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NYC Executive Planning Director Leaving For Harvard Consulting Job

Department of City Planning's Purnima Kapur

A longtime New York City planning director, who oversaw zoning changes to boost better design and affordable housing, is leaving her position for higher education.

New York’s Department of City Planning Executive Director Purnima Kapur is slated to end her role with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration at the end of August. Kapur, who was a Bisnow 2018 New York Power Woman, will be taking on an adjunct professor role at Columbia University as well as serve as a planning consultant at Harvard University, Crain's New York Business reports.

The Ivy League university is expanding into Boston’s Allston neighborhood in a move some speculate will be that city’s next innovation district, and Kapur will be leading that effort.

Kapur worked in the planning department for 28 years, beginning as an entry-level planner and eventually landing her current position in 2014 after de Blasio took office. The administration looked to tackle soaring housing costs, and that frequently translated to zoning changes under Kapur’s tenure.

The 2016 Zoning for Quality and Affordability zoning amendment reduced parking requirements for projects near public transportation, loosened facade guidelines to encourage better building design and made it easier to build affordable housing. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law passed the same year and required developers to include permanently affordable housing units at projects that had received increased density approvals via rezoning. 

She told Bisnow in June of the importance of the Midtown East rezoning plan, which opened the door for 16M SF of development and better infrastructure funding throughout the entire city. But her tenure hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

While the city’s planning agency has made affordable housing a top priority, the rezoning effort to make it happen has been resisted in some neighborhoods.

"I was a little bit taken back by the intensity, even though people had been asking for more affordable housing for years and here is a mayor who is out there delivering on that in a pretty significant way," Kapur told Crain’s. "Yes, the need is great and we could always do more, but that was a little bit of a surprise to me."