For an investigation published this weekend, the New York Times calculated that governments in New York state give away at least $4.06 billion in corporate subsidies every year. In New York City, the agency that oversees much of this largesse is the Economic Development Corporation. And when it comes to shaping city fabric, NYC EDC has a predilection for showering its subsidies on a specific type of project: the kind with tons of parking.
NYC EDC gave the politically-connected operators of this parking garage in Jamaica, Queens, a slew of tax exemptions. Photo: Google Street View
So when Comptroller John Liu suggested at a mayoral candidates forum last week that all business subsidies should be eliminated, along with the city’s Industrial Development Agency (the arm of EDC that oversaw the Yankee Stadium garage debacle, among other things), he struck on an idea that could do a world of good for NYC’s walkability.
EDC has a hand in many things, from training small business start-ups to encouraging the installation of solar panels, but its biggest imprint on the city comes from large-scale real estate development and financing deals that shape the built environment. EDC projects like the parking-saturated Gateway Center in the South Bronx are completely out of step with the Bloomberg administration’s professed intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While NYC DOT has helped carry out the city’s sustainability goals by redesigning city streets to enhance walking, biking, and transit, EDC has continued to insist on a car-oriented development strategy that produces large volumes of parking and hostile streets for walking. ”The worst thing we could do,” EDC President Seth Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010, “is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”
Because EDC’s primary focus is on brokering business deals, said Hunter College city planning professor Tom Angotti, it’s common for EDC’s goals not to align with other administration environmental or transportation priorities. ”EDC operates relatively independently,” he said, and it “isn’t subject to the same kind of sunlight that other agencies are.”
So far, Liu is the only mayoral candidate seeking to end EDC business subsidies entirely. But even if EDC continues to offer development subsidies in the next administration, there are ways to better target the incentives so they meet broader goals.
City Council Member Brad Lander, who sits on the economic development committee, told Streetsblog that he wants more rigorous requirements — including transportation benchmarks — if the city continues to subsidize development. ”The Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles has a whole series of criteria for sustainability,” Lander said. “I would like EDC to have similar set of standards and guidelines to what the CRA/LA has, including a broad set of transportation issues, such as maximizing use of public transportation.”
There’s a compelling case to be made that EDC’s eagerness to subsidize parking is harming the city, and that the next mayor should reform the agency. Take a look at this by-no-means-comprehensive list of how EDC has spent millions to build more parking, often for no other discernible reason than to distribute political spoils: