Amanda M. Burden Talks About the Future of the City’s Waterfront

Amanda M. Burden, Director of the Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission, has the lead role in building a blueprint, known as Vision 2020, for managing the City’s more than 500 miles of waterfront. The new comprehensive plan will recommend long-term management strategies for the City’s waterfront and waterways, and identify high-priority initiatives that can be quickly implemented. Burden sat down with CityLand to discuss how City Planning has approached this challenge and why the waterfront is essential to the City.

Improving the waterfront has been one of Burden’s passions since her days as Battery Park City Authority’s vice president of design in the 1980s. Having “respite from the density at the water’s edge,” Burden says, “will inure to every New Yorker’s benefit, and it’s one reason why [the Vision 2020] plan is so important.”

Creating a framework for management. In the latter part of the twentieth century the City experienced a steady decline in maritime and industrial activity along the waterfront. In response to demands for economic revitalization and public accessibility, City Planning in 1992 released its first comprehensive analysis of the City’s shoreline. The 1992 plan was shaped around four broad categories of waterfront usage — natural, public, working, and redevelopment — and set a framework for managing the waterfront as both a natural and economic resource.

After the plan’s release, the City took several actions: it amended the zoning law to require waterfront developments to provide publicly accessible waterfront space, created borough-specific waterfront plans, and overhauled its Waterfront Revitalization Program. Since 1992, the City has rezoned more than 1,000 acres of waterfront for residential and commercial development, acquired more than 300 acres of waterfront parkland, and reclaimed nearly 29 miles of shoreline. The City now offers residents and visitors nearly 200 miles of publicly accessible shoreline.

A new vision. In October 2008, the City Council passed a law introduced by Speaker Christine C. Quinn that required City Planning to draft a new comprehensive waterfront plan by the end of 2010 and revise it every ten years. In response, City Planning initiated the Vision 2020 plan. The plan is part of the City’s Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES), which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn launched in April 2010.

Vision 2020 expands the 1992 plan’s framework by creating a fifth category, called the Blue Network, which will identify ways to increase in-water activities, transportation opportunities, and the City’s resiliency to climate change. The plan will also identify high-priority initiatives that will be implemented by the Economic Development Corporation through its three-year Waterfront Action Agenda.

Tapping the public’s expertise. Burden said City Planning informally began public outreach efforts last summer when staff members met with community boards and waterfront stakeholders to reassess waterfront resources. City Planning’s formal public outreach kicked off when it launched the Vision 2020 plan with a joint mayoral- City Council announcement and a public meeting in April 2010. Outreach efforts continued into the summer through a series of borough workshops and a citywide Blue Network meeting at which hundreds of local residents joined with City Planning staff to prioritize the primary waterfront issues in their geographic areas. Summaries of the workshops and interactive maps describing the City’s publicly accessible waterfront are available on City Planning’s website.

Burden was impressed by the turnout at the workshops and thrilled that so many “highly experienced and knowledgeable” people attended. As Burden explained, the public’s participation was important because it gave people a true sense of ownership of the plan and also provided City Planning with valuable information. The public’s sophisticated views on waterfront issues expressed at the workshops, Burden said, raised the bar for how the City will ultimately balance the different, and at times, competing interests for the waterfront’s long-term management.

Moving forward. City Planning, on a tight schedule, will meet with the borough boards in September 2010. It will continue to consult with the Waterfront Planning Working Group which includes waterfront stakeholders and advisors, several of whom may be appointed to the Council-mandated Waterfront Management Advisory Board later this year. The Vision 2020 draft recommendations are scheduled to be released at a meeting in October 2010, and, after more discussions, Burden expects that the City will release the final plan in December 2010.

The City has expended considerable energy on developing this new plan, for good reason. “The water is our sixth borough,” Burden said, “and it should have as much attention in terms of planning and thoughtful detail as we give to the land itself.” — Peter Schikler

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