Amanda Burden rezones New York towards the future

We live in a man’s world. Yes, women are making strides in the workforce, and the statistics for households with women as the main breadwinner speaks for itself. But it is still a man’s world, and that is true in the planning profession.

I love being a woman. I love, even more, being a smart woman. I want to see more smart women making decisions and showing that women have the ability to face the challenges of the world and get things done. I want to see more women like Amanda Burden.

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(Image source Urbanonmibus.net)

Amanda Burden is the current planning commissioner for New York City, and she is making things happen.

Amanda began her studies with the desire to learn what it takes to recycle garbage. Nowadays she focuses not only on recycling, but on energy consumption, sustainability, and green design for the city.

“This is not an abstract concern for us. Think of what even just one foot rise in sea-level could do to a coastal city like New York. Buildings account for a significant share of fossil fuel consumption and [we] have to do a better job at reducing such consumption.”  Source planetizen.com.

Her vision of sustainability isn’t just about resources and energy. She recognizes the need to sustain a cost of living that all New Yorkers can afford and believes that green building technology is the way to be successful.

Further green technology, and you make it less expensive. If it is just as inexpensive to build green buildings as to build current ones, then developers can offset rising costs with the lower operating cost.

On top of maintaining affordable housing, she believes investing in green building technology will help New York’s economy grow.

Amanda Burden believes strongly in a cities sense of place. In an interview with Vanity Fair, (yes, Vanity Fair), she credits her mentor William “Holly” Whyte with helping her see cities as she does now.

 “He believed that the essence and the best of city life is epitomized by the vitality of its streets and public places. . . You measure the health of a city by the dance of its streets and plazas and parks.”

With that mentality leading the way, Amanda has worked to rezone upwards to 40% of New York’s city blocks. This will allow for higher density, and mixed use neighborhoods to help support new housing development that will ease the burden of the ever-increasing population.  Through rezoning, she has actively sought to encourage development and density around the transit system and limit growth in the more automobile oriented sectors of the city.

But Amanda is not going to allow New York to lose what it is that makes it New York.

She has also worked to implement “Contextual Zoning,” which helps to ensure that growth won’t overdevelop the city’s unique neighborhoods and will help preserve the history of the city and its architecture.

There is also “Inclusionary Zoning” that includes density bonuses for those who build or protect affordable housing to try to avoid the displacement that some New Yorkers might experience due to rising land prices and the constant influx of wealthier people willing to pay.

She did not take the task rezoning lightly. Amanda understands the importance of knowing her city. She is known to go on  walks through the city in power suits and comfortable shoes, as she ensures the decisions she is making are right for the city and right for that neighborhood.

“I picture myself a part of the community. Here there is a vibrant . . . history. We want to keep ground-floor retail and ensure nothing can be built that will take away from the symmetry of these historical buildings. The magic here is in the density of people using these streets and living together.”

In her time as the head of City Planning for New York, she has converted the Brooklyn Waterfront from an area of crumbling industrial structures to one with glossy condominiums and parkland. An old abandoned railroad track was converted into the popular High Line Park.

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High Line Park Before (Source futurecapetown.com)

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High Line Park After (Source abcnews.go.com)

Amanda Burden is the kind of leader the planning profession needs. She makes plans, and most importantly, she implements plans. In an article about the changes happening in the city, Mayor Bloomberg said of Amanda,

“She cares about the details that makes things work. She fights for it. She’s not in your face, but she’s really strong,”

As a planner, I admire her abilitiy to address many of the issues we face as we move forward; increasing energy costs, the need for better sustainability and the burden produced by population increase. As a woman I admire her ability to be a strong female leader in a man’s world.

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One thought on “Amanda Burden rezones New York towards the future

  1. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/about/amandaburden.shtml

    Thank you for writing this! Amanda Burden, FAICP certainly seems a powerhouse. It was interesting to read that NYC’s Planning Director also serves as the Chair of the Planning Commission, something almost unheard of in other communities. Usually, there’s a strict divide between agency employees (planning staff, including department directors) and actual decision-making bodies (like planning commissions). It would be interesting to see if NYC’s arrangement makes for better urbanism, or has introduced an additional type of political brinksmanship.

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