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Alicia Glen cristens a ferry (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

This is part two of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Jump to part one here.

Part one of this series focused on Glen's style and leadership broadly, as well as her legacy on housing, including the de Blasio administration's massive affordable housing plan, neighborhood rezonings, public housing, and more. This part deals with economic development, transit, and more.

‘Chunky and Funky,’ Utilizing City Space and Expanding the Transit Network
In spearheading economic development, the other half of her former title, Glen put her preference for “mixed-use” into practice, creating what she calls “chunky and funky” buildings.

“Maybe because I’m a little chunky and funky, I like to sort of think about the built environment in my own physique,” she joked. Unlike the traditional supertalls that have sprouted in Hudson Yards, for example, her approach involves different types of architecture to create new developments that can house offices, light manufacturing, retail and commercial space. In a very de Blasio lens, she’s also focused on utilizing publicly-owned land.

A prime example is Dock 72 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 675,000-square-foot building being developed by Boston Properties and Rudin Development. 

“I think that as we started to get much more serious about growing the five-borough economy, I really wanted to think about what that would look like being respectful of and being able to experiment with different kinds of building typologies and the way in which neighborhoods work,” she added.

The city had made mistakes with rezonings in the past and lacked any real sense of mixed-use zoning, she said, necessitating new thinking about density and design. “I think there was real openness and excitement at [the Department of] City Planning and at [the Economic Development Corporation] and other places to do that, particularly because there had been 12 years of a very particular kind of planning director and design, not saying good or bad but it was a good opportunity to step back and say, huh?”

And she employed her approach in areas around the Queens waterfront, at places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal, and the Bush Terminal (now known as Industry City) in Sunset Park. These projects have aimed to revive old and out-of-use public assets -- particularly three massive geographic areas in Brooklyn -- and work with private companies to create thousands of jobs by encouraging new manufacturing and commercial uses in hubs of economic activity. Then, look at building housing around the edges of those areas.

Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business group, had particular praise for the city’s investment in Brooklyn Navy Yard, which she called “arguably the best economic development project in the country.”

“At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you've got a whole advanced manufacturing industry cluster that didn't exist before that has an impact throughout the city, where companies from throughout the city are partnering with them, whether it's the forefront of 3D robotics, AI, the Internet of Things. That's all happening at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” Wylde said.

“That’s been our five-borough economy plan. You want to preserve these really great and unique spaces like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, like Brooklyn Army Terminal, like the Bush Terminal, like some of the other industrial parks but make sure that what’s going on there isn’t too limited so you can really ensure job intensification,” Glen said, also referencing projects in the Bronx and Queens. “So then again you don’t have a hub-and-spoke economy anymore. You want people to work and live in multiple mixed-use communities.”

Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect and former city planner under Mayor Bloomberg, said Glen’s “chunky and funky” building approach moved towards the diversification of office space and encouraged, especially in many of those projects in Brooklyn, the creation of what he calls “com-dustrial space that basically is a kind of a bridge-building between what's traditionally understood to be commercial space, and industrial or light manufacturing space.”

“And I think Alicia was very focused on that, because that's about diversification of the economy, it's about creating a broader range of jobs for the city of New York,” he said.

Other projects with similar goals include the Early-Stage Life Sciences funding initiative, a $150-million public-private partnership meant to launch a number of ventures by next year to spur growth of the life sciences industry in the city, and the 21-story Union Square Tech Training Center, where construction began earlier this month.

Dulchin of ANHD has a different take. “The problem with the Bloomberg administration’s approach to economic development was that it almost exclusively privileged creating high-paying professional level jobs and exacerbated the economic divide in the city. And the de Blasio approach has not been different enough,” he said. Advocates like Dulchin want more investment in promised but stalled job training programs that will benefit people from New York City who went through the city’s schools and perhaps public higher education, but need skills for middle-income jobs.

A crucial project, perhaps the most complicated that Glen negotiated, was the East Midtown rezoning, aimed at upgrading office stock in a crumbling 78-block section of Manhattan with ample opportunity and need for growth, particularly in terms of modern office space. It had failed under the Bloomberg administration but Glen got it over the finish line by finagling a deal that allows landmarked buildings to sell air rights, and mandates that developers make improvements to public transit and outdoor space.

