NYC Melts a New Pot of Diversity

Event: The Future Face of New York
Location: The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 10.18.07
Speakers: Laurie Beckelman — Founder & Principal, Beckelman+Capalino; Majora Carter — Executive Director, Sustainable South Bronx; Shaun Donovan — Commissioner, New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Yesenia Graham — Vice President, Sutphin Avenue Development, One Stop Home Services; Daniel Libeskind, AIA — Principal, Studio Daniel Libeskind; Bill McKibben — Author, Educator, Environmentalist; Michael Sorkin — Michael Sorkin Studio & City College of New York; Mike Wallace — Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author
Moderator: Martin Filler — Architecture Columnist, House & Garden
Organizers: House & Garden, as part of House & Garden‘s Design Happening program series, organized in partnership with the Center for Architecture and the Architectural League

As New Yorkers face the challenges outlined in the city’s PlaNYC report, strong communities have the potential to bind and bolster the city during periods of change and turmoil. NYC’s future depends on fostering strong, livable communities within the city’s existing urban fabric.

What will the city’s strong communities look like in 20 years? According to author Mike Wallace, neighborhoods will likely be more diverse than they are today. Since 2000, the city has been growing past its record-high population, in part fueled by immigration. Today, more than 40% of New Yorkers were born in other countries. In recent years, a series of tectonic population shifts amongst the city’s many ethic groups have resulted in an explosion of communities comprised of diverse ethnic groups living together, instead of in autonomous groupings. To a large extent, it is believed that these spontaneously diverse communities are more socially sustainable than their heterogeneous neighbors.

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Shaun Donovan claims that NYC struggles to actively plan diversity into the city’s population. Specifically, the housing market should include designing for a diversity of people with different backgrounds and ages, and with a variety of incomes. “We have an ethical responsibility to grow this city,” said Donovan.

Though much of the tone of the discussion was dire — with talk of how population growth, global warming, and a potential housing shortage could cripple the city — Daniel Libeskind, AIA, spoke of his family’s immigration to NYC decades ago as a positive example of its longevity. “At the risk of sounding demented, I do want to say something optimistic about the city.” While New York’s communities could be drastically recast in the future, the city has an idealistic endurance that many others do not. “NYC has the sustainability of an idea.”