On the waterfront in New York and Paris, an interplay of politics and housing

by Yonah Freemark, Doctoral Candidate
Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Large urban development projects offer cities the opportunity to remake key neighborhoods, replacing defunct or underutilized zones with new buildings and activities. Many scholars point to the economic forces that encourage certain types of programs that support global competitiveness and attract investment (Storper, 2016; Swyngedouw et al., 2002); others emphasize that the political-institutional environment, which has decentralized land-use powers but not control over the economy, makes cities focus on tax generation and economic growth (Brenner, 2004; Peterson, 1981). Given these limitations, much of the literature dismisses the ability of cities to engage in urbanism that achieves redistributive outcomes.

The Roosevelt Island aerial tram connects the socially mixed island with the center of Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

The Roosevelt Island aerial tram connects the socially mixed island with the center of Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

In my comparative research, however, I argue that these economic and political constraints, while important, are only part of the story. City governments retain a relatively large range of potential interventions when it comes to development plans. And the choices officials make about major projects—who they are designed to house, what jobs they are designed to attract, how they are integrated into surrounding communities—offer insight into what they prioritize. In particular, the ideological perspectives of public actors help explain whether cities become increasingly oriented toward the wealthy, or are designed to increase social equity. These approaches change over time to reflect different goals.

Consider the programming of two sets of large development projects in New York and Paris, offset by almost 50 years.

In the early 1970s, both cities commenced construction on enormous waterfront projects. New York’s Roosevelt Island, undertaken by the state Urban Development Corporation, was to include 5,000 housing units on a site in the middle of the East River, just across from the city’s Midtown central business district (Freemark, 2011). Paris’ Front-de-Seine, undertaken by the French national government, would include 3,179 units on that city’s river, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower.

Those similarities aside, the two projects articulated very different views about who new urban developments should be designed for. At Roosevelt Island, 55 percent of units would be dedicated to moderate- or low-income families and an additional 20 percent for middle-income families; planners produced renderings of the future project showing such quotidian programs as community rooms, a supermarket, and small-scale, storefront retail (Freemark, 2013; Margolies, 1969). 

At Front-de-Seine, on the other hand, 80 percent of units would be reserved for households able to afford market-rate rents—who would then be able to have easy access to the luxury shopping mall being constructed next door. Noted critic Michel Ragon in 1976, “Paris is becoming a bourgeois city… you only have to examine the buildings at the edge of the Seine… the majority of people who live in those buildings work for embassies, large multinationals” (Pradinaud, 1976).

Half a century later, the two cities have exchanged their outlook on how development should work.

New York City's High Line, in the foreground, and Hudson Yards, under construction in this photo, are symbols of the city's recent focus on the wealthy. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

New York City's High Line, in the foreground, and Hudson Yards, under construction in this photo, are symbols of the city's recent focus on the wealthy. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

New York’s most prominent development project—Hudson Yards, above the tracks west of Penn Station—is a “gilded city” with only 10 percent of its on-site residences reserved for low-income families and its retail spaces stocked with such brands as Neiman Marcus, Cartier, and Tiffany (Davidson, 2019; Kimmelman, 2019). On the other hand, at Paris’ huge Rive Gauche project, which is steadily filling in the blocks surrounding the national library, themselves above the tracks leading to Austerlitz Station, half of all units are reserved for publicly subsidized social housing (Freemark, 2019).

How can we explain why Parisian development transformed from prioritizing the wealthy to supporting people with a wide range of incomes, whereas New York development moved in the opposite direction? Both cities experienced land-use decentralization, with power over planning transferred from higher-level governments (the state in New York and the national government in Paris) to the cities. And both were subject to the same globalized forces of financialization and deindustrialization that have increased the importance of major cities (Sassen, 1991). 

What has differentiated the course of the two cities is an increasing political interest in growth in New York, on the one hand, and social equity in Paris, on the other. Roosevelt Island’s principal planner, Edward Logue, argued that new low- and middle-income housing was “the single most important element” of urban renewal projects (quoted in Freemark, 2011: 362). For New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg 40 years later, Hudson Yards was “the single most important economic project that this city has undertaken in decades” (Bagli, 2008).

Front-de-Seine is a series of glass-and-steel towers meant to target the city's elite in the 1970s. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

Front-de-Seine is a series of glass-and-steel towers meant to target the city's elite in the 1970s. Photo by Yonah Freemark.

