Op-Ed: A Priority for the Next Mayor

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

    This year's election cycle here in New York City has proven to be one of the more wild races in recent memory. Once the frenzy has died down, however, the next Mayor and Borough Presidents will have many real city issues to juggle, not least of which must be ensuring our city remains livable by curbing overcrowding and promoting affordable housing. Established pockets of open space across the city must be protected for public use and enjoyment, particularly those in "towers in the park"-style housing developments.

    Examples of "towers in the park" abound across the city - from Co-op City in the Bronx to Stuyvesant Town on the Lower East Side - and in my own neighborhood, including Park West Village, Morningside Gardens, and Frederick Douglass Houses. Although this style has fallen out of favor in recent years, the original goal of creating valuable public spaces and breaking up the endless concrete maze of the city is still relevant, and the loss of these open pockets would be deeply felt. Unfortunately, current zoning laws don't protect these valuable planned spaces from further development. The Mayor and Borough Presidents must adjust zoning laws to preserve them.

    Many of these precious open spaces are already threatened. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has proposed a plan to "infill" these open areas in public housing, replacing gardens, basketball courts, and parking lots with private developments. These new towers, proposed to be much taller than the current apartments at many sites, would reduce residents' access to light, air, and outdoor gathering spaces. They would interrupt cohesive communities and reduce opportunities and incentives for residents to meet and spend time with one another, not to mention opportunities to exercise or relax in small plots of greenery. In my own neighborhood, Frederick Douglass Houses would lose a community garden, a play area, and several parking lots, and gain little beyond added strain on their already-taxed infrastructure.

    NYCHA claims it must lease this land to finance crucial repairs to its many holdings. But selling off their finite assets will only postpone further descent into insolvency, while simultaneously depriving residents and the city of spaces that make New York more livable. City officials must seek a better solution to NYCHA's financial woes. They must also respond to the fierce opposition this plan has engendered with more than a just commitment to slow down the approval process.

    Especially in increasingly dense New York City, we need to recognize the great value of our rare open spaces and remain wary of attempts to squeeze ever taller buildings into ever narrowing spaces. We must hold our new leaders accountable, and demand that they engage with the communities in and around these complexes to propose new zoning laws and protect these essential but endangered public areas.

    Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell has represented the 69th District, which includes parts of the Upper West Side, since 2003.