Four Formulas for Sensible Density
There’s a tremendous need for more density in the city. Our population is growing, and we’re projected to reach 9 million in 2030. When the Zoning Resolution was passed in 1961, it estimated a full build-out of 12 million. With underbuilt sites across the city, the final build-out will likely be closer to 10 million. We don’t have more land, so we need greater density.
First we need to implement a 20% optional FAR bonus for inclusionary housing in R6 and above residence districts. Although this is now being done on a case-by-case basis, this could be a citywide strategy to significantly up-zone while encouraging the production of affordable housing.
Second, we need to expand the use of unconventional housing. We can explore 250-400 sq. ft. micro-apartments in developments citywide. We can legalize shared units, so that more than three unrelated people can live together legally. And we can legalize accessory units. There are as many as 100,000 illegal units in Queens alone — we can create policy
so extended family could live in basements or adjacent units.
Third, the City should begin purchasing and redeveloping low-density housing. There are abundant opportunities where one-family houses could be redeveloped into multi-family walkups. “Towers in the park” projects could also explore infill housing to help fill our critical need.
Finally, when a community votes to downzone a neighborhood, city officials should respond by asking, “Where will you upzone to balance the loss?”
Mark E. Ginsberg, FAIA, is a founding partner of Curtis + Ginsberg where he has led award-winning residential, institutional, and urban design projects. He is President of Citizens Housing and Planning Council, and past President of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter.