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Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer 2007 State of the Borough Address

by Gotham Gazette Staff, Feb 19, 2007
 Good afternoon.
Thank you for joining me today.

I want to especially thank Mayor Bloomberg, who is doing such a great job for the city –and council Speaker Quinn ,who has provided the council with truly outstanding leadership.

Thank you both for hosting us today.

I also want to thank Manhattan’s City Council delegation, my fellow elected officials, many of whom are in Albany today, and Manhattan's Community Boards for their collaboration with me during my first year in office.

This is an extraordinary time to be part of Manhattan’s transformative struggles and achievements.

One thing that unites New Yorkers is the magnitude of our dreams. That’s why, every day, people arrive here to paint their ambitions on our landscape.

It’s why New Yorkers continue to build and Manhattan continues to grow.

Today, the city’s growth is truly something to brag about.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, predictions for New York City’s future were dire.

No one could foresee the stupendous comeback we’ve made, or the extraordinary development that’s taken hold here.

The city’s resurgence has brought about prosperity, including almost four billion dollars in public surplus it’s a boon to every resident.

It has made it possible for more people to live and work here.

But while our success is incredibly exciting, it is also a bit difficult to absorb.

Record numbers of tourists make us proud, reminding us that we live in the world’s greatest city, but we fight them for space on our sidewalks.

We enjoy the new shops and entertainment venues, but businesses we love are priced out of existence.

We want and desperately need more housing, but our streets can seem like one big construction site.

And, as Manhattan entered the new millennium, our population continued to grow, but our middle class began to shrink.

It’s no wonder we sometimes fear that the borough we love might well disappear.

Growth always involves stress. We know that.

But while we want the development that will keep us the world’s most exhilarating city, we also want to be the most livable city on Earth.

That means every resident must have a say in our shared future.

Manhattan residents are the famous, and the faceless, the most powerful and the most vulnerable, the flamboyant, and those who live in the shadows.

While they come from every nation and speak every language, they live here because Manhattan speaks to them, as it speaks to us all.

As the official elected to serve all of Manhattan, I promised to take the office of borough president, an agency many viewed as powerless, and use it to empower every Manhattan neighborhood.

I’ll be honest ,some people smirked when I said that, but I don’t think they’re laughing anymore.

When I took office, Manhattan’s Community Boards were a withered shadow of local government.

Chronic vacancies and perpetual inaction were the norm.

When it came to reforming Manhattan’s Community Boards, I was told, flat out, it couldn’t be done.

But I knew that only reform could make the Boards effective.

So we created an independent screening process that appointed board members based on their qualifications, not politics.

The panel consists of leading organizations, everyone from the league of conservation voters to the league of women voters, the citizens union to the women’s city club, the NNACP, the Hispanic federation and other key groups. To signal the start of a new day, I made sure that every board member got conflicts of interest training.

In my first year in office, through a process supported by every council member, Manhattan’s Community Board vacancies went from 25 percent to less than 2 percent.

Now, remember, the whole point of reform was to empower Manhattan’s residents.

So, to give neighborhoods a greater role in development decisions, we created a class to teach people about zoning and land use, and took it on the road.

Zoning is the paradigm for determining what gets built in New York City today.

Those who don’t understand that paradigm will be left behind.

That’s what led to my first conversation with Amanda Burden, our wonderful City Planning Commissioner.

I told Amanda I wanted copies of the City’s zoning 101 handbook, so I could give one to every Community board member.

She said, “Scott, they’re $22 each.” I said “I’ll take 600 for $12.”

That was my first negotiation with City Planning.

But not the last.

Not by a long shot.

Today, from Washington Heights to Battery Park, and from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, Manhattan’s newly-empowered Community Boards are hard at work and accountable to every neighborhood.

This is essential, because planning that affects millions of New Yorkers should reflect the wisdom of the community.

So, following Woodrow Wilson’s advice, I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.

The first brain trust we created was the Manhattan Planning Fellowship Program.

We paired each Community Board with a top-notch Urban Planning graduate student to help them carry out projects they’ve wanted to do for years.

This is a priceless contribution to neighborhood empowerment, and to Manhattan’s future.

Some of the planning fellows, among the brightest young minds in New York City, are here today. I’d like to ask them to stand.

From Rutgers, Hunter, Columbia, NYU and The New School, these graduate students are the cream of the crop.

And guess where they want to work when they graduate? In the world’s greatest cities, London, Paris, Rio and, of course, right here in New York.

Their experience with our Community Boards is giving these future planning leaders a perspective that will influence their work for decades to come, the perspective that inclusion, collaboration and consensus, can achieve spectacular results, unprecedented development, that is anchored in our common good.

