether it is called a “planning cycle,” a “comprehensive planning process” or a “master plan”, below are the 8 key elements that are indispensable to citywide planning that meets the demands of today. Working together with community groups, planning organizations, and elected officials, we have agreed on these 8 features that we think are essential to any comprehensive planning cycle. Without these features, a comprehensive citywide planning cycle will not have enough power or coherence to enact real change and remedy the frustrations New Yorkers have with the current system, which has produced decades of inequity, unfairness, and inefficiency.
A meaningful comprehensive planning cycle must include the elements below, which must be expressly required in the charter:
Any comprehensive planning cycle needs a real regulatory framework that can give teeth to the needs and opportunities the plan identifies. These 8 elements aim to create that very framework. We appreciate this opportunity to testify, and look forward to discussing further technical details of the comprehensive planning framework with the Charter Commission.
For more information, contact:
Elena Conte, Director of Policy
NOTE: This testimony was prepared by the Pratt Center for Community Development. It does not necessarily reflect the official position of Pratt Institute.