Experiences tackling urban design through land use policy

City Hall. Source: http://animalnewyork.com/wp-content/uploads/cityhall_anmlny12.jpg

As a project manager in the Land Use Division of the City Council, I work to support council members, particularly the Speaker of the City Council and the Chairs of the Land Use Committee and its three subcommittees, as they evaluate proposed projects. Council members have distinct approaches to planning, including specific urban design priorities, and staff support needs to be customized accordingly so that each member is receiving support that answers his or her specific questions. As a professional planner, my aim is support these policy makers as they engage in the planning process and make land use decisions that reshape the regulations that form the legal rule book for urban design in their communities.

I help council members consider urban design in the context of projects that have many important aspects that may be very visible and controversial, including the mix of uses, affordability of new residential units, the relationship to transit, the economic development potential, the opportunity for historic preservation, as well as the proposed urban design. Each such project requires extensive research and staff work to understand what is proposed, to include the specific land use actions that support a potential project.

Given that any land use action creates a new planning universe with a new and different set of as-of-right development scenarios, I focus on examining what is allowed and what is required by a set of land use actions. In terms of urban design, this means perhaps seeing past beautiful renderings to examine what will actually be required after the (potential) passage of a land use action. Even if a given applicant has all the good intent in the world, such renderings may be irrelevant after a change in ownership. The focus, therefore, is necessarily on the proposed regulations and how they govern urban design (and how they differ from the current regulations). Such a focus on regulations requires an understanding of zoning text and other regulatory instruments, with before and after scenarios that help paint a picture of may occur if a given land use action is approved. This may require compare contextual zoning with height factor zoning, considering the implications of optional ground floor uses v. required ground floor uses, or considering the impact of building codes and parking requirements in flood prone areas.

James Lloyd is a Project Manager in the Land Use Division at the New York City Council and a recent graduate of Pratt Institute School of Architecture, earning a Masters of Science in City and Regional Planning. James is also a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and holds a Masters of Arts in Geography from Ohio University. Follow James on Linkedin.

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