That is the vision I promised to promote.

The results, all over the borough, speak for themselves.

Plans for Uptown New York, a large-scale development in East Harlem, were created with little neighborhood input.

Not surprisingly, residents saw nothing that reflected local needs.

When I ran for office, I promised to help neighborhood residents work with developers and City government to build consensus that would address local needs, and that’s exactly what we achieved.

Working with the mayor’s office, Community Board 11, Harlem residents, and Council Member Mark-Viverito, new guidelines were written for development of the East Harlem site.

Those guidelines now include cultural space, space for local businesses, and affordable housing.

On the Upper West Side, the proliferation of skyscrapers jammed in among buildings they dwarf illustrates the problem of unplanned development.

Such projects block light, air and views, strain facilities like parking and schools, and understandably fuel residents’ wrath.

That’s why, for the rezoning that will take place from 97th to 110th Street ,I am working with city planning, Community Board 7, and council members Dickens and Mark-Viverito to see that new construction promotes rational development which preserves the neighborhood’s beauty and character.

In Midtown, almost a decade ago, the city rezoned part of the theater district, allowing developers to transfer air rights and build more densely along Eighth Avenue.

In exchange, money was to be set aside to benefit the theater district.

When I came into office, I learned that no benefit was ever applied for.

Working with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Community Board 5, and City Planning, funds are now being set aside and in November we negotiated our first benefit - a deal that will create new office space for nonprofit theater companies.

Many people don’t know that what we now call Tribeca was one of Manhattan’s oldest residential neighborhoods.

In the mid-19th century, textile houses took over the area, chasing away families and replacing the neighborhood’s houses with factories of classical design.

The 20th century conversion of those factories gave the neighborhood a new name and a new incarnation as a residential and cultural community.

In the 21st century, Tribeca residents are once more experiencing the stress that comes with rapid change.

Last year, Tribeca residents were up in arms about development that would have permanently cut them off from their riverfront.

With the support of Community Board 1, Speaker Quinn and Council member Gerson, my office designed a rezoning to move the development forward while preserving residents’ light, air and waterfront views.

Another win for community-based planning.

I will continue to make sure that residents have a strong say in the future of their neighborhoods.

Whenever possible, new development should achieve a significant public benefit, whether affordable housing, space for nonprofits, significant job creation, or some other tangible benefit.

So I will fight for open space and waterfront access on the East Side Con Edison site.

Along Sherman Creek, I will push for rezoning that creates more affordable housing.

Residents of West Harlem and Hamilton Heights have waited far too long for access to their waterfront.

Take Me to the River is a catchy name, but the name alone won’t take us anywhere.

So I have dedicated a planner to work exclusively on reviving this dormant plan to help bring those communities waterfront access of their own design.

Harlem residents will have a major say in Columbia’s planned expansion.

I support Columbia’s desire to grow to meet its 21st Century educational and research goals.

The university’s expansion will create jobs and has many potential benefits for our city.

However, projects of this magnitude have swept away entire neighborhoods, something that must never again be imposed on any Manhattan community, especially not this one.

Columbia’s expansion must add value to the entire neighborhood.

I will be a driving force to bring people together and forge consensus for this project.

Another place where great, forward thinking is badly needed is the area around Penn Station.

It is absolutely essential to move Madison Square Garden.

This will allow us to transform Penn Station into a magnificent gate-way to the heart of Manhattan and develop its vast air space into something worthy of its extraordinary location.

A new Moynihan Train Station will diminish crowding, improve the look and feel of the area, and help lay the foundation for the comprehensive transportation planning our region desperately needs.

This project is vital to our future and it must not become a political football.

While density defines Manhattan Island, Governors’ Island is an open frontier.

Most New Yorkers are unaware of the island and its remarkable history, which includes roles in every American fought war from the revolution through World War II.

The vast open space surrounding the island’s monumental forts is a magnet for a space starved city.

But, especially given its historic significance, we must get the development of Governors’ Island right.

That’s why I wanted a public advisory board to review all development proposals.

I am pleased that the City agreed to that process, which will give us development that reflects the creative vision of civic minded New Yorkers.

Thank you Dan Doctoroff.

Adjacent to East Harlem, off Manhattan’s east coast, lies Randall’s Island, where Jesse Owens ran the 100 yards that sent him to the 1936 Olympics.

New Yorkers have a fundamental problem with the privatization of public parks.
So when the city decided to hand over 50 ball fields on Randall’s Island for private use for 30 years! I refused to play along.

I am well aware that I have only one vote on the city’s franchise review board.

