Our predictions for New York City in 2016

In the third of our city predictions series, Kate Ascher and our cities team in New York has identified the five hot topics for New York City in 2016.

First up we see forward movement on the first of the administration’s targeted areas for growth. Rezoning in the first two areas of the city – East New York and East Harlem – are more or less underway, though the latter will not formally start until the community (and the Speaker of the Council) completes an extensive and impressive community planning process. The rezoning of East New York is further ahead. It includes measures to retain and develop affordable housing, encourage economic development, and create pedestrian-friendly streets. Ironically, it faces fierce opposition from affordable housing groups but also the city’s Comptroller who fear the displacement of current East New York residents. Success in one or both of these undertakings will bode well for the mayor’s chances of being reelected.

Second in our list comes infrastructure. While this is usually a sleepy topic for politicians it has quickly become Governor Cuomo’s calling card, a development that bodes well for the city and the region. Following the success of kick-starting the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge north of the city, the Governor has now turned his sights to LaGuardia Airport, Penn Station, the Long Island Railroad and even, albeit indirectly, to the long-forgotten Port Authority Bus Terminal. We see the only thing standing in his way now being money, and predict greater creativity and innovation with respect to opportunities for public-private partnerships this year.

Then there is the issue of regionalism. In the wake of the aborted attempt to build a long-needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson, the region looks set to finally move forward on a real bi-partisan effort to gather the support and money for the “Gateway” Tunnel that Amtrak has long desired. It is unlikely to happen fast, and the existing tunnel will remain in a precarious condition for quite some time, but we think regional interests are now sufficiently aligned that the expansion in capacity under the Hudson is finally on the cards. The city and the region desperately need it to support continued growth and maintain their competitive edge.

Fourth is affordable and public housing. This is perhaps the most important issue to the current mayor and a hot topic in all the major cities across the world where Buro Happold works. Besides the rezoning plans, Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious $10 billion affordable housing plan includes overtures towards the development of underused land around public housing to finance New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) underfunded capital improvement work. While urgently needed, sadly we feel the plan to “infill” public housing complexes with new affordable housing and retail is unlikely to move forward as fast as some had hoped. Even if and when it does move forward, just how much money will be generated to support the existing NYCHA operation is unclear. Trying to wedge tall, affordable and market-rate housing between existing towers is a very New York idea at its core, but we sense that NIMBYism is no less strong at these sensitive sites than it is in pricier areas of the metropolis.

Finally, we look to the outer boroughs. Much the apple of the mayor’s eye, dramatic changes are occurring in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn most notably. Traditionally these are the places that most tourists never even see. Yet Queens has been voted a top tourist destination by one of the travel magazines – as much for its ethnic diversity as for the spectacular surfing along the Rockaways Peninsula. Brooklyn remains red-hot, as both a real estate and retail market. With a little luck, we believe the Bronx market may also take off – offering all kinds of potential for additional growth as a residential and commercial market. Just how many jobs and what industries will move to these outer boroughs is more difficult to predict and will turn in part on potential new transit connections – trams, ferries and even streetcars. For transport in NY, and particularly in the outer boroughs, 2016 may be a ‘back to the future’ sort of year.

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