President’s Letter: January 2024
Monthly observations and insights from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein
I must confess, I like how New York City quiets down after the holidays. Yes, it has been a little grey and cold, but it also feels like the emotional temperature of the city is lower too. Less sparkle, less effervescence. Don’t get me wrong, I like the sparkle and pop of the holidays, but I also like the quieter times when it feels like the city is a little more for just us New Yorkers. The sidewalks are a little less crowded, everyone is walking more purposefully, and soup, not salad, is the choice on a workers’ mind. Restaurants are easier to get into, live performance tickets more accessible, and the lines at museums a little less daunting.
However, our elected officials are not slowing the pace. As usual, January is a cacophony full of State of the State, State of the City, and State of the Borough of [insert your choice here]. It is full of budget introductions and positioning of all kinds. These speeches are often accompanied by a lot of pomp and circumstance, performances and canned videos all designed to pump up our pride in City and State.
Perhaps it is this contrast between the showmanship and the quieter city, but it strikes me as overblown in these times of political contention. Of course, our national stage’s drama probably doesn’t help serve as a backdrop. It feels as though the stakes are unusually high.
Above our local cacophony are key topics waiting for deeper discussion. The housing crisis is one. To say that there have been a large number of proposals directed to increasing housing in New York City is kind of an understatement. City Planning has released City of Yes Housing Opportunity; the Green Fast Track rule making has begun, seeking to reduce the number of projects that require environmental review; the Mixed Income Market Initiative, an HPD pilot loan program for mixed-income developments with proposals due in February. In his State of the City, the Mayor announced “24 x 24,” a commitment to produce 24 new affordable housing buildings on public sites in 2024. And, the list doesn’t include any of the NY State announcements, of which the biggest one is Governor Hochul’s new proposal (485x) for incentives to replace the 421A tax credit that expired two legislative seasons ago. Is your head spinning yet? It should be.
On top of that the City’s budget proposals are enough to give you fiscal whiplash. Cuts to Parks Department programs that provide important entry level jobs, library hours reductions, and composting programs were slashed and refunded over the last 60 days. And though I am certainly glad to see these programs back, frankly, the restorations do not go far enough. The restored library funding only allows one additional weekend day, not the two that were cut. We are looking forward to Comptroller Lander providing some clarity on the city budget to our Preservation and Planning Committees in February.
However, there are some ideas and, dare I say, principles buried in the buzz that deserve attention and commendation. The central concept of the City of Yes Housing Opportunity is one such idea. That concept is that the housing crisis needs to be solved citywide, and in ways that increase density but is consistent with the typology of existing neighborhoods. This should not feel revolutionary, but it is, because it edges us towards thinking about a comprehensive plan, not just a reliance on ad-hoc zoning changes, to fix what ails New York.
It is going to be a rough year to get anything done. There are too many high-stakes political contests up and down the ballot. That tends to make politicians likely to talk a big game, but actually be much more cautious in their voting patterns. And that certainly will be true in Albany this year.
That said, this will be an important year to identify and reinforce the best ideas and approaches, so when the players are through their election cycles, the rest of us are ready to press them to enact the best ideas and approaches.
Everyone here at MAS will do our best to make sure our leaders get it right and to keep you informed of developments as they happen.
Enjoy the quiet season!
President, Municipal Art Society of New York