I also understand the need for compromise, and I know how to make a deal.

But we haven’t yet reached the right compromise over the ball fields.

Because a raw deal is no deal at all, and privatizing the use of public land is a raw deal.

So I will continue speaking out until we have an agreement that keeps the playing fields available to the public and benefits residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx communities that sorely lack ball fields for kids.

Now, we all know that Manhattan needs more affordable housing.

Even with the state’s new minimum wage law, decent housing is out of reach for many New Yorkers.

The accelerating loss of Mitchell-Lama housing is helping to push our affordability crisis into overdrive.

On March 3rd I will host a citywide conference with one goal, finding ways to preserve this bedrock of affordable housing.

And, especially with our affordability crisis, we must make the most of the opportunities we have.

That’s why last summer, with the grassroots organization Picture the Homeless, I conducted the first comprehensive inventory of Manhattan’s vacant buildings and empty lots.

When Boston did a survey and encouraged owners to develop vacant sites, abandoned housing decreased by 76 percent in less than a decade.

Other cities have achieved similar results, why shouldn’t we?

Our survey identified properties throughout Manhattan that could be developed.

As much of it as possible should be used to create affordable new housing, and I will work with the administration, local developers and our Community Boards to make that happen.

Now, both vacant properties and construction sites are magnets for ugly, illegal advertising.

For years I have fought the proliferation of illegal ads on buildings, sidewalks, construction sheds, you name it. So I’m delighted that we started the New Year with a great victory on this issue.

In January the Buildings Department pledged to cover up all illegal ads that are not taken down by their owners.

Thank you, Patricia Lancaster

Another way I promised to help make Manhattan more livable was to jumpstart the development of green building projects, an area where New York seriously lags behind.

I am proud to support projects that will include the largest green roof in the entire Northeast, environmentally sustainable affordable housing, and a net zero energy use site, a building that will actually create more energy than it uses.
Now, how cool is that?

Welcoming new environmental technologies will fuel Manhattan’s economy while helping us clean our waterways, soil and air.

And while it seems that all of us breathe the same air in Manhattan, the truth is that some communities suffer far worse pollution than others.

Today, conditions uptown reflect decades of environmental racism. Six of Manhattan’s seven bus depots are sited above 96th Street, making the area a major dumping ground for air pollutants that are among the most deadly to breathe.

Today, I am proud to announce a new project “Go Green East Harlem” which will improve the environment of that neighborhood in partnership with local leaders, businesses, non-profits and government agencies.

Untreated asthma is the number one reason why Manhattan’s children miss school, and I’m going to fight to put a stop to that.

Go Green will identify ways to decrease local truck traffic, make buildings less polluting, green streets, encourage recycling and give residents access to healthier food.

This will be a self-sustaining program to improve East Harlem’s environment and showcase ideas that can be adopted in other neighborhoods as well.

While air-quality uptown is a decades-old problem, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, air quality downtown evoked city-wide concern.

When we asked for an assessment of air safety in lower Manhattan after 9/11 the Federal Government dropped the ball.

Two years later, the EPA admitted its failure, but it was a lifetime too late for those who were exposed to the toxic fumes, including school children, first responders and those who volunteered for months at the site.

Amit Friedlander, who is here with us today, was a student at Stuyvesant High School.

Less than a month after the attacks, Amit was sent back downtown to school, where students had to walk by piles of smoking rubble just to get to class.

Last year, Amit was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma –which may well have been caused by the federal government’s insistence that it was safe to reopen his school.

Just months ago, another former classmate was diagnosed with leukemia that may be connected to the toxic fumes.

Amit and his former classmate, Lila Nordstrom have joined concerned parents and local residents as tireless advocates for New Yorkers affected by the federal government’s failure to monitor New York’s air quality.

Amit, Lila, please stand.

Join me in giving these young people a round of applause.

Representatives Nadler and Maloney have sponsored legislation to responsibly fund treatment for New Yorkers injured by the toxic fumes from the World Trade Center Site. I will not rest until federal dollars are allocated to meet these obligations.

When it comes to our schools, we have arrived at a critical moment. While the DOE pumps resources into small new schools, nothing is done about the thousands of classrooms throughout the system that are severely over-crowded.

In fact, some schools are so overcrowded that children don’t have desks, don’t have a lunch period or can’t use the library.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on radical changes to the reading curriculum, national assessments show that since 2003 the number of New York City fourth graders who are proficient in reading has been stuck at 22 percent and more than 40 percent of our fourth graders are failing reading.

As for high school, even by the DOE own assessment, graduation rates are horrendously low.

What is going to happen to these kids?