In 1970s Paris, planners working for a national government argued that developments needed to be orchestrated around “the necessity of maintaining in France a pole of attractivity for the headquarters of major multinational companies” (APUR, 1970: 6). Yet by the 2000s, city officials promoted major reductions in the Rive Gauche project’s office space, filling the gap with more low-income housing, schools, and parks (Freemark, 2019).

Political transitions in both cities are key to explaining these shifts. Planning in New York, for a time master-minded by liberal-Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller and state development czar Logue, was increasingly devolved to the city. Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg claimed it would be a “godsend” to increase the number of wealthy people in the city (Colvin, 2013)—and the projects built during his administration suggest he was altogether serious about making that happen. If Hudson Yards is one example of that trend, so is the “Billionaire’s Row” of super-tall, super-luxurious towers that have sprouted along Manhattan’s 57th Street (Greenspan, 2017; Peçanha, 2019).

Planning in Paris, on the other hand, transitioned from a right-wing national government to a left-wing city council that has focused on increasing the city’s social-housing share. Paris Rive Gauche is just one among several new projects that devote visible—and otherwise very marketable—urban space to a mix of incomes weighted toward lower-wealth families (Freemark, 2019).

If these cases teach us anything, it is that the ideological perspectives of city government leaders are not only rhetorically interesting, but also influential in directing the direction of development. Voters’ political decisions about who to place in charge play an essential role in determining whether our cities become more equitable—or more focused on the needs of the wealthy.

You can read more about Yonah Freemark. You can also connect with him on Twitter at @yfreemark.


Atelier parisien de l’urbanisme (APUR) (1970). Paris Projet 2. Paris.

Charles V. Bagli (2008). “West Side Redevelopment Plans in Disarray.The New York Times. April 14.

Neil Brenner (2004). New State Spaces: Urban Governance and the Rescaling of Statehood. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jill Colvin (2013). “Mayor Bloomberg Wants City to Have Every Billionaire.” New York Observer. September 20.

Justin Davidson (2019). “I Have a Feeling We’re Not in New York Anymore. Hudson Yards is a billionaire’s fantasy city and you never have to leave—provided you can pay for it.” New York. February 18.

Yonah Freemark (2011). “Roosevelt Island: Exception to a City in Crisis.” Journal of Urban History 37(3). 355-383. DOI: 10.1177/0096144211400378

Yonah Freemark (2013). The entrepreneurial state : New York's Urban Development Corporation, an experiment to take charge of affordable housing production, 1968-1975. Master’s thesis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 Yonah Freemark (2019). “Metropolis on the Water: Varieties of development logics along the Seine.” Projections. In production.

Elizabeth Greenspan (2017). “Zoning New York’s Supertalls.” Architect. January 12.

Michael Kimmelman (2019). “Hudson Yards is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community. Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves?” The New York Times. March 14. 

John S. Margolies (1969). “New Town for New York City.” Architectural Forum. October. 40-45.

Sergio Peçanha (2019). “How New York’s Skyline Is Changing to Give the Wealthy a Better View.The New York Times. June 14.

Paul Peterson (1981). City Limits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bernard Pradinaud (1976). “Dossier immobilier.” Antenne 2. November 13. Available on the site of the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel. Translation by Yonah Freemark.

Saskia Sassen (1991). The Global City—New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Michael Stoper (2016). “The Neo-liberal City as Idea and Reality.” Territory, Politics, Governance 4(2). 241-263. DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2016.1158662.

 Erik Swyngedouw, Frank Moulaert, and Arantxa Rodriguez (2002). “Neoliberal Urbanization in Europe: Large-Scale Urban Development Projects and the New Urban Policy.” Antipode 34(3). 542-577. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8330.00254.

Fall 2018 Newsletter

October 27, 2018

By Ashok Das (ashokdas@hawaii.edu) and N. Emel Ganapati (ganapat@fiu.edu), GPEIG co-chairs

It is with true pleasure that we are sharing with our members the GPEIG Newsletter, which is being published after a hiatus.

Emel and I are thankful to Yiping Fang of Portland State for leading its production, and USC PhD student Greg Randolph for its copyediting, layout design, and graphics. If you like the newsletter, then please do not hesitate to express your appreciation if you see them at the conference in Buffalo.

We also thank everyone who contributed the material for this newsletter. Needless to say, there would be no newsletter without the contributors!

