As part of WHSAD’s Heritage Equity Lecture Series, Mr. Von Engel discussed different aspects of NYC city planning. Students gained insights as to how population shifts determine projects and funding, how ethnic distribution throughout the city plays a major role in planning, and what new projects are on the horizon. In the following narratives, students share some of what they learned during the session. Thank you to Toby Moskovits and Heritage Equity Partners for coordinating this series.
This afternoon Mr. Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Brooklyn borough office for the NYC Department of City Planning, shared his experience of being part of great projects that have shaped our city into what it is today and what it will be in the future. Mr. Winston talked about many topics during our time in the meet, such as the importance of the census, housing, and how New York is coincidentally and uncoincidentally much more green than many other cities in the United States and around the world.
One of the heavier topics we talked about today was what were the reasons for the current housing crisis in New York City. Mr. Winston presented to us information that showed what the results of the housing crisis are currently like. He stated that residences were priced out of housing, which resulted in families being doubled up with other families or became homeless and in search of shelter. And as of December 14th, 2021, the total individual homeless population has reached 45,945 people.
While the problem of homelessness persists in the city, there are many problems that come up when trying to solve it. Many of the reasons include difficulty in changing zoning to allow for denser buildings in specific areas. And if that hurdle is challenged, another problem arises. Many communities are opposed to taller buildings being built in their living area due to the physical change in their neighborhoods, as well as the possibility of congestion and displacement from new residents. But Mr. Winston stated that there have been many improvements in efforts to combat homelessness, some of which include a 1980 City housing program that rehabilitated all vacant lots, and in more recent cases, where the city surveyed people on exactly what they would want to see in their neighborhoods that would also help with the homeless population and create a sustainable community. Some of these targets include more affordable housing options, stores and services, pedestrian safety, jobs, and general sustainability in the communities.
While this was only one of the topics covered by the presentation today, I tried including as much information as possible and showcasing the improvements and plans made by the city to better the current housing situation. I thought that the presentation in general was very interesting and I enjoyed listening to Mr. Winston talk about his early childhood experiences and how he found himself in the position he currently is in today. I also found the pop quiz very engaging and amusing, and learning about the increase in population of the United States which was one of the topics we were quizzed on during the presentation. In general I really enjoyed today’s meet, and I hope to see and learn from Winston Von Engel in the future.
Matthew Zaczeniuk, Junior
During Mr. Von Engel’s presentation, I learned some new things about population, its growth, and other factors that affect these things. One specific topic that he spoke about was how the expansion of New York City, or the enabling of it, led to the increase in its population. During the earlier stages of NYC, transportation in and around the city was being developed and this led to more and more people moving into the area. Bridges, tunnels, and highways likely made travel more common/available to residents. I believe this cause and effect relationship still continues today because, pre-Covid, NYC’s population was steadily growing as travel is only progressing more.
Another topic that Mr. Von Engel touched upon was the importance of the New York City Census. This survey-like method of data collection is used for different things. It is used to not only use the population to determine the amount of seats for New York State in the House of Representatives based on the amount of people, but to also get a general idea of life in the area. The Census is issued every 10 years to keep up with changes in the population. The Census is imperative to keeping the representation of the citizens accurate because without it, the government would have no way to calculate how many representatives should be delegated to each state. For instance, New York’s population could increase or decrease by any amount, and they would still have the same amount of representatives if there wasn’t a Census. This would be bad for the residents, because there would be inaccurate amounts of people that are, or aren’t being accounted for and therefore their voices wouldn’t be heard.
Kole McLaurin, Junior
Today, Mr. Von Engel’s presentation was educational and taught us students things we need to learn. I learned things about the growth and population of the city and how it compares to different states and even the country. I learned that NYC, in the last decade, has had a higher spike in growth than the entire country of the United States, 7.7% and 7.4% respectively. The numbers also take into account people leaving other places in the U.S. to come to NYC for different opportunities and experiences they may not have in other places.
Another topic I learned about was the plan for Broadway Junction to change. The picture/digital plan that was shown during the presentation, showed a big futuristic looking Broadway Junction that included elevators, different boardwalks, and an entirely new looking redesign. He explained that we need to know that the funding that will go into such a project is based on the population and growth of this community in NYC. The more and more people that come to NYC and this area specifically (Brooklyn) we will get funded more money from the government to expand the land/area to accommodate for the more and more people. Overall growth and economics go hand and hand because the more people who are in one place all spending money and paying taxes, will expand the government funds for impacts on the community that can be either positive or negative.
Zyon Thompson, Sophomore
Today I learned about how the Department of City Planning helps transform neighborhoods. Mr. Winston Von Engel gave us some pop quiz questions which made the meeting interactive and fun! Some small things I learned were, out of Vermont, LA, and New York, New York is the city that produces the least amount of pollution because of the MTA system we have. This showed me that the MTA is something New York should be very thankful to have.
New York has grown so much as a city throughout the years. For example, in the past 10 years, New York has had a higher growth percentage than the whole nation of the USA. This meeting with Winston Von Engel has shown me a lot of insight on the Department of City Planning, like some laws I haven’t heard of, for example, air building laws. I never thought of laws for how high you could build a building. Overall, I really enjoyed this meeting. The pop quizzes, fun facts, and the insight he gave us on the Department of City Planning were all eye-opening.
Elyas Sherzai, Freshman
Today Mr. Winston Von Engel gave us a look at what goes on during city planning and how they decide what new projects will be and where they will go. When taking on a new project, city planners look into the population of an area and use the U.S. census to get a better idea of what ethnicities live there. Besides looking at population density, they also look at the zoning of the area to see if the area will allow for new housing. After taking these things into consideration, if the zoning allows it, they try to make their project reflect the neighborhood and the people who live there while also making sure that housing is affordable to accommodate the high population of the area and any others who might move into it later. Other than focusing on housing, the planners also look at parks and greenspaces for improvements and possible additions.
While attending this meeting, I’ve learned what gets taken into consideration for city planning and how the population can even affect how the project turns out.I was very glad to be a part of this meeting and learned a lot from this experience.
Richard Hernandez, Junior