“I witnessed up close her navigating the Midtown East rezoning through the political and urban planning, and economic environments,” said Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State Region for CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm and chair emeritus of the Real Estate Board of New York. “It had to serve a lot of different purposes. And sometimes, when you try to make real estate serve too many purposes, you end up with something that's a watered down version of what it should be. And in fact, I think she not only got a great outcome for the community, but I think she ended up doing something that is really important for the business community, and the commercial real estate owners of Midtown. She managed to make all our constituents come out ahead. How often do you see that happen?”

There are, of course, a number of both flashy and more muted projects that were achieved under Glen’s tenure. A conspicuous example is One Vanderbilt, a gleaming 73-story glass tower being constructed on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue and set to be completed next year, right near where projects born of the East Midtown rezoning will soon proliferate.

There are the two apartment buildings in the Pier 6 development in Brooklyn, which include affordable housing and provide revenue for Brooklyn Bridge Park. “So not only do we have affordable housing in the fanciest, nicest part of New York City, Brooklyn Bridge Park is financially sustainable now in perpetuity. How about that for a victory?,” Glen said.

There’s the far-less remarked upon Landing Road Residence in the Bronx, which marries affordable housing with shelter for homeless people in the same building, using federal subsidies that would normally go to hotel rooms to place homeless people. “How about that as an unbelievable legacy?,” Glen asks. “And that building is up and gorgeous. That’s the only one in the country that’s ever been done and we’re going to do more of them. I’ve been working on that for 10 years. I’ve been trying to figure out how to leverage homeless housing subsidies to cross-subsidize affordable housing and we did it. So what are the critics gonna say about that?”

She rattles off a number of other initiatives. Funding the Delacorte Theater and the Lasker Rink in Central Park. The Universal Hip Hop Museum and the Hunts Point Food Market in the Bronx. The Garment District rezoning in Manhattan.

“The Lower Concourse deal in the Bronx, that’s gonna be a real game-changer because a lot of the other stuff that’s happening along the Bronx waterfront is a lot of market rate stuff, guys speculating,” she said. “But I said wow, the Lower Concourse project is really an opportunity for us to put our stamp on what we think mixed-income, mixed-use looks like.”

“Let’s just say that the hip hop museum’s going to be really great, but it’s not exactly the most profitable use on the planet, but we made those choices,” she said. “This is about community and what it looks like and what neighborhoods look like and celebrating the diversity of neighborhoods.”

Taking Transit Chances
It was Glen who thought of launching the city’s new ferry service, which now connects a variety of stops on several routes around the city’s waterfront, from Rockaway in Queens all the way to Soundview in the Bronx. It’s been popular, and is, as de Blasio likes to say, largely a whole new system of moving groups of people, but it has its fair share of criticism.

Though the mayor has pitched it as a “mass transit” alternative, it has relatively low ridership numbers and, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, the subsidy for each rider fare is currently $10.73, and could be as much as $24.75 for a new route between Downtown Manhattan and Coney Island. There are also concerns that the system is a vehicle for economic development along waterfront communities – notably, it is run by the Economic Development Corporation rather than the Department of Transportation – that will be a government-funded boon for real estate developers friendly with de Blasio and Glen.

While there are questions about the choice to focus on a ferry network, the subsidies, and the beneficiaries, there is no doubt that the system is also a key part of the Glen legacy on the physical landscape of the city.

“The ferries are going to be among the most visible things that you're going to see from her legacy,” said Chakrabarti. “And I know, they're controversial because of the subsidy levels, but you know, that's an age-old debate. All mass transit requires some form of subsidy...In order to expand the playing field, you've really got to change the way transit works. So by standing up a ferry system, expanding the Citi Bike network, that gives you far broader opportunities in terms of where new affordable housing can go, and where new jobs can go.”

Weisbrod said, “I think that was a very bold move. We are a waterfront city...and launching a citywide ferry system is no mean feat. I hope it becomes part of our transportation network for now permanently.”

Criticisms notwithstanding, within the next two years, there will be new ferry stops added to the system by expanding to Throggs Neck in the Bronx, connecting St. George on Staten Island with the west side of Manhattan, and linking Coney Island with Wall Street.

Glen also advanced the idea of a new streetcar running along waterfront communities between Brooklyn and Queens. Though the proposed $2.7 billion Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), first announced by de Blasio in his 2016 State of the City speech, has only moved in fits and starts, she’s confident that the project will eventually be a reality, even if it is delayed past its original timeline and now requires federal funding under revamped city plans.

