Op-Ed | Support New York’s workforce with City of Yes

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When I see a vacant storefront—whether it was once a favorite spot for a bite or a brew undercut by the pandemic or a location that was shuttered for so long that all that’s changed over time is the graffiti tags on the metal grate in front—I estimate how many jobs we’re losing out on.

The City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, a zoning proposal currently under review by the City Council, is not just an effort to remove barriers. It’s a crucial step we must take now to prevent the loss of thousands of potential jobs across the entire City, from Lower Manhattan to Northeast Queens. These jobs, representing the unique interests of entrepreneurs, makers, and small business owners, are at stake if we don’t act swiftly. 

New York City’s economic potential is being stifled by zoning regulations that have remained unchanged since the 1960s. These outdated rules not only prevent businesses from opening or expanding but also suppress job growth. They are a barrier to our vision of an inclusive, equitable, and prosperous City, and they are preventing us from building neighborhood businesses that could drive our economy forward. 

New York City’s workforce is the backbone of its economic success. To ensure that success is shared, all of our City’s residents must have access to jobs that sustain them and their communities – and that’s precisely what we work towards at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition (NYCETC). Our membership includes multi-service, multi-generational organizations focused on providing New Yorkers with job readiness and upskilling programs and singularly-focused entities focused on providing the industry-specific training and credentials required to connect employers to ‘job ready’ talent. 

By updating our commercial zoning, we can create more opportunities for our workforce. We can establish new manufacturing and industrial zones that offer jobs not requiring college degrees. This will not only increase the number of jobs available but also support our small businesses, which are crucial for our post-pandemic recovery. Zoning reform is a key step towards a more vibrant and inclusive economy. 

While zoning reform won’t serve as a panacea to all our residents’ economic challenges, it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle and entirely within our power to accomplish here at the city level. The current construction of the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity is imperfect, but this is time for scalpels, not sledgehammers. Small-scale clean production should find its way into our commercial districts. Vacant storefronts should be reoccupied. Clearer and more flexible rules allow us to put more New Yorkers in a position to find a foothold in key industries that sustain and advance our City’s economic growth. 

The zoning rules of the 1960s are no longer serving the needs of New Yorkers in 2024 – and as painful as it may be to acknowledge – we will never be the same City we were in the 60’s or the City we were before 2020. But the truth is, our neighborhoods are resilient and dynamic and made of the spirit and innovation of the people who live in them. In an increasingly unaffordable New York no matter your zip code, we must give ourselves the best opportunity to drive the economy forward. City of Yes for Economic Opportunity has the potential to accelerate our transformation to a new New York while supporting the success of current and future generations of workers.