Ten Years of Examining Chinese Cities at UNC-Chapel Hill

By Yan Song (ys@email.unc.edu) and Andy Berner (berner@email.unc.edu), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The challenges facing China’s cities and metropolitan regions are daunting in scale and complexity - without exaggeration, the lives of millions will depend on how well China manages the continued growth of its cities in coming years.

Ten years ago, we founded the Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) as an initiative within the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to focus research on these challenges. Our research agenda was developed to better understand the impacts of rapid metropolitan development on China’s built and natural environments. PCC created a three-part agenda to guide our research activities including: documentation of China’s urbanization process; analysis of China’s urbanization policies and practices; and global implications of Chinese urbanization.

Photo: Visiting Scholars from the UNC Program on Chinese Cities

Photo: Visiting Scholars from the UNC Program on Chinese Cities

As part of the PCC, the Visiting Scholars Program was created in 2009 to foster collaborative international research on Chinese cities. Visiting scholars come from all over China, and include professors and doctoral students. They typically come to UNC-Chapel Hill and interact with faculty and students in the Department of City and Regional Planning for a period of six months or a year. Their work focuses on a variety of areas, including sustainable environment and energy; land use and transportation planning; urban redevelopment and its social equity implications; economic development policy; property rights; infrastructure planning; and government finance. Since its creation, PCC has hosted more than 257 visiting scholars from China.

In the past year alone, scholars from the PCC have published 79 articles in China and nine in the U.S. including “Exploring the Association between Urban Form and Air Quality in China” in the Journal of Planning Education and Research and “Are we planning for sustainable disaster recovery? Evaluating recovery plans after the Wenchuan earthquake” in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

The first article asked the question “What is the relationship between urban planning and air quality in China?” Rapid growth and greatly expanded motor vehicle ownership and usage have contributed to serious air pollution across China. In 2013, 96 percent of key cities did not meet the national ambient air quality standard. In 2014 alone, Beijing endured more than 20 days with almost ten times the national ambient air quality limit, causing public health issues. Scholars from Huazhong University of Science and PCC found that greater population density, more centralized development and better street accessibility have a significant correlation with lower concentrations of air pollutants, and that higher levels of urban sprawl may have a negative impact on air quality.

The second article examined local recovery plans in the aftermath of the 2008 “Great Wenchuan earthquake” that took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. Through a National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. PCC scholars found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability. The article goes on to reveal five challenges in the recovery plans and fours steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process.

Through the PCC, UNC has signed several agreements with Chinese universities such as Peking University and the Harbin Institute of Technology, among others. These agreements have helped initiate joint conferences, student and faculty exchanges, publication translations and research development.

Refresh Your International Planning Syllabus! A Report From ACSP 2017

By Andrew Rumbach (andrew.rumbach@ucdenver.edu), University of Colorado Denver and Lesli Hoey (lhoey@umich.edu), University of Michigan

A common challenge facing planning educators is to keep current in topic areas where they teach but do not have an active research agenda. For example, a professor may conduct research primarily on housing, but teach her department’s graduate course on international planning, which is necessarily broader in scope. To help overcome this challenge for courses in international planning/development, several scholars participated in a roundtable on planning education at the 2017 ACSP annual conference in Denver, Colorado.

A sample slide from the ACSP session "International Planning: Refresh Your Syllabus!"

A sample slide from the ACSP session "International Planning: Refresh Your Syllabus!"

The participants were:

  • Andrew Rumbach, University of Colorado Denver (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management)
  • Lesli Hoey, University of Michigan (Food Policy Planning)
  • Manish Shirgaokar, University of Alberta (Transportation Planning and Policy)
  • Ashima Krishna, University of Buffalo (Historic Preservation Planning)
  • Paavo Monkkonen, University of California Los Angeles (Housing Policy and Urbanization)
  • Priyam Das, University of Hawaii (Water and Sanitation)

Each presenter shared suggestions for teaching international planning in their area of specialty, including:

  • A ‘classic’ reading in their area with a short justification for why it should be included on a contemporary syllabus. A ‘classic’ reading is one of those key pieces that were provocative or even paradigm changing for their time, or pieces many people totally disagree with today, but which set the stage for later scholarship and debates;
  • A ‘summary’ or overview reading or case study, with a short explanation of why it is effective. An ‘overview’ reading is one that reviews the state of knowledge in the field, and very often might be a literature review or case study with terrific grounding in the literature. These readings are helpful for showing where the current state of knowledge is, where the gaps are, and where the field might be heading.
  • A ‘cutting edge’ reading that represents the best new work in their field in the past year, and a justification for why it is fresh or exciting;
  • One assignment, in-class exercise, or other activity that they have used effectively to teach their specialization, with a short description of why it has proved effective in the classroom

