Guest Op-Ed: Rezoning Won’t be Enough, LIC Needs Ambitious Leadership in Community Planning

By Danielle Brecker

In November, One Long Island City Comprehensive Community Planning launched. Ultimately this planning will inform a rezoning proposal for a small part of Long Island City.

We’ve been here many times before, at the Irish Center, Jacob Riis, Culture Lab, on Zoom, at public hearings, town halls, walking tours, and protests. Always talking about how we can make Long Island City more affordable, resilient, and livable with all of its neighborhoods connected and equally resourced. I want to be hopeful that this time, this process, will have a different result. The meetings have been substantive and engaging but the reality is that we are giving input for a rezoning and nothing more.

A rezoning alone cannot solve for the vast needs of our community or for the crises of climate change, affordable housing, and failing infrastructure that impact all communities. It is more likely that a rezoning, even with robust community input, will exponentially worsen these problems.

As I participate in session after session with my neighbors, I realize that what is needed is comprehensive community planning that leads to systemic change. We need to do things differently this time around, not accept the usual, status quo way forward but instead assert our collective will for plans, policy, and investment to meet the magnitude of the needs and crises we face.

In a recent planning session about resiliency, I suggested that the investment we need to rebuild our sewer system, a core issue facing Long Island City, should come first because it is necessary for our community to survive and not as a result of a rezoning deal with a tax break for a developer. The moderator’s response was that this would mean we need to change how our government budgets.

That’s exactly the point. If we want to implement a comprehensive community plan that meets Long Island City’s vast needs and helps to solve the wider crises we face, we need to change how we approach economic policy and development. We need to change from trickle down, tax break based policies that grow the profits of a few to policies that invest in our communities to grow prosperity for all of us.

And that’s not all. This past summer, in a pre-launch small group meeting for this planning, I asked about the struggle to create affordable housing with  Area Median Income (AMI) as the factor used to determine affordability. This community planning process should be the time to shine a light on the limitations of AMI and potential solutions including Federal and State legislation.

Let’s use this community planning process to reconsider how we use empty office and commercial space in Long Island City and our city at large. Instead of pushing to return to a way of working from before Covid and I would argue from the last century, let’s repurpose empty office and commercial space to the urgent needs we have right now.

Let’s use this community planning process to push for what we need and to push back on  what we will not accept. I don’t accept housing that is unaffordable and unlivable for working families, artists, immigrants — all of us. I don’t accept that home ownership will never be attainable for an entire generation. I don’t accept small, incremental  solutions to climate change. I don’t accept austerity in one of the richest cities and states in the world. I don’t accept our city turning into a part time playground for billionaires who continually enrich themselves using New York’s resources and workforce without paying their fair share of taxes. And neither should you.

In another planning session about economic and workforce development, I suggested a New Deal-like program where New Yorkers are given good paying jobs and training to rebuild infrastructure, develop resiliency measures, grow public arts programs, and apprentice in small, local businesses. I realize that this idea is broad, expensive, and will require coordination across levels and agencies of government. 

Again, that’s the point. The needs and crises we face are bigger and go far beyond Long Island City. So our approach needs to be bigger, bolder, and go beyond a single rezoning for a small part of Long Island City.

Danielle Brecker is a resident of Long Island City, Democratic State Committee Member for AD-36, and Co-lead Organizer of Empire State Indivisible.