Monday, May 23, 2005

Economic Impact Studies and ULURP

We have already made some preliminary comments on the inadequacy of the current ULURP process. More needs to be said, especially when looking at the area of economic impacts. We’ve already seen how City Planning mismanaged the review of the proposed BJ’s in the Bronx. We can’t imagine how the agency allowed a proposal for the largest food store in the Bronx to proceed with no economic impact study. Clearly, the CEQR guidelines need to be clarified in regards to box stores.

That being said, however, another point needs mentioning. The level of consulting work that city planners accept is incredibly inadequate – generally cursory and boilerplate regurgitation of economic and demographic statistics. The current crop of recognized experts is expert only in jiggering the process and, as a result, the level of analysis never transcends the perfunctory.

The reason for this inadequacy lies with the economics of land use. Land use consultants can only make money advising developers and, over the course of the past two decades, those firms that have become successful have done so by honing their ability to game the process and by refining minimization into a lucrative art form.

This is not meant to criticize the innate talent of the assorted experts. This critique is much more about the essentially cynical and shallow nature of the land use process, a devaluation that scorns real substantive analysis and makes the entire ULURP contest a test of political will. In such a contest the data becomes self-serving.