Housing and Classrooms, Not Parking: Overcoming Zoning Gridlock in NoHo

Eric Kober

If New York City is to mitigate its housing shortage, local land use regulation needs to take advantage of the early 20th century investment in subway transit, by allowing new housing at high densities in transit-rich areas. Simultaneously, the city needs to support the expansion of its higher education institutions to ensure that its future labor force is equipped with the skills and education required to maintain the city’s position at the center of one of the nation’s most productive metropolitan areas.

The NoHo neighborhood in Manhattan is a striking example of a failure to update land use policy in furtherance of these priorities. The location is one of the best for transit in Manhattan, with four subway lines (B, D, F and M) serving the Broadway-Lafayette station on Houston Street, another (the 6) serving the connected Bleecker Street station and the Astor Place station on Lafayette Street, and the R and W serving the Eighth Street station on Broadway. The neighborhood bustles with pedestrians heading to or from home, school or work.

NoHo is a primarily residential neighborhood but not a dense one. A second interesting aspect of NoHo is that NYU largely stays west of Broadway. This major university has a limited presence in NoHo, although it would seem to be an ideal area for the university to expand while limiting conflicts with the dense residential neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.

The area’s peculiar zoning, combined with historic district controls, effectively keeps out many of the land uses that would, on economic rationales alone, wish to locate there, and creates incentives for other uses. On the whole, the zoning keeps NoHo underdeveloped relative to the theoretical zoning it has, and the transit infrastructure that makes it so accessible. More sensible zoning would lead to investments that would benefit both the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

NoHo contains several individual city landmarks and is almost entirely within three historic districts. NoHo’s architectural heritage is an important asset to the neighborhood and for the city as a whole. But it need not be an impediment to the redevelopment of sites that do not contribute to the neighborhood’s historic character.

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Wagner Faculty