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New York City Planners Janette Sadik-Khan and Amanda Burden Share Their Wisdom With Cape Town

Janette Sadik-Khan (commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation) and Amanda Burden (director, New York City Department of City Planning) speak to the organisers of Infecting the City.

City partners were privileged to host Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation and Amanda Burden, director of the New York City Department of City Planning this week to discuss issues of public transport, NMT, public space and city planning.

Described as activists for change in their city, both Sadik-Khan and Burden have been major players in New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid to transform New York into a green city by, among other things, reducing the city’s carbon footprint by 30% by the year 2030 while improving the livability and quality of life of the city.

Janette Sadik-Khan

Since her appointment, Sadik-Khan has activated a program to improve safety, mobility and sustainability throughout New York City, and to ensure a state of good repair on all the Department’s roads and bridges. These efforts include protected bike lanes or segregated cycle facilities, in which parked cars serve as a barrier against moving traffic; improved bus lanes, with bus priority at stop streets and pedestrian plazas in which portions of streets are transformed into green spaces free of cars. The initiatives have led to many more people making cycling their primary mode of transport and have increased numbers on subways and buses in the city. The efforts have also helped reduce morbidity and mortality amongst cyclists and pedestrians. New York City’s air quality is improving as a result.

New York’s streets transformed

Sadik-Khan’s efforts have seen a dramatic transformation of New York’s streets. She manages 4,500 skilled employees with expertise from engineering to construction finance, to marine navigation, and is responsible for 6 000 miles of streets and highways, nearly 800 bridges, 1.3 million street signs, 300,000 streetlights and 12,000 signalized intersections, as well as the Staten Island Ferry, the nation’s busiest commuter ferry service carrying over 19 million passengers annually.

PlaNYC

Sadik-Khan spoke extensively about Bloomberg’s far-reaching and transformative PlaNYC design for the sustainability of New York City over the next 25 years. The plan is made up of three main components: to prepare for a sharp rise in NYC’s population, which is expected to rise by more than one million over two decades; to repair the city’s aging infrastructure, such as bridges, water mains, mass transit systems and power plants etc and to conserve the city’s resources, by reducing its carbon emissions by 30 percent. The plan also sets priorities for the refurbishment of city infrastructure.

“Start with a vision of a transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented city” – Sadik-Khan

Sadik-Khan emphasised that, key to transforming a city is the setting of a vision towards change. She said a key priority in New York, towards these goals, was sustainable transport. “We had to reinforce our city as a transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented city.” Citing one example, she said Times Square now sees about 354 000 pedestrians walking through it every day. “Before that, 90 percent of it was dedicated to cars.” On pedestrianisation, she said: “If you create the space for people, they will use it.” She added that higher pedestrian numbers in a city translate into higher retail spending. All the more reason why Cape Town should move quickly to increased facilities for pedestrians.

“Create spaces for people”

Sadik-Khan said a key finding which has been addressed was that  New York City was previously a “city without seats”. “In the past, we would see people squatting in fire hydrants. We have worked to transform this situation all over. We are creating spaces for people to use, such as pop-up plazas. The simple step of providing seating is one of the quickest ways to improve a city’s public space.”

“Provide information systems for pedestrians – not just cars

Sadik-Khan said her department believes that providing directions to people and pedestrians in a city is as important as guiding cars.  For this reason, a state-of-the-art “wayfinding” system, providing information to pedestrians is in the pipeline.

“Use streets differently”

Another move which she said has proven to be highly successful in New York is to “use streets differently every day”.  “We have weekend walks in some neighbourhoods, and we close Park Avenue for three Saturdays in August,” she said, citing examples. Clearly a woman who is blazing a trail in sustainability in her own city, Sadik-Khan told Capetonians: “If you are serious about climate change, move to New York City.”

Amanda Burden

Burden, who is also the chair of the City Planning Commission, is already earning an impressive reputation as a woman who is leaving a vital legacy on how key boroughs in New York will look and feel for decades to come. An advocate of revitalizing Lower Manhattan, of improving public access to the Brooklyn waterfronts and of improving commuter rail into the city, she also promotes reconsidering rezoning plans, and has a reputation of holding developers to stricter design standards.

Burden has spearheaded economic development in New York City

Since her appointment in 2002, Burden has spearheaded Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development initiatives with comprehensive urban design master plans designed to catalyse commercial and residential development throughout the city and to reclaim its waterfront.  These include master plans for the East River Waterfront in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and Jamaica in Queens, as well as the Hudson Yards on the far west side of Manhattan.  The Hudson Yards plan, the city’s largest and most ambitious rezoning proposal, will create much needed office space and new housing as well as a network of new parkland and public open space.

Rezoning plans provide new housing opportunities

Under her direction, the Department of City Planning has also initiated rezoning plans that provide significant new housing opportunities in neighbourhoods such as Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, East and Central Harlem, and Port Morris in the Bronx. She has championed and facilitated the preservation of the High Line in Manhattan, part of the West Chelsea/High Line plan, and the recipient of a 2006 National Planning Award from the American Planning Association. Burden is also overseeing the transformation of the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island into a world-class park.  Recognizing the value of neighbourhoods of special character, she has sponsored rezonings to protect numerous low-density neighbourhoods throughout the city.

Six Pillars on Land Use Policy

Burden said New York’s Land Use Policy rests on six pillars. These are:

  • Sustainable Growth
  • Five Boroughs Economic Development Strategy
  • Neighbourhood Character Preservation
  • Complete Neighbourhoods
  • Green Initiatives and
  • Making the most of The Waterfront

An inclusive city

Burden said a key drive in her department is to create an inclusive city with economic opportunities for everyone, as well as more affordable housing and a healthy environment throughout the city’s five boroughs. She said a key focus is to ensure a dynamic future for the various neighbourhoods of New York City. “We are doing this with a commitment to community engagement that helps ensure the success of the many initiatives completed to date and on the horizon.” Burden said she believes her department has helped bring about one of the greatest periods for economic development in the city in decades. “We are channelling growth to transit-rich neighbourhoods and preserving the unique character of more auto-dependent lower-density communities. I firmly believe that every new development must connect with the street to ensure its vitality.

We are incorporating significant new public spaces in our redevelopment plans, and focusing attention on the quality of the smaller public spaces that people enjoy for respite and recreation,” she said. “We have also successfully sent the message that good design and economic development are closely intertwined.”

Walter Hook

The pair were accompanied by the internationally renowned authority in sustainable transportation policy and practice, Walter Hook, who is Executive Director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). Hook, a leading expert on BRT design and policy, served as an advisor to the City of Cape Town on the IRT system and was also closely involved in the development of Johannesburg’s BRT system. He has also worked on similar systems in Asia and Latin America.

Networking opportunity

The three visitors met with a range of key players in South Africa’s transport sector, including deputy Transport minister Jeremy Cronin as well as Western Cape premier Helen Zille. They joined the City of Cape Town and the Cape Town Partnership on a tour of the Cape Town IRT and public transport and joined Cape Town Partnership CE Andrew Boraine on a walking tour of the Central City, during which they were briefed on the City’s public transport plans, urban development, public spaces and a few tourist attractions. Their visit coincided with the Infecting the City street performances and an introduction to Infecting the City curator Brett Bailey. The visitors also enjoyed a tour of Khayelitsha, where they visited the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) project, which makes use of social engagement and town planning as key tools to fight crime. The pair also delivered a packed public lecture on non-motorised transport and other transport trends. To see their presentations:  Shaping the Future and New Yorks Sustainable Streets

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