DOI: 10.1177/00420980231208623 ISSN: 0042-0980

Rezoning a top-notch CBD: The choreography of land-use regulation and creative destruction in Manhattan’s East Midtown

Igal Charney
  • Urban Studies
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

This paper makes the case for the connection between making land-use regulatory changes and the process of destruction and redevelopment. Under the capitalist imperative, buildings that do not fulfil the full potential for profit are likely to be demolished (or refurbished) but demolition and new development are not shaped exclusively by the immutable laws of the market as they are mediated and facilitated by specific institutional contexts. Using the case of East Midtown rezoning in New York City, the paper examines the amendments of two land-use regulatory mechanisms: the enlargement of development rights (rezoning or upzoning) and the relaxation of the spatial limitations on the usage of existing unused rights (transferable development rights). While apparently unconnected, upzoning and transferable development rights are part of the regulatory framework that seeks to secure the ongoing generation of the highest-possible profits for private as well as public interests. By examining the choreography of rezoning and transferable development rights, the paper shows how the mechanics of creative destruction work while substantiating an existing body of knowledge on land use policies and practices in New York City. When used together, rezoning and transferable development rights are instrumental in remaking the built environment. Essentially, the rezoning of a 78-block area in East Midtown Manhattan unlocks captured and latent development rights that otherwise could not come about, and demonstrates the necessity of institutional arrangements to make creative destruction actually work.

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