Home News Update NYC’s zoning for small clean production

Update NYC’s zoning for small clean production

Mayor Adams celebrated on March 6 the New York City Planning Commission’s approval of hisCity of Yes for Economic Opportunity” proposal, which now proceeds to full City Council consideration on April 8.

It is the largest overhaul of the city’s commercial and manufacturing zoning in 60 years, and it holds great promise for all New Yorkers. That’s because it allows small clean production businesses in commercial corridors in all five boroughs for the first time, and that will benefit everyone.

Small clean production includes small-scale manufacturing businesses, which create products — from hardware to handbags to hot sauce — that are sold in retail shops and online. Small-scale manufacturers are, therefore, not solely dependent on foot traffic for revenue, making them well-suited to neighborhoods and business districts seeking to revitalize from significant vacancies.

Small-scale manufacturers typically start as home-based businesses, often building from the culture and heritage of the community, and then shift to brick-and-mortar retail settings, as they grow. This makes the businesses an asset to all communities, as every part of our population has a unique culture and heritage on which to build.

These enterprises are likely to hire and spend dollars with people in the local community, spreading their economic benefits further. That’s important, because nearly all job growth in the United States is created by new and young businesses. 

Small-scale manufacturers sell retail, wholesale, or as part of supply chains. They sell locally, nationally, and beyond, bringing dollars into the community. As they grow, they help build community wealth through local business ownership and its broader impact. Research shows that for every 1% increase in the entrepreneurship rate, the poverty rate decreases by 2%. 

Increased business ownership also helps address the pervasive racial wealth gap. Black business owners have 12 times the wealth, as compared to Black community members who do not own businesses. Every step we take to reduce the barriers for residents to own businesses and grow them into local storefronts helps the community and the broader city.

Allowing small-scale manufacturers into local storefronts increases opportunities to bring energy back to blocks with significant vacancies. It enhances opportunities for more people to build wealth and create places where the community can come together to be proud of its heritage. 

When small-scale manufacturers operate in storefronts, they bring eyes to the street and can become attractions or destinations for the area. The opportunity to see something being made, to join in that process, or to celebrate a neighborhood business brings people out to strengthen the community. It can also bring visitors to the area to spend their dollars in the community, too.

The mayor’s proposal recognizes all these advantages and how broad-based they could be. That’s why his proposal gives blanket zoning approval for small clean production businesses in all of the city’s commercial corridors.

If the proposal is approved by the Council, New York will be in the forefront of the nation in this regard. Some major cities, including Indianapolis and Nashville, allow small-scale manufacturing — sometimes called artisan manufacturing — in all commercial zones. Montgomery County, Md., has done so as well. But nothing has been done on the scale of New York City.

Adams’ proposal includes environmental protections to ensure that every emerging small clean production entity is a good neighbor. The proposal also stipulates that no such entity can occupy more than 5,000 square feet of space in this context.

By adopting this proposal, the City Council will be making a statement that good middle-income jobs are important and that wealth-building across the city’s demographic diversity is a priority. It will also be placing a priority on businesses that will put down deep roots in the community.

By enacting this proposal, New York City will be offering new potential for revitalizing every community in all five boroughs. It will also be setting a major national precedent that will cause other jurisdictions in the nation and beyond to pay attention. 

If the proposal is enacted, the city should ensure that its permitting procedures are streamlined to facilitate the work of small clean production. It should also create incentives to enable such businesses to be more readily able to afford the storefront settings that need to be filled.

With this initiative, New York City will be energizing its own revitalization and setting a new pace for the nation. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, isn’t that just what New York City should be doing?

Preuss is the founder and CEO of Recast City and author of “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing (Island Press, 2021).


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