Imagine the biggest three-dimensional puzzle you can. Now imagine fitting eight million people into this puzzle. Putting the pieces together takes more than just luck. It takes enormous skill, precision and foresight. Those are three attributes that the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) works hard to cultivate—it’s their job to put that puzzle together and ensure that the people, buildings and infrastructure of all five boroughs meld together as seamlessly as possible. It’s not a challenge for the faint of heart.
Toward a Common Goal
The City Planning Commission, established by the 1936 City Charter, began operating in 1938 with seven members appointed by the mayor. The 1989 Charter expanded the commission to 13 members. The mayor appoints the commission’s chair, who is also the Director of City Planning. The mayor also appoints six other members, each borough president appoints one member, and the public advocate appoints one member. The chair serves at the mayor’s pleasure while the other 12 commissioners each serve for staggered terms of five years.
The DCP meets regularly to hold hearings and vote on applications, as described above, concerning the use, development and improvement of real property subject to city regulation. Its consideration of these applications includes an assessment of their environmental impacts where required by law.
More than 300 people work for the New York City Department of City Planning, all under the aegis of their chairperson, Amanda M. Burden. The department has staffed offices in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, as well as a separate transportation division—a sign of how closely intertwined transportation, infrastructure and building are when it comes to creating a successful neighborhood or business district. “For the past six years with Amanda Burden, we have focused on strengthening the borough offices,” says Richard Barth, executive director of the department. “Those offices deal directly with communities by responding to community concerns.”
The department functions in conjunction with the City Planning Commission, a 13-member committee that includes Burden and 12 other individuals appointed by the mayor, by the five boroughs and by the public advocate. As stated on its website, the commission “[is responsible for] the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth and development of the city, including adequate and appropriate resources for the housing, business, industry, transportation, distribution, recreation, culture, comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.”