Category Archives: Books

Housing in New York City: Updating the History

A design for a low-rise “perimeter block” of apartments in Brooklyn. Image from the “History of Housing in New York City” and architects Cooper Robertson & Partners.

(First published on Oct. 17, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

More than a quarter century ago, Richard Plunz, director of the Urban Design Lab, wrote a detailed history of housing in New York City—from the first Dutch settlers through the rapid expansion that replaced farms, fields and streams with the modern Manhattan grid. Now he has updated the book to provide some perspective on recent decades, which have witnessed significant changes in the structure and distribution of the city’s housing—gentrification, loss of affordable housing stock, an explosion of luxury high rises and a shift from population loss to growth.

With the average apartment sale price at $1.87 million as of 2015, the impact on low-income residents and newcomers of the high-end trend is a key issue for Plunz, a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

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How to Rethink Urban Transit, and Pay for It, Too

New York subway construction in the beginning of the 20th century. Aging infrastructure hampers the system’s efficiency. Photo: NY Public Library Digital Collections

(First published on April 19, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Cities around the world are growing, creating pressure to provide adequate transportation systems to get people to and from their work and homes. In New York City, the population is growing again after decades of suburban flight, which focused much of public and private transportation spending on accommodating people traveling in cars.

Public transit systems around New York face increasing pressure from both an aging infrastructure and the need to carry more and more people. According to PlaNYC, subway ridership is the highest it’s been in over 60 years; 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail; more than 4,000 public buses carry more than 650 million riders throughout New York City each year.

A key question is how will we pay for these systems—both to fix the deteriorating infrastructure, and to pay for ongoing operations. This is a familiar topic for Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at the Columbia School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute.

In a new book, Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment,” Sclar and other researchers lay out the issues facing cities and offer new ways to think about who pays for public transportation, and how and why this can be changed. The new book continues lines of thinking from an earlier volume, Urban Access for the 21st Century.

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