When Government is Opaque: Empire State Development and the Penn Station Redevelopment Project
Lecture by Elizabeth M. Marcello, a graduate of GSAPP’s PhD in urban planning program and a Senior Research Analyst at Reinvent Albany, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for transparent and accountable New York State government. At Reinvent Albany, Elizabeth advocates for laws that curb business subsidies, improve open data and the Freedom of Information Law, and implement anti-corruption reforms. Her academic research focuses on city-state relations, economic development, and governance.
Transparency and accountability are basic tenets of democracy. Public planners extol the open manner in which plans are developed and implemented; the government provides information, the public is consulted, and plans change and adapt based on public input. This, of course, does not always happen. When carried out by public authorities, plans are not subject to the same disclosure and accountability rules as when carried out by typical governmental agencies. Public authorities are a type of special purpose government that can supplement routine government functions by building infrastructure, maintaining bridges, building stadiums and convention centers, managing public housing, and running mass transit systems. These entities were created during the Progressive Era to isolate planning from politics and allow planning expertise to flourish, but does their use help or hurt democratic planning efforts? Using the ongoing case of the New York Empire State Development Corporation’s Penn Station Redevelopment project in Manhattan, Marcello shows how public authorities operate outside of legislative politics and move projects quickly from concept to completion. Potential reforms are offered as solutions to the many challenges that public authorities pose to democratic planning efforts.