2023, The New New York, The New New Beacon
I am making no predictions, only one resolution, and offering only a few hopes
It’s New Year’s Eve, 2022
The good news is that I have tested negative for Covid after 10 long, long days. My appetite is back, and I have stopped wheezing. My partner, Sarah, is still testing positive, so we aren’t planning any special activities, family visits, going out to celebrate, etc. And I am not back to 100%, yet, anyway.
I’m not one to make resolutions, generally, but I am planning to write more in the new year. I have several ongoing engagements for writing, such as my Wide Angle column for the Highlands Current, contributions to Chronogram (a piece I wrote on housing for TheRiver is being republished in Chronogram this month, for example), as well as writing for Reworked and Sunsama’s weekly newsletter. Scribble, scribble, scribble.
In October, I joined the board of BeaconArts, and hope to make a contribution in several areas, starting as an IT guy.
Earlier this month I was appointed to the Beacon Zoning Board of Appeals and will attend my first meeting in January.
The New New York
In a recent issue of Beacon Streets I wrote about The New New York report released by Gov Hochul and Mayor Adams. I summarized the plan:
The Plan has three major goals, the first being ‘Reimagine New York’s Business Districts as Vibrant 24/7 Destinations’, with four strategies leading to 17 initiatives. The other two goals are ‘Make It Easier for New Yorkers to Get to Work’ and ‘Generate Inclusive, Future-Focused Growth’.
The plan is insanely large, but New York City has immense challenges. I want to focus on initiative 33, Develop Regional Strategies That Foster Mutually Beneficial Connections Between NYC and the Surrounding Region.
The authors of the report start with an overstatement, forgetting to update the pandemic’s impact on the City:
New York City’s ties to the surrounding region are myriad and deep. Twenty percent of the city’s workforce lives outside of the five boroughs. Hundreds of thousands of others commute into the city on a regular basis, whether to take advantage of its cultural and culinary offerings, obtain medical services, or access transportation hubs.
The twenty percent mentioned is pre-pandemic 2019, and since that time commercial real estate occupancy in NYC is down to 47%. So, the authors start on a false note, which I think skews everything that follows. For example:
The region and NYC are in fact one interconnected housing market. The availability of regional housing options supports the growth of business-district jobs. However, across the region, job growth has outpaced housing growth with approximately 273,000 more jobs than new housing units created from 2001 to 2019 (~1.3 million new jobs vs. ~1.0 million new housing units).354 This, in turn, drives up prices and makes moving from across the metro area, the state, the US, and the world more costly for those seeking to become part of the NYC economic engine.
I think it would be better to say that ‘the region and NYC can be considered a group of partially overlapping housing markets’, not one interconnected one. Just as the most obvious issue, NY, NJ and CT have different housing laws and jurisdictions. And a city like Beacon cannot be lumped together with Staten Island and the Bronx as some undifferentiated ‘greater NYC’, just because we are on the Metro-North Hudson Line.
And then they show why they want to minimize the differences between the five boroughs and the surrounding region: they want the outlying regions to help make the New NYC a success:
In short, it is essential that efforts in the city’s recovery consider and address the ways in which the surrounding region both contributes to and has a stake in the city’s success. This work will include developing regional growth strategies that foster mutually beneficial connections between New York City and the surrounding region.
And of course, with Gov Hochul pushing an agenda dedicated to that cause, it is entirely possible that policies that hypothetically benefit NYC would be advanced even if they don’t actually benefit the surrounding areas. For example, the discussion in this section of the report about ‘Explore “live-work-play” development models to adapt to new modes of working’ seem focused only on workers outside NYC commuting into NYC:
New transit-oriented development should build housing close to reliable transit, as this access is more important than ever in a hybrid-work world where workers may be in New York City part of the week but working from home the rest of the week.
What about workers who don’t work in NYC at all, but may want to use transit to move across the surrounding region? We have a transit system dominated by NYC as its nexus, and this plan suggests that isn’t changing.
There is an area that I am more hopeful about, although it seems short on details: ’Leverage regional assets and talent to attract and promote the growth of key industries’. It would be great to attrack various manufacturing industries to the region, like life sciences, clean tech/green tech, film, tourism, and industrial manufacturing. This vision is compelling:
Manufacturing and industrial: Work in partnership with regional businesses and research institutions to grow R&D and small batch manufacturing activities in NYC and scale regional ecosystems. Local businesses are creating the next generation of essential items on a daily basis in New York City and offshoring or near-shoring larger productions runs outside of the city. The City and State have an opportunity to help local businesses scale their operations and connect them to local talent, decreasing our reliance on overseas manufacturing and reducing supply chain strains during times of crisis.
Again, it seems very NYC-centric, but the opportunities are there.
It’s far too early to draw any real conclusions from what is a 159-page wishlist with little behind it. I note that New York State government doesn’t even have an official planning department, but still has dozens of commissions writing reports like these. The report is at best a point of departure, but could in fact turn into a shadow play, especially if the two protagonists, Gov Hochul and Mayor Adams, turn out to be one-term wonders, which could well be the case.
Hochul’s recent missteps — like her massive gaffe with nominating Hector LaSalle to serve as the state’s highest judge — suggest that she may be facing a primary challenge at the end of her current term. Mayor Adams isn’t looking much better
The New New Beacon
Just as the pandemic has led to enormous societal impacts on New York City, the same is true out here in the Hudson Valley. A small city like Beacon cannot take on a 150-page report-writing project in a six month sprint like the State did, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to wait years before starting to think through the most critical issues for the City and our place in the region.
One thing I will be pushing for in 2023 is the setting of a date for a new planning cycle for the City. Beacon needs to take a more active role in laying out its own use of land and resources, like the long-dormant Camp Beacon area, working toward denser and more affordable housing, and starting to consider paid parking along Main Street.
I also hope to champion car-free Sundays occasionally on Main Street — Second Sunday? — in the New Year, and will probably work through BeaconArts to get that started.