The streetcar is also under the auspices of EDC, which moved ahead with the environmental review process for the project in April. That review is a precursor to the longer land use review procedure, which will likely be a far more complicated battle. But if it moves ahead, the BQX will eventually be a major new feature in the city landscape, and, if successful, could lead to other streetcar routes around the city. If those are built based on Glen’s BQX plan, the city’s streetcar system would be traced to her legacy.

Along with worries about its cost, there are also questions that the streetcar is redundant, considering existing subway and bus lines that run along the proposed route, and that one method used to finance its construction – capturing a slice of increased property taxes in its immediate vicinity – is tied to speeding along gentrification and more of a boost to real estate owners and developers than the commuting public. Concerns have also been raised about the BQX being added in areas prone to flooding.

Another piece of the Glen-de Blasio approach to expanding the transit network, is more bike share. It was in her time at Goldman Sachs just prior to joining the de Blasio administration that Glen first put together the funding for the Citi Bike deal, which created the first bike-share program in the city. Citi Bike docking stations are already major new features of the city’s physical landscape in any neighborhoods, as are the blue bikes dotting city roadways and bridges on many days.

Glen saw it as more than just a transportation alternative; like the subsequent ferry and BQX plans, it was also meant to spur economic growth and create jobs. After its launch in 2013, the bike network has expanded to more than 12,000 bikes with 750 stations located across the city.

In July, the city announced a massive planned expansion of the system, making 40,000 bikes available by 2023. By next year, there will finally be stations installed in the Bronx, while an expansion is underway further into Brooklyn and Queens. This was just after the program faced intense criticism: a report commissioned by New York Communities for Change and conducted by McGill University’s School of Urban Planning found that it currently disproportionately serves richer, whiter neighborhoods while ignoring low-income communities of color and transit deserts.

Women and What’s Next
Another economic development initiative with a physical manifestation that Glen launched is, a mostly online resource center aimed at empowering women. Under its banner, Glen created She Built NYC, the campaign to install statues dedicated to women, especially important historical figures, and address the vast imbalance of those physical memorials across the city (of the 150 statues in public spaces across the city, only five are of women).

The first of those statues, of Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, will be erected in Prospect Park. Six others have also been announced – to be completed by 2022 – with the ultimate goal that 50% of all city statues represent women.

“The way you experience the world as a woman is very much informed by the built environment,” Glen said, recounting an anecdote about walking past a building with a construction sign that read, “Danger! Men Working Above.”

“And it took me a second to realize, why did I think that was so weird. I’ll tell you why that’s so weird. So what, women don’t know how to wash a f***ing window? Women can’t be dangerous and working above?” she said. “How do think that feels? How do you think that feels to be in the completely marginalized 51% of this city where almost every signal in the built environment is about men? So I’m having none of it.”

It’s why she believes the press has been tougher on her and other women. “I think you’re all incredibly biased about the way you cover women. I think women who are opinionated and powerful and trying to push something through are demonized,” she said. “And I think it’s a really holistic problem. That’s why I did, it’s why we have to have women, women, women, women, women, women everywhere. Not one and done.”

She even left her stamp on Hudson Yards, a project that began under the Bloomberg administration and she has criticized (“It's not my personal favorite place. It's not a 'neighborhood' as they are characterizing it.”). Glen helped rename the public park at the development in honor of Bella Abzug, the former U.S. Representative and leader of the women’s rights movement.

In her new role at the Trust for Governors Island, Glen intends to continue that work. “I would certainly think that our public art and our statuary on Governor’s Island will certainly have a women’s bent,” she said. And that’s where she thinks a gondola from lower Manhattan could go.

Glen has also said she’ll continue working on She Built NYC and in the months and years ahead, though some of that involvement may depend on what exactly she does next, after some time off (she hasn’t ruled out a run for mayor in the 2021 election, telling Gotham Gazette, "this town needs a woman mayor").

Glen said she wants to continue to be involved in the giant redevelopment envisioned at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, a project that she put into motion.

“People learned a lot of things from Battery Park City, learned something about the good and bad with the way that Roosevelt Island, Hudson Yards were done. To me, Sunnyside Yard is an opportunity to do large-scale planning with a mix of uses. It’s much more inclusive,” she said. In past interviews, she’s drawn a distinction with the more “male” architecture of Hudson Yards, something she’d avoid in Sunnyside. “Yeah, I’m not interested in having a lot of phallic symbols all around a statue that looks like a uterus,” she said, referring to the Vessel that sits at the center of the supertalls at Hudson Yards. “To me, that’s not really where I would go with this if I were running this town.”

