An Intern’s Perspective
As reported by Kate Gilmore (more on Kate below!)
The NYC Dept. of City Planning Zoning Handbook

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the New York City zoning resolution. The last comprehensive resolution was adopted in 1961, and since then the document has been tweaked and expanded from the original 81 pages to nearly 1,000 pages!  It is a complex patchwork of regulations that only a few city planning veterans understand, yet it governs the shape of our beloved city. What to do?

This past semester I participated in a graduate level, urban planning studio led by Elliott Sclar, Professor of Urban Planning and the Director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD).  We examined the impact of the current zoning on an iconic New York City neighborhood, the Upper West Side. The studio grappled with the difficult question of how to balance preservation and development.


The studio of nine students began by focusing on the iconic Central Park West skyline and used the skyline as a lens to understand the forces that have impacted the Upper West Side. As seen in the timeline below, the skyline has been shaped by different theories of urbanism and government interventions over time.

Click to view this image in enlarged PDF format.
Image: From Columbia studio final report; graphic by Alex Wallach

Using history to understand where the UWS has been, the studio was better able to plan for where it is going. Putting the case study of the UWS into the larger framework of New York City, the studio analyzed how institutional decisions impact the character of the City’s neighborhoods. Ultimately, the studio developed an integrated approach that considers community input and regulatory recommendations in order to proactively shape future growth that is sensitive to neighborhood character.

Tying proposed solutions back to original problems.
Image: Columbia Studio final report

On June 23, 2011, an informal gathering of some of the leading thinkers in the fields of planning, preservation, law and real estate convened to hear the studio’s final presentation. The presentation led to a lively discussion and debate.  Re-occurring themes emerged including the opacity of the as-of-right development process, the need to re-evaluate our current set of planning tools, and much more! The studio’s hope is that this meeting is the first of many that will lead to an ongoing dialogue in preparation for a Zoning symposium this Fall at Columbia University.  Access the full report via the Columbia Univ. website (click here); stay tuned to LW’s YouTube channel for video of the June presentation!


Kate Gilmore is a second year graduate student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.  She is completing a dual degree in Urban Planning and Historic Preservation. Before coming to LW!, Kate has been hard at work finishing her first year of coursework in Urban Planning. She loves exploring the forces that shape different New York City neighborhoods (zoning, historic districts, development, etc.) and has spent a lot of time attending community boards meetings this past year to see how community input factors into the planning and preservation process.

Look forward to more from Kate throughout the summer here on the LW! blog.

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