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NYC real estate, architecture, and transit experts reflect on 2019’s biggest moments

The year that was, and what lies ahead in 2020

A woman rides a bike in a bike lane in Williamsburg.
Cyclist and pedestrian safety emerged as one of the year’s most dire topics after a spate of traffic-related deaths.
Max Touhey

It was a big year for New York, with a number of major policy proposals finally coming into focus.

The city rolled out its Fair Fares program that brings discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. Congestion pricing was adopted, though it will go into effect no sooner than the end of next year. The 14th Street Busway became a reality; the full L train shutdown did not. And on the homes front, Albany strengthened the laws protecting rent regulated apartments and the city passed its progressive mansion tax.

But the year also brought troubles, notably a surge in pedestrian and cyclist deaths, which the City Council’s $1.7 billion Streets Master Plan will try to walk back in the years to come. New York’s homelessness crisis deepened—22,083 children were sleeping in the city’s shelters as of September 2019—making the city’s homeless population sizable enough to be the state’s ninth largest city. And Amazon’s early 2019 announcement that it would no longer bring part of its second North American headquarters to Long Island City has left people and pols on both sides of the aisle finger-wagging.

To recap the year that was, we asked over a dozen experts New York’s transit, planning, housing, and activist communities to look back at 2019. Peppered among their reflections are a few hopes, and calls to action, for the new decade ahead.

The needle moved on transit innovation...

“Passing the Streets Master Plan bill was a giant step forward in reclaiming space for pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit users. We’ve also seen lots of other major transportation developments in the form of congestion pricing, the 14th Street busway, pedestrianizing Rockefeller Center for the holidays, commercial waste zones legislation, and the Council’s package of bills cracking down on placard abuse. We of course have a lot more work to do to keep building on these successes and ensure congestion pricing is done correctly, but we’ve made a lot of progress this year and to me, that is absolutely worth celebrating.” —Corey Johnson, New York City Council speaker

...but New York still has a long way to go.

“To date in 2019, 28 cyclists have been killed, a 180 percent increase over 2018. In addition, pedestrian fatalities have increased, triggering a Vision Zero state of emergency. Thanks to the dogged activism of so many people in our community, city leaders heard the call and responded. Mayor [Bill] de Blasio unveiled the Green Wave plan to speed up cycling safety; the City Council passed the Vision Zero Street Design Standard and the streets master plan bill; and our campaign to create a ‘bike mayor’ position in city government resulted in the introduction of legislation to create an office of active transportation.” —Danny Harris, executive director, Transportation Alternatives

A view onto a street with cars and buses and pedestrians in the crosswalk.
One of this year’s main questions is, ‘Who are New York’s streets for?’
Max Touhey

“The passage of congestion pricing in 2019 was the result of over a decade of advocacy, but it’s the implementation details in 2020 that will influence life in the city for many more decades to come. The charges need to be structured to deliver substantial reductions in traffic, without exemptions or loopholes.” —David Bragdon, executive director, TransitCenter

And the MTA should rethink its fiscal priorities.

“While we’ve made progress on funding the MTA’s modernization plan, the agency’s day-to-day operating budget is still in tenuous shape, with more than $1 billion of deficit projected in the coming years. [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo should be adding service to encourage transit ridership and to boost New York’s economy in an inclusive way that provides opportunities throughout the region. Instead, with the MTA budget in trouble, [Cuomo] and his team have threatened to cut service, the opposite of what our city needs.”

“[Cuomo] made a misstep in proposing a new MTA police force of 500 officers, which would not only lead to overpolicing in the transit system that we know has a disproportionate impact on low-income people and communities of color, but also a strain on the MTA’s budget when we need every dollar we can get to provide better transit service to those exact same communities.” —John Raskin, executive director, Riders Alliance

The new rent laws are already helping keep New Yorkers in their homes...

“It was always widely understood that overhauling New York’s rent laws would have a significant impact on New York City’s eviction rate. Few of us thought this would happen overnight—until we woke up one morning and, lo and behold, it did. In July, eviction filings plummeted by 61 percent and then by a staggering 68 percent in August from that same time span last year. It’s nearly unheard of for newly enacted legislation to have an effect of this magnitude. It’s truly unprecedented.” —Aaron Carr, founder, Housing Rights Initiative

...but it’s not smooth sailing just yet.

“While the rent laws have already had a tremendous positive impact, the reality is that without just enforcement, we anticipate that [the Division of Homes and Community Renewal] will undermine our victory. HCR is overwhelmed by the number of case takes over a year to resolve rent overcharges. And landlords are mobilizing against the tenant coalition and against our new rights. Thankfully, the tenant movement is strong and newly invigorated and will not rest on its laurels.” —Anita Long, leader, Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA)

A temporary refuge is set up in the door of a chrch property.
As of September 2019, over 22,000 children were sleeping in New York’s homeless shelters.
Max Touhey

The city is still experiencing historic levels of homelessness.

We have the largest population of homelessness New Yorkers in our history: 92,000 people in state shelters accounted for. Thousands more are not counted, living doubled and tripled up with family and friends. It’s a moral crisis, and without action, the strains on the homeless population will continue to grow. I hope the State Legislator and the Governor work together to put the vast resources this state has into solving this crisis once and for all.” —Charisma White, member, VOCAL-NY

Some architects and planners put their minds towards envisioning a more equitable city.

