Preservation Issues

Balancing Preservation and Growth at a Time of Rapid Development - Panel Discussion


-Chris Ward and Donovan Rypkema


-The Mechanics and Tradesmen Library in Midtown


-Conservancy President, Peg Breen with Chris Ward and Donovan Rypkema


-Donovan Rypkema


-Chris Ward

November 30, 2016

Question: Can there be a balance between preservation and growth as New York plans for up to a million new residents over the next few decades and seeks to maintain its status as a world class city?

The Answer: Yes.

That was the conclusion of a lively discussion between economist Donovan Rypkema and AECOM Vice President Chris Ward last night at The Mechanics and Tradesmen Library in Midtown.

Rypkema, who did a comprehensive report on preservation’s impact on New York, reminded the audience that New York’s historic districts cover only 3.4% of the City’s land mass, but are the densest areas in every borough. These districts attract a large percentage of tech firms, arts and film companies and restaurants—in addition to residents—helping to fuel the economy.

“Of course New York needs to continue to grow,” Rypkema said. “But it doesn’t make sense to add density to what are already the densest areas when so much of the City is not under landmarks regulation.”

Ward said he had no issue with historic districts but that the City had to plan ahead to accommodate future growth and communities should have a say in where and how that growth occurs.

Ward detailed AECOM’s look at possible development in Red Hook and around the Atlantic Basin in Brooklyn. He listed a range of development and necessary tradeoffs that people could consider. As a crucial part of any development, AECOM says the City needs to extend the Number 1 subway line under the East River and Governors Island down through Brooklyn.

As an example of poor planning…or a lack of planning entirely…Ward cited Long Island City in Queens, calling it a “bedroom community” with no street life, stores, groceries or cohesion.

“No one wants to raise a family there,” he said.

Ward also challenged “as of right” zoning, where developers can buy air rights and build tall buildings out of context with their surroundings without any community input.

During the question and answer session, the speakers were asked why they hadn’t addressed the need to keep local small businesses in neighborhoods and why the City tried to pass citywide upzoning initially without community input.

“I think they tried a top-down approach,” Ward said, ”before realizing it wasn’t going to work.”

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About the Panel:

Donovan Rypkema pioneered the study of the impact of preservation on cities and states. Most recently, he completed the first ever comprehensive analysis of how preservation has benefitted New York City. He has worked with 49 states and 40 countries, as well as the World Bank, Council of Europe, and the United Nations Development Program. His book, “The Economics of Preservation: A Community Leaders Guide” has been an invaluable guide for preservationists around the world.

Christopher Ward has had a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors. As Executive Director of the Port Authority, he transformed Ground Zero, focusing on the completion of One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. In an earlier stint at the Port Authority, he championed the creation of Moynihan Station. He also served as Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner in the Bloomberg Administration and Managing Director of the General Contractors Association.