You can find the participants’ suggestions in the attached presentation. We share these slides to offer other urban planning colleagues ideas for refreshing their syllabi dedicated to international planning as well as courses aiming to integrate PAB’s “Global Dimensions of Planning” requirement. The ACSP is an ideal venue for planning educators to meet with colleagues who teach similar courses and to share their recommendations for research and pedagogical tools in their subfields. We look forward to further international planning pedagogy conversations at next year’s ACSP!

The Establishment of the Global Transit Innovations Program at the University of Minnesota

By Yingling Fan (yingling@umn.edu), Associate Professor, University of Minnesota

Providing innovative public transit is crucial for ensuring that people around the world—whether in large or small cities, suburbs, or rural areas—have a high quality of life.  And just like other sectors, public transit systems increasingly face the challenge to evolve and adapt to the rapid pace of global changes related to technology, demography, climate, and culture. In light of these global changes, international collaboration will result in more robust research and more innovative practice.


Established in December 2015, the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program at the University of Minnesota aims to promote international collaboration and create internationalized educational opportunities for students, researchers, and practitioners in the field of public transportation.  To do so, GTI connects leading researchers and educators across the globe. Currently, GTI has fourteen faculty contributors from six different countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, China, and the United States. Faculty collaborations range from co-authorships of research articles, reports, and proposals to co-development of open data products and study abroad courses (see gti.umn.edu). In this blog post, I focus on GTI’s education component.

To foster a global student experience, GTI has developed two educational programs with university students in the U.S. and China, including a summer training program that brings Chinese students to the U.S. and a study abroad program that takes American students to China: 

  • The study abroad program is an intensive two-week course taking American students to multiple cities in China. Through lectures and site visits, the course explored how Chinese cities are working to satisfy the mobility and accessibility needs of the largest urban population in the world. The course features photovoice assignments in which study abroad students are paired with local Chinese students to use cameras to record and reflect on issues associated with globalization and rapid urbanization. The paired student groups were asked to bring what they saw and what they felt into the classroom using photos and short narratives.  They were asked to recognize and honor the value of subjective experience, and reflect deeply on cross-cultural and cross-country perspectives.
  • The summer training program hosts undergraduate students from multiple Chinese universities. The program is designed for senior undergraduate students who are interested in graduate-level education in urban and transportation planning. Instructors in the program use graduate-level course materials from the University of Minnesota.  The program also features professional seminars by leading practitioners in the Twin Cities region, and includes site visits touring a variety of transportation facilities and urban infrastructure projects. The demand for our training program has increased.  In summer 2016, we had 24 students from two Chinese universities. In summer 2017, we had 32 students from three Chinese universities. And due to high demand, we expanded and customized the training program to host transportation professionals from China. In 2017, we successfully hosted 15 professionals from China on top of the students we hosted in the training program.

Both programs were great successes.  In the study abroad program, students appreciated the right balance between lectures and site visits and the strong connections between the lectures and readings and site visits.  Further, I was able to integrate the study abroad program with the summer training program, which creates robust exchange and networking experiences for both American and Chinese students.  Chinese universities and organizations that participated in the summer training program hosted American students in the study abroad course.  And American students in the study aboard course voluntarily organized tours and events when Chinese students and professional were visiting the University of Minnesota. More importantly, both programs invigorated networks at various universities and research institutions involved in ongoing and future transportation research and exchanges with the University of Minnesota. Faculty contributors to the educational programs became research collaborators. And host organizations for the educational program became sponsors of research projects at GTI. In the end, the educational and research components at GTI become synergistic and elevate each other towards global significance.

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Promote Global Dimensions of Planning Education at Portland State University

By Yiping Fang (yfang@pdx.edu), Assistant Professor, Portland State University

In 2012, the Planning Accreditation Board added “Global Dimensions of Planning” (GDOP) to the list of required knowledge, skills and values for PAB-accredited urban planning programs. Portland State University’s (PSU) Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program was among the first schools reviewed under these new standards. The site visit team noted that the GDOP knowledge area was not being adequately covered in the existing MURP core curriculum. PSU, as an urban-serving university, has historically focused more on regional engagement than on global issues and engagement, and the MURP program has historically had a relatively low share (approximately 5-10%) of international students. Both of these help to explain why international and comparative perspectives have been less prominent in the program.  

