Brad Lander

William Alatriste for the NYC Council

Councilmember Brad Lander of Brooklyn, seen at a 2014 hearing. Lander was part of an unsuccessful push to get the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to adopt a ballot question around wholesale change to how NYC does land-use planning.

A blue-ribbon commission might have taken a pass this year on asking New Yorkers to contemplate a different way of planning how the city uses land. But according to Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander, the need for a new and better system won’t go away.

Lander, a long-time leader of Council progressives, told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday that the past week, with its heat wave and power outages and subway failures, is indicative of the kind of challenges New York is going to face in coming years, and the lack of a cogent plan to meet them.

“You didn’t need to be a planning wonk last week to notice that we had blackouts and street flooding and jails that were too hot to have human beings in and subway failures right and left,” Lander said. “Our infrastructure is straining. Our city continues to grow—people keep coming here—and we’re not really making good plans to deal with it.”

“On the challenge of affordability, on the challenge of infrastructure, on the challenge of climate our current planning process is not up to the task. Last week we really saw that play our right before our eyes even as the Charter Revision Commission that could have said, ‘Let’s put some processes in place to deal with the long-term future of our city’ voted not to.”

Right now, New York City makes most of its land-use decisions episodically — a spot rezoning here, a neighborhood rezoning there — and in a way that’s loosely connected to the city’s capital investments. Meanwhile, it has a series of disconnected conversations about larger issues, like where to put new jails and homeless shelters, how to reduce housing discrimination and what to do to prepare for climate change.

The result, say Lander and his allies, is not only a disjointed and sometimes self-contradictory process but also one that sparks costly political fights pitting neighborhoods who feel singled out against City Hall and developers. And that reduces the city’s ability to grow at a pace that responds to housing demand and the urgency of environmental concerns.

An alternative is a comprehensive plan, in which the city agrees to broad goals and guidelines, then aligns land-use decisions, capital investments and other policies to those goals. The version of this approach Lander embraces would involve a two-year process to create a 10-year plan.

A coalition of elected officials, community organizations and advocacy groups banded together earlier this year to try to convince the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to put a question before voters in November about whether to create a comprehensive plan. The commission seemed open to the idea at first, but ended up doing little of substance on the land-use system, even as it put forward substantive questions related to elections and policing.

The question is whether New York City can adopt elements of comprehensive planning without another charter revision. The 2021 municipal elections, in which Lander will be a candidate for city comptroller, could frame the issue.

Hear our conversation below (we also discussed desegregation and the mayor’s presidential candidacy) or listen to the full program, which includes an interview with Councilmember Alicka Amply-Samuel about the bloodshed last weekend at the conclusion of Brownsville’s Old Timers’ Day celebration.

Max & Murphy: Brad Lander on Planning, Desegregation and De Blasio

Max & Murphy: Full Show for Wednesday, July 31, 2019