Building Sustainable Communities

Sustainable Communities Projects

New York City’s housing crisis is partly a problem of sheer numbers – there are more people who want to live in the five boroughs than there are homes to accommodate them. But as Mayor Bill de Blasio recognized when he unveiled a plan this spring to build or retain 200,000 affordable units, it generally is more beneficial to individual communities and to the city as a whole when housing creation is integrated into a holistic plan to improve livability and economic vitality.

That’s why the mayor has zeroed in on Brooklyn’s East New York as one of the first areas for development under his housing plan. East New York, which is served by three subway lines and a commuter rail line, is a neighborhood with substantial housing, jobs and service needs, as well as underutilized land and the transit infrastructure that could support new development. 

During the past several years, New York's Deparatment of City Planning has worked with community partners and neighborhood residents under the auspices of the RPA-led Sustainable Communities Initiative, a federally funded grant to foster healthy, prosperous and livable neighborhoods. The initiative just concluded more than three years of work in 17 communities in the New York-Connecticut metropolitan area, advancing projects like the one in East New York that have been cited as models for planning in areas such as housing, environmental resiliency and infrastructure.

Working with government and civic partners across the New York-Connecticut metro region, the Sustainable Communities Initiative spurred transit-oriented development and neighborhood improvement projects in places stretching from New Haven to New Rochelle, and in both urban areas and suburban areas such as the Bronx and Nassau County. An assessment of fair housing and equity in the region helped support efforts to implement policy changes, such as a recent amendment to Suffolk County’s Human Rights Law that protects residents from discrimination because of their source of income.

The success of these projects hinged on involving a broad range of community, business and government partners, so that local needs and concerns could help shape future development. That approach also is informing RPA’s work on the Fourth Regional Plan, a multiyear effort to create a blueprint for the tri-state region’s shared prosperity, livability and sustainability over the next 25 years. What our involvement in the Sustainable Communities Initiative reminded us again and again is how much our region’s future is tied to the success of individual communities across the metropolitan area.