Most New Yorkers think zoning is a bad word, and that tough change is afoot when the city planning department comes to their neighborhood.
Amanda Burden, who chairs the city planning commission, works long hours to fight that perception.
Walk with NYC planner Amanda Burden as she rezones the lower East Side
She looks at each neighborhood block by block, lot by lot. To her, the city is a jewel that needs constant care and safekeeping.
"Each neighborhood has its own personal DNA," says Burden, who had an immediate impact on the city when she took her position in 2002 by allowing restaurants, bars and cafes additional sidewalk space for outdoor dining. "It's my job to find it and save it."
To understand communities, Burden walks miles of city streets. Armed with a tape measure, sunglasses and comfortable yet stylish shoes (she is, after all, a former socialite), the planning commissioner eyes building heights, studies the flow of people and contemplates how an area's past relates to its present and future.
"This wasn't here two weeks ago," Burden says, sneering at a vacant lot. "There was a building. Once you lose a building, you lose character and history. The Bloomberg administration is about growth and preservation. This is why we have to act fast to change the zoning, so developers aren't allowed to come in here and build whatever they chose. I don't mind a building that is in context with the others, meaning the same height with architectural guidelines, but small streets shouldn't have large development."