The new Manhattan Borough Director for the New York City Department of City Planning Erik Botsford revealed in a one-on-one interview with amNewYork Metro how the city agency is looking to revitalize Manhattan neighborhoods with affordable housing while also expanding on the area’s economic success.
Botsford has had a storied history within city planning, having worked in the department for some 20 years, focusing on the Manhattan area. Spending two decades of his life on city planning has made him uniquely fit to take on the role of Manhattan Borough Director, something that he says he is not taking lightly. Having only interrupted that 20-year pedigree to become a stay-at-home dad for a few years, Botsford is now leading a study on Midtown south.
“We have just begun a study and the process is looking at the neighborhood and the geography of 43 blocks. It takes some time, and we need to make sure we are doing this very deliberately and thoughtfully,” Botsford told amNewYork Metro as he toured the study locations.
According to Botsford, the study consists of areas from 7th Avenue to 5th Avenue and 25th Street to 40th street, including pockets where housing is currently not permitted. For the new Manhattan Borough Director this becomes a problem for those looking to live in the areas in which they work, making that feat either impossible or forcing long commute times. Through this study, Botsford says he is looking to identify locations to include affordable housing while also ensuring economic benefits to the neighborhood.
“There’s an opportunity for New Yorkers to live in these neighborhoods that have a tremendous number of jobs. I think there were like almost 150,000 jobs in these areas that we’re studying. And with no housing allowed in the neighborhoods, by necessity, it means that the people who work here can’t live here. And we really want to ensure that we can have that kind of mixed use,” Botsford explained.
During the tour, amNewYork Metro pressed Botsford on whether these housing units will solely be designated as affordable or if they will also be combined with luxury housing as well. While he believes there is an opportunity for both, he also pointed out that zoning requires that a percentage of land use be dedicated to affordable housing.
“When we come in and look at a neighborhood or to change the zoning, you know, we obviously look at opportunities to work with our sister agencies like the Department Housing Preservation and Development, for opportunities where we can do more and that can happen on city owned sites, for example,” Botsford explained. “This is required as a condition of private development taking place and so, it helps the city reserve our money that we can use to subsidize affordable housing for other areas where it’s really desperately needed.”
In addition to a widely recognized housing crisis, public green and recreational spaces have also been a hot button topic as of late. Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers have recognized the need for outdoor seating areas from which they can enjoy a brief place of respite amidst the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. With many feeling as though these areas are disappearing, Botsford agreed this is also part of his agenda.
While most public green spaces fall under the purview of the New York City Parks Department, Botsford said that planning rules encourage private buildings to provide public accessible areas, such as both indoor and outdoor spaces, benefiting both the building, and the public at large.
The Manhattan Director also stressed that engagement with local residents and community boards will be a key factor for him going forward, stating that he believes communities should have a say regarding where they live.
“We have a planner, dedicated to serve as the liaison between our agency and every community board in Manhattan—all 12 community boards [one planner assigned to each board],” Botsford said. “They’re hearing people’s concerns about their community, things that they would like to see change, things that they want to see kept the same. And we also provide really important professional expertise. The world of planning and land use and zoning is really complex, and we can help translate that for people and help them understand what is happening in their communities.”
Botsford shared a new citywide zoning initiative entitled, “City of Yes”—a division that will help with public engagement and outreach for citywide initiatives that supports small businesses, create new housing, and promote sustainability. This initiative is a part of Mayor Eric Adams’ vision to create more equity throughout the Big Apple and includes three zoning text amendments Zoning for Economic Opportunity, Zoning for Housing Opportunity and Zoning for Zero Carbon.