Glen has few regrets about her time in the de Blasio administration. Though the vaunted Amazon deal fell through, and with it a massive Queens campus with 25,000 promised jobs and billions in expected revenue, she chalked it up to the tech firm’s mistakes rather than the administration’s. “I got it under my belt,” she said matter-of-factly of the deal.

The one failed land use deal that does continue to bother her is the site of the Long Island College Hospital, which is now on its way to becoming as-of-right market-rate luxury condos without affordable housing (at a site key to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign), which she blames on opposition from City Council Member Brad Lander, who represents the district. “I’m really mad about LICH, I think that was a huge lost opportunity. I’m really mad about some of the local politics,” she said, echoing a previous point she’s made that led to a testy exchange with Lander.

More broadly, Glen said she worries the city is headed in an anti-growth direction that could be harmful. “What’s keeping me up at night right now is this sort of swing to equating all development with this very negative connotation around gentrification,” she said. “What keeps me up at night is that a small majority of people could overly influence an agenda that starts to bake in anti-growth.”

This is part two of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Jump to part one here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City's Physical Landscape - Part II: 'Chunky and Funky' Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City’s Physical Space - Part I: 'We have completely changed the housing landscape' Alicia Glen

Alicia Glen (photo: Paige Polk/Mayor's Office)

This is part one of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Find part two -- on economic development, transit, and more -- here.

It’s the year 2026 in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of new units of rent-restricted apartments have been added to the city’s housing stock as the population continues to grow. Ferry boats cruise in the East River and on the Hudson. Gleaming office buildings rise in East Midtown. Downtown Far Rockaway is bustling. Construction of an entirely new neighborhood at Sunnyside Yard in Queens is well underway. Formerly decrepit industrial spaces along the Brooklyn waterfront house light manufacturing companies alongside co-working spaces, retail stores, and commercial businesses. A statue of Shirley Chisholm stands in Prospect Park. And perhaps, a gondola links the city’s financial center with the former military base on Governors Island.

This is the future Alicia Glen wants, the future for New York City -- where she was recently Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development -- that Glen designed. Rent-regulated apartments, ferry landings, modern midtown office space, a film production campus, monuments to female historical figures – they are all physical manifestations of the massive portfolio that Glen was given, crafted, and ran for nearly five-and-a-half years under Mayor Bill de Blasio before stepping down in March.

“I’m a built-environment person,” said Glen, in a recent hour-long interview at a coffee shop in Chelsea. “I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker and I’ve been working in the built environment and community development and real estate my whole life.”

A former Goldman Sachs executive, where she led the Urban Investment Group, who also worked in city government in the 1980s and ‘90s, Glen spearheaded the city’s affordable housing program, neighborhood rezonings, job-creation efforts, new ferry system, and planned light rail project; oversaw the city’s public housing authority and public parks department; and led the launch of an initiative to create monuments to prominent women; among a myriad of other duties.

The policies and projects that Glen initiated are already transforming the physical landscape of the city, and will continue to do so for generations to come, as is the case with each mayoral administration and the “built environment” legacy of its chief executive and top deputy for the elements of her portfolio.

As with the Bloomberg administration and other predecessors, many of Glen’s contributions will only be seen and gauged over time. The Bloomberg era saw almost 40% of the city rezoned, meaning new land use rules were adopted, often to spur more development, and brought sweeping changes to the city’s skyline. It gave the city the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, the latter two of which didn’t see a grand opening till well after Bloomberg was out of office.

A born-and-raised New Yorker and overtly optimistic if at times sharp-tongued booster for New York City, Glen prides herself on what she believes is a transformational record, to be fully revealed over decades, even if it comes with its share of critics and naysayers.

The housing plan may have the largest “affordable” units goal in city history, but critics say it doesn’t do nearly enough for those at lower incomes and people experiencing homelessness. The New York City Housing Authority’s operating budget may have been stabilized, but a deep backlog for maintenance and repairs remains, and a lead paint scandal erupted on her watch. The ferry system may be a new transit alternative for waterfront communities and millions of annual riders, but it’s heavily subsidized, serves a more affluent crowd than other “mass transit” options, and isn’t linked to the MTA fare system.

Glen was brought into the administration to translate de Blasio’s vision of equity into programmatic and built reality, blending her perspective as a builder and a real estate executive with the mayor’s socioