Federal Funds Have City Planners Eyeing East New York, Bronx

Photo by: Crispy 1995, Marc Fader, Alex Guerrero, Jawny80
The planning consortium brings together cities like White Plains (top left) and Bridgeport (bottom left). In New York City, it'll mean attempts to get commuters off the highways and onto Metro-North in the Bronx (top right), and more transit-oriented development in East New York.

A federal planning grant to be shared among several governments on either side of the New York-Connecticut border aims for transit-oriented development.

By: Jarrett Murphy

New York City will use new federal funding to plan connections between housing and transit in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood and along the Metro-North corridor in the Bronx, the city's planning commissioner said Friday, as a consortium of regional players formally accepted new federal planning funds.

Appearing at Friday's Regional Plan Association (RPA) regional assembly, U.S. Housing and Development (HUD) regional administrator Adolfo Carrion awarded $3.5 million in funding under the Obama administration's sustainable communities program. The program is a multi-agency initiative aimed at supporting planning that transcends both geographic boundaries and departmental turf, bringing together issues once covered separately by HUD, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $3.5 million—less than the $5 million the group asked for—is one of 45 grants the administration announced late last year for planning entities around the country. Funding for the project survived the recent round of budget cuts in Washington.

"The old industrial city with its clear core is no longer the urban reality that we live in," Carrion said at a press conference. Instead, he said, the country is becoming a string of "mega-regions"—areas that, in coming decades, will have to absorb 120 million new residents with development that "has to be vertical."

Besides New York City and the MTA, the consortium includes Nassau and Suffolk counties; the New York cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers; and the Connecticut municipalities of Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford. RPA is one of several regional entities also involved.

Amanda Burden, New York City's planning commission chairperson, said the city would use its share of the grant with four goals in mind: creating new, mixed-income housing; improving "social equity"; achieving a cleaner environment and applying a "strategic approach to climate change."

The Metro-North corridor in the Bronx includes 14 stations along the railroad's Hudson and Harlem lines, some of which are located in areas affected by recent or pending rezoning that lay the groundwork for locating dense housing close to transit.

East New York is a once-forlorn area that has been transformed through community-led development. Burden says the area is "rich in mass transit," features strong community players and is located near an industrial business zone that offers a chance at locating workers close to jobs—a key goal of the Obama initiative, which links urban development to preserving open space.

"It’s the anti-sprawl program," Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said. "If I don't develop my brownfields, suburbs lose their greenfields."

The $3.5 million grant covers three years of work that, RPA president Bob Yaro said, should lead to "very detailed plans and the beginnings of implementation" through the consortium area.

Maps of that area reflect the funding challenges that will face the planners as they seek to turn visions to reality. New Jersey, once a partner in the project and a key player in the tri-state metropolitan region, exited the plan once Gov. Christie pulled the Garden State out of the trans-Hudson commuter rail project, citing cost.