Since then, the MURP Executive Committee has explored options for addressing this deficiency. In 2015-16, the committee looked at how other PAB-accredited programs were addressing GDOP, and explored alternative approaches, including creating a GDOP course in the core curriculum, and incorporating GDOP themes into existing core courses. We received a grant from PSU's Internationalization Council, and have created a task force on “Internationalizing the MURP curriculum” with eight faculty members teaching MURP core courses.   

The task force has begun by reviewing the existing syllabi of all the MURP core courses and a graduate research assistant has been hired to assist faculty members in exploring ways to revise these courses to include more GDOP components.  I would like to share with everyone a few notes on the task force's progress on this issue so far. 

First, we determined that the dearth of international planning topics in the MURP core courses has allowed student interest in the global dimensions of planning to wither.  Elective courses with a more international focus have not been popular and there have been complaints from students about the relatively narrow focus of these courses.  

We interpret the "global dimensions of planning" as covering two interconnected but distinct aspects: 

  • Understanding the effects of global processes on local outcomes, and
  • Appreciating planning practices outside the US and planning at the global scale. 

To make clearer to students and faculty how tightly connected the global is to the local, we invited Professor Faranak Miraftab, from the University of Illinois-Urbana, to give a lecture on her new book, Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives, and Local Placemaking.  Professor Miraftab's work makes a great illustration of how in our globalized world, local planning decisions have significant global implications, and vice-versa.  Clips of her lecture in Portland can be viewed here (Part 1Part 2Part 3).  The lecture was well attended, and we hope that, as Professor Miraftab put it, "Never again will a student tell me that their work is on local development planning and no need to take classes in the international global stream." 

Second, the task force agreed to focus on supporting faculty members to incorporate more global dimensions and international perspectives into their existing MURP core courses.  This is a challenge, because most of our faculty do not have experience with international research.  So one idea the task force has discussed is the possibility of drawing on the large pool of existing case-studies, as resources which could potentially be brought into our MURP classes, to address the GDOP deficiency.  The International Planning Case Studies (IPCS) project offers many great examples of such case-studies.  In early February, we contacted two of the scholars who had initiated the IPCS project, Professor Lesli Hoey from the University of Michigan and Professor Andrew Rumbach from the University of Colorado at Denver.  On February 23rd, when Professor Miraftab was in Portland, we organized a workshop in which she joined the eight MURP core course faculty members and professors Hoey and Rumbach (by Skype), to discuss this idea.  We had a great conversation about the challenges our planning schools are facing around the GDOP issue, and about teaching with case-studies. 

Third, during the February 23 workshop, we also discussed the role international planning should play in a general planning education.  Internationalization is not simply a matter of adding a case-study or two to a course, or offering some information about how planning is practiced in other countries.  Rather, an exposure to the international aspects of planning can help students better understand the dynamics of planning when social, economic, cultural and political contexts change -- as they do all the time and in increasingly significant ways, even in our local contexts.  By getting our students to look outside of their known contexts and their comfort zones, we are helping them to develop more critical and relational ways of thinking and equipping them to ask broader questions about who wins and who loses in a world in which the local and the global are now inextricably entwined.  

In this blog we give a brief report on what the GDOP task force has achieved so far, and hope it will generate further discussion on how the GDOP knowledge area can be incorporated into the planning curriculum of schools like ours, which may lack the resources of international-focused faculty members or plenty of course offerings which cover global dimensions of planning.  Our project to bolster the GDOP area in the MURP core curriculum will end this Fall, and all courses involved in this curriculum revision should be ready for teaching by Fall 2017.  However these efforts to internationalize the MURP curriculum will not stop there.  We will continue to explore opportunities for faculty members to jointly offer study-abroad programs, so that more international research opportunities can be created. 

We hope to hear from all of you with comments and suggestions, and look forward to hearing about how this GDOP knowledge area is being discussed and incorporated in your universities.


Welcome to the new GPEIG website!

The Global Planning Educators Interest Group is excited to launch our new website! Visit often for the latest news from GPEIG, information about our annual awards, profiles of faculty and student research, and opportunities to connect with other global planning scholars.