Modernize NYC’s old zoning laws



New York City’s economic recovery has exceeded the expectations of skeptics. More than 99.9% of pre-pandemic private sector jobs have been recovered, the creation of new small businesses has reached a five-year high, and tourism and pedestrian counts now regularly surpass pre-pandemic levels.

Credit goes to our resilient local businesses and smart city initiatives like the Open Restaurants program, public realm enhancements, and the elimination of business-restricting red tape.

But a series of outdated zoning regulations still limit local businesses, preventing them from reaching their full potential by limiting growing industries, restricting where entrepreneurs can set up shop and expand, and lacking consistent rules supporting safe, business-friendly streetscapes. These regulations no longer serve New Yorkers.

In response, the Adams administration has proposed another much-needed initiative: City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, which today, Jan. 24, will be in front of the City Planning Commission for a public hearing. This package of proposed amendments to the New York City Zoning Resolution addresses outdated zoning limitations and is supported by business owners across the five boroughs.

At Union Square Partnership and Flatiron NoMad Partnership, we champion the businesses, retailers, residents, cultural establishments, and educational institutions from E. 13th St. to E. 32nd St., prime New York City live-work-play real estate. These centrally located commercial and residential spaces are ready for further business recovery and job growth that would positively uplift the professional and personal lives of thousands of New Yorkers.

In our districts and others across the city, the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity measures will allow for more innovative and flexible uses of private space on commercial corridors and will create more opportunities for modern industries, such as life sciences, urban agriculture, experiential retail, and clean manufacturing, to thrive in currently available space.

Our small businesses are also in need, and the zoning updates include common-sense proposals to allow restaurants, cafes, and bakeries to expand their footprints more seamlessly, and better support our local entertainment venues like theaters and comedy clubs.

Union Square and Flatiron & NoMad are home to some of our city’s most historic establishments and cutting-edge concepts. As an emerging tech hub in the heart of Manhattan, Union Square appealed to Civic Hall and Fedcap Group as homebase to provide workforce training and educational resources for underserved New Yorkers to enter the tech industry.

Flatiron is home to major new life sciences infrastructure like Deerfield Management’s Cure campus, and the Science Park and Research Campus (SPARC) Kips Bay will open nearby in 2027. Each of these projects has been developed in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corp., illustrating how effective public policy creates a path forward for creative, transformative growth within the private sector.

With the passage of City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, this kind of innovation will be allowed to flourish further in additional spaces across our districts. And it will be easier for experiential retail and contemporary entertainment concepts to come to life in traditional commercial spaces, corner stores, lofts, and other common builds that decades of regulations have banned.

Critically, these zoning amendments will attract new investment and industry to our districts by providing the Department of Buildings with clearer rules so that builders get answers more quickly and, in turn, get businesses operational faster.

Activated storefronts and diversity in ground floor offerings will lead to more vibrant street life that revitalizes our neighborhoods and anchors business district recovery. This kind of energy leads to expanded foot traffic, motivated tourism, and a livelier public realm overall that supports businesses, increases public safety, and improves quality of life.

From Union Square to the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park and onward through NoMad, the City’s Broadway Vision streetscape improvement plan is currently underway, making pedestrian, cyclist, and public space improvements to best serve New Yorkers and support our city’s comeback. As the vibrancy and safety of our public spaces are enhanced, now is the time to ensure these same local retail streets and commercial corridors are lively places with businesses that sustain our neighborhoods.

We’re advocating for the passage of City of Yes for Economic Opportunity to best position our city’s next generation of innovative business owners, home-grown entrepreneurs, and successful self-starters.

Our industries and businesses have evolved, and our city must do the same.

Stein is executive director of Union Square Partnership. Mettham is executive director of Flatiron NoMad Partnership.



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