“It was horrifying to read recently in the Times that the number of homeless children in NYC has increased by 70 percent in the last decade, largely because of neighborhood opposition to new shelters despite our supposed progressivism as a city. Architects should be focusing on this issue at every scale, from pushing builders and regulators towards new typologies, to pursuing technologies that lower construction costs, to challenging our communities to allow more neighborhood housing.”

“One seemingly unrelated act of progress in 2019 was the creation of the 14th Street Busway, which not only is a brilliant prototype to deal with our mobility and climate challenges, but also clearly shows that the space we reserve for roads—about a third of the city—could go to much better use. Without private cars, our roads could serve us with more equity, and surface parking could be used for transitional supportive housing connected to new bus and bike ways. Architects could help envision not only what our city could look like with more progressive use of our existing infrastructure, but also help reimagine for whom our city exists, with 2020 vision.”—Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder, PAU

Political uncertainty continues to affect the real estate market.

“With the stock market still at historic highs and interest rates remaining at historic lows, the 2020 market should come racing out of the gate. But it most likely will not, because of the political landscape currently playing out before us. New Yorkers feel particularly vulnerable: We live in a high-tax state that has suffered under the loss of deductibility of the SALT taxes and are contending with a city government taking a variety of actions with negative repercussions for the real estate market.”

“The increased state and city transfer taxes, the newly scaled mansion tax, and the prospect of an impeachment scandal followed by a contentious presidential campaign, all combine to create anxiety in the New York City housing arena. Add oversupply to that brew, and you are looking at a slow moving market at least through the summer.” —Clelia Warburg Peters, president, Warburg Realty

A view of Billionaires Row looking south from Central Park
Some developers pursue luxury projects as the city calls for more affordable housing.
Max Touhey

“It’s unusual to see the rental and sales market move in opposite directions for very long, but that’s been the reality of 2019. Uncertainty over what 2020 might hold and numerous attractive rental options throughout the city has driven many would-be buyers to continue renting instead despite dips in prices in many parts of the city. Those considering shopping for homes will find themselves with lots to choose from and a favorable negotiating position but will have to weigh the risk of an economic downtown and the policy uncertainty around the upcoming election when evaluating whether 2020 is the right to time to buy.” —Grant Long, senior economist, StreetEasy

New York City moved to protect its architectural legacy...

We designated more than 600 buildings and sites (25 individual landmarks and five historic districts), including six buildings important to LGBT history and five buildings that represent Tin Pan Alley’s contributions to American culture and popular music, and the significant achievements of songwriters and publishers of color. We also designated the first historic districts in the Sunset Park and Bay Ridge neighborhoods. We launched new tools to make our regulatory work more transparent, including a storefront guide, an updated Permit Guidebook, and new forms to make it easier for property owners to apply and obtain a permit.” —Sarah Carroll, Landmarks Preservation Commission chair

...and got a little greener, too.

“In 2019, we celebrated the completion of over 650 capital projects under this administration with nearly 90% of our projects completed on budget and 85% completed on time. The first project under our Anchor Parks initiative, Astoria Park’s track and field reconstruction, was completed seven months ahead of schedule. For the first time in 40 years, we built a brand new community park in Chelsea, which features play structures, a passive play turf area, shaded seating, and more.”

“We saluted our Urban Park Rangers as they commemorated 40 years of connecting New Yorkers to the natural wonders of the city. In collaboration with State and Federal agencies, we eradicated the Asian-long horned beetles from New York City. We also dived into revamping six new Cool Pool sites which brings us to a total of 11 transformed locations citywide. And on top of it all, we planted nearly 18,000 new tree roots as we work to make our city greener, healthier, and happier.” —Mitchell Silver, Parks Department commissioner

Megaprojects are wising up to the ivory tower effect of Hudson Yards.

“It’s noteworthy how [developments like Essex Crossing, Greenpoint Landing, and the Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment] and other large projects differ from their recent predecessors. First, they offer a broad range of workforce housing, from lower income to full market rate; second, some offer flexible commercial space geared towards the creative economy; and third, they provide dozens of acres of new open space and help restore public waterfront access to neighborhoods that have been cut off from such access for decades. By offering something for everyone, these projects demonstrate that new development need not come at the expense of existing communities, but rather can enhance such neighborhoods.” —Felix Ciampa, executive director, Urban Land Institute New York

An overview of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is looking to hire 9,000 local employees in the next year.
Max Touhey

Outer-borough employment hubs started thinking local in 2019.

“[The Brooklyn Navy Yard’s] Employment Center connected 589 people to jobs at the Yard this year, 90 percent of whom are from Brooklyn and 79 percent of whom have no higher than a high school degree or GED. We also focus on providing the local workforce with the skills needed to thrive in a modern manufacturing environment—most notably through our next-generation career and technical high school, the Brooklyn STEAM Center. The school radically accelerates the feedback loop between what students are learning and the skills our employers are looking for. As the outer boroughs continue to grow in population, talent and diversity, it’s incumbent on the city’s primary employment centers to ensure job growth is inclusive in 2020 and beyond.” —David Ehrenberg, president and CEO, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation

Transit improvements and new employment hubs could reshape New York’s neighborhoods.

“Public transit improvements and big office moves will have a major impact on how renters and homeowners experience their neighborhoods next year. New leases signed by big tech companies and upgrades coming from the MTA could transform areas like Hudson Square, Brooklyn Navy Yard and Downtown Brooklyn into major commuting and living destinations in 2020.” —Grant Long, senior economist, StreetEasy


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