The department of education needs to hear what parents, teachers, administrators and advocates are saying.

And right now, those with the most at stake in the system are frustrated and confused.

We know what parents care about, and for good reason, smaller class size, skilled, dedicated teachers, curricula that engage and challenge their kids and a system that welcomes parental input.

It is my hope that DOE will provide leadership, which is badly needed ,to reduce class size, to restore enrichment programs that have been cut ,and to support the vital work of teachers in the classroom. Those are the reforms that will result in the education all of us want for our children.

Our kids also need more after school options. 3 to 6 PM on school days is prime crime time in New York.

Kids need safe places to go after school, and healthy activities to engage them. Quality after school activities encourage academic performance and keep kids away from drugs and gangs, but almost half a million children in our city attend no after school program.

That’s why I’m thrilled that the Youth Sports League I promised to create is up and running with the help of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Police Athletic League.

More than 1,000 Manhattan kids will be served by my Sports League in its very first year, and I promise to keep that number growing.

Now, I want to address an issue that profoundly affects both children and adults: domestic violence.

No society that tolerates domestic violence can consider itself civilized or humane.

As an assemblyman, I helped pass laws to protect victims of domestic violence.

As Borough President, I want to help every victim get the protection and services they need.

With a $900,000 dollar grant from the Justice Department, last month I launched a new project with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Harlem Legal Services, the NYPD, and the advocacy group CONNECT.

With new technology, we’ve given police officers instant access to information about households where they are called to a domestic dispute.

And we’ve given advocates and service providers immediate access to police reports ,so they can quickly reach out to those who have been abused.

Helping victims to rebuild their lives, and increasing successful prosecutions, that is our mission.

When it comes to New York City’s future, few issues are more important than transportation, which affects every aspect of our lives.

Transportation is not an issue where we can afford to pit one borough against another, or city residents against suburbanites.

Transportation Planning today must involve all five boroughs and the entire metropolitan region. That’s why, In October, I convened 500 policymakers, activists and concerned citizens from across the city to examine our current crisis and brainstorm solutions.

Two months later, in December, Mayor Bloomberg outlined a series of proposals to accommodate the million-plus population growth we expect over the next twenty-five years.

He called for planning extensive repair of roadways and subways, and expanding the City’s transit system, all important work that must be carried out.

But we can’t stop there. We must dramatically decrease traffic on our streets as well.

Traffic congestion costs New York City more than five billion dollars a year, even without taking the incalculable health costs into account, traffic congestion also threatens life and limb.

Manhattan’s traffic-clogged intersections are increasingly dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists too often we are forced to weave among closely-packed, exhaust-spewing vehicles just to get across the street.

A study by my office over a nine-hour period counted more than 3,000 cars blocking the box at Manhattan’s 10 busiest intersections.

Guess how many received tickets? Not one.

This is an example where simply enforcing the law would make crossing the streets much safer.

This year I will work to see the City’s common sense law against blocking the box enforced, as it hasn’t been for years.
Cities around the world have shown us what a comprehensive transportation agenda can do.
London imposed congestion pricing on its economic center and added more bus service.

Traffic plummeted, mass transit use increased, and the city’s business district was reborn.

In Copenhagen, bus and bike lanes changed the way people get around.

Their streets became fluid in a way we have never seen here.

The one sin we must not commit is to take any idea off the table without rational discussion.

We need to have those discussions, and we need to have them now.

That’s why, with Federal funds available, we should seize the opportunity to study congestion pricing, because if we refuse to study the impacts, we will never know what they are.

This issue is too important to be held up by political expediency by elected officials’ time-honored fear of going out on a limb.

As Borough President, I aspire to nothing less than to help make Manhattan a model of successful urban life, open to everyone who wants to build their dreams here.

But no one can do this work alone, and aspirations mean nothing without rational policy, expert planning and the ability to achieve results.

So policy, planning and collaboration will remain my guideposts in office.

In the 1930s, photographer Berenice Abbott focused the attention of the entire world on New York City’s exploding architectural innovation, cutting edge urban design, and the 19th century city it was fast replacing.

Describing the frenetic pace of life here Abbott said, “The tempo of the metropolis is not of eternity, nor even time, but of the vanishing instant."

Those vanishing instants are the realm of every New Yorker the fleeting moments of life on our streets that fill us with wonder crystallize our pride and bind us to each other.

This job has given me the ability to amplify those moments to fully appreciate our common path to raise the profile of each Manhattan neighborhood and the voice of the entire borough in the debates that will determine our future.

I am grateful for that opportunity and proud to serve everyone with a stake in the future of this great borough.

Thank you.  


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