This summer, I convened a series of discussions about development, urban planning, and policy in New York City. Out of those discussions I wrote down some thoughts, but ended up putting them in a drawer as people got busy with the campaign, other jobs, and life… but better late than never, here is a draft.

The Imperative

Today, New York City is entering a new era of building. A wide variety of projects have been or will be proposed that would change the face of the city - Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront rezoning, the Bronx Terminal Market, retail in Red Hook, and on and on. The scale of these projects is greater than we have seen since the 1970s, a generation ago, and the activists of today are unaccustomed to it.

Because these projects are unprecedented in our generation, progressives don’t know how to evaluate each one, and don’t know how to talk about it. What makes a project good or bad? The West Side Stadium was a bad idea, on that many people agreed, but was the scale of commercial development proposed there good or bad? What about the housing? In Atlantic Yards? Greenpoint/Williamsburg?

Our goal is to create a set of principles that unite progressive groups involved in urban planning and development, for those inside the governmental apparatus and those outside. With these principles, we will be able to evaluate each project and clearly talk about its positive and negative effects on the community, suggesting those dimensions where the proposal could be improved and comparing the worth of different proposals. Instead of simply saying no, we can say why, and rather than a laundry list of every possible objection dredged up on opposition to a project, we can anchor our opposition or support on clear and consistent ideas. When speaking about the Hudson Yards Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff referred to a “moral imperative” to develop the area. What kind of moral imperative do progressive principles engender?


We identified the following core principles:

Community. Society is stronger when people live and participate in communities. Our policy decisions should foster healthy communities where individuals form close cooperative bonds with each other.

Diversity. Interaction with other people with diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds leads to better citizens, a more peaceful coexistence, generation of more creative ideas, and a stronger city.

Opportunity. Everyone, no matter what their income or background, should have the opportunity to live in our city. New York City represents the pinnacle of American society and all who wish should have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Dignity. People should be able to live and work without commuting great distances or living in excessively crowded, dirty, or unhealthy conditions.

Social Mobility. Any individual should be able to improve his or her socioeconomic standing through achievement and success, without being held down by structural barriers. The configuration of a city does much to strengthen or lessen these barriers and we should strive to minimize them.

Sustainability. We should leave future generations with a world where they can achieve these principles just as much, or more, as today, and live in a city as healthy, enjoyable, and vibrant, or more, as today.


From these principles emerge the following specific goals to which urban policy should aspire. This is a rough list and many more can be added.

Affordable housing. There should be sufficient supply of housing in the city to meet the demand without reducing the quality of the housing or the desirability of living in the city.

Demographic neighborhood stability. Groups of people living in a neighborhood should be able to continue to do so, if they wish, though other people may move in.

Individual stability. The specificl people living in a neighborhood should be able to continue to do so, if they wish.

Mixed use neighborhoods. Neighborhoods should include a combination of places to live and places to work; ideally, for the same people.

Income diversity. Neighborhoods should contain a combination of different income levels.

Ethnic diversity. Neighborhoods should contain a combination of people from different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Social capital. Neighborhoods should contain civic, cultural, recreational, and other organizations and opportunities which encourage groups of residents and/or workers to interact.

Public spaces. Neighborhoods should contain physical places where people can interact without requiring advance permission or planning.

Proximity of recreation. All residents and workers should have opportunities to engage in recreational activities easily and affordably, nearby to their homes and/or workplaces.

Equity of access to services. Everyone should have necessary services, both public (such as schools) and private (such as affordable grocery stores) in proximity to the places they live or work.

Environmental sustainability. The city should minimize its impact on the environment, so the quality of the air and water, the availability of energy and building materials, are as great as possible for future generations.

Environmental justice. Undesirable yet necessary uses, such as power plants, garbage transfer stations, or transportation infrastructure, should be sited in a way that impacts all residents equally.

Transit accessibility. Anyone should be able to live, work, and interact without requiring the use of an automobile.

Human scale. Structures should be designed and built in harmony with the human scale of a city, in ways that encourage rather than discourage use by pedestrians, such as street-level stores, benches, and other factors.

Sense of place. The urban environment should foster a feeling of belonging rather than alienation to the spaces and places where people go.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.