Week 2

Apr 21, 2023

On Thursday April 6, I visited the office of the Department of City Planning and worked with my first onsite advisor. Throughout this day, I observed the functions of the City Planning Commission’s members and spoke with Daniel Garodnick, the commission’s Chair, as well as Joseph Salvo, the Population Division’s chief demographer. 


At 11:00 AM, I sat with Press Secretary Casey Berkovitz during a check-in where each member of Casey’s team discussed upcoming and recent events and plans, as well as the tasks they were actively working on at the time. While I’m not sure how frequently they occur, such check-ins are routine and typically last 10-20 minutes. A project they mentioned that I found particularly interesting was the Civic Engagement Studio, a team dedicated to fostering community engagement in planning and promoting equity in planning policy. 


A few minutes after this ended, I attended another 11:30 meeting where Casey’s team discussed an upcoming briefing to be given to the communications team on how to interact with the press, outlining specific goals and guidelines for communications. The highlighted goals of press interactions were to “inform the public,” “help move a project forward,” “build public support,” and “explain why we are doing what we do.” There was a large emphasis on clarity, citing the KISS acronym (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) and outlining that jargon should never be used with the media because, as Casey said, “not everyone knows what a R7A district is.” One member recommended that journalists are to be asked where they get their news and assured that they should simply interrupt if the person they’re interviewing isn’t making sense. The proposed guidelines also advised that members of the Commission make their social media accounts private, referencing targeted attacks on the personal lives of individual members in the past. Casey noted the sensational nature of many media outlets, acknowledging that they have a large incentive to prioritize output that is critical of the city because such stories receive more attention. Despite this, he made clear that they are “not an enemy” and the Commision members they speak to are “doing them a service.”


After having lunch at a café upstairs, I met with Chair Garodnick at 1:00 PM and asked several questions about the Department of City Planning, the City Planning Commission, short-term and long-term land use goals, and his role. Because the specific details of this conversation are dense and I have a proper interview scheduled with him, I will list some of the information that is especially relevant to my research:


  • The process of proposals being approved and turned into law is formal and has a clock; for example, the carbon neutrality text amendment that will be released on April 24th is expected to be approved around late September 
  • Some short-term policies involve creating charging stations for electric vehicles, capturing more rainwater to mitigate flooding, and installing solar panels on more buildings
  • Laws (such as Local Law 97) impose deadlines for the city to reduce carbon emissions by given amounts, this department helps realize these reductions in emissions
  • The end goal of climate policy is carbon neutrality, meaning that carbon emissions would be offset to result in a net zero; there is no expectation for when this would be reached, but an 80% reduction in carbon emissions is necessary by 2050
  • The limitations of a mayoral agency with members that are appointed and have term limits makes it challenging to create and continue long-term plans; Dan suggested that there be formal guidelines for the replacement of policymakers
  • Climate policy is by mandatory interaction with other agencies and the private sector
  • Large-scale zoning proposals will be released over the next year to promote  carbon neutrality, economic opportunity, and housing as part of the active City of Yes project


Later on at 2:30, Chief Demographer Joseph Salvo of the Population Division told me about the Population Division, demographics, and the role of population statistics in planning. I was surprised to hear that the population of the northeastern United States is declining while the South and West grow, with Texas projected to have more seats in the House of Representatives than California by 2040. I was also surprised that most local governments don’t have population divisions, meaning most demographers are at the federal level. Though the federally-conducted census often neglects illegal housing units, the Population Division uses other sources (such as the installation of phone lines within a building) to adjust census data, creating a more thorough analysis of population data. While rezoning within the city depends heavily on population projections, much of the Population Division’s work (70-80%) is for other departments and the federal government; population plays a large role in the responsibilities of other agencies and the economy, including budgets, federal spending, and the economy as a whole. 


My experience onsite this week was insightful and fascinating, providing me lots of useful information and directionality. Next week, I will attend a city council hearing where the Department of Transportation will testify before the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in relation to the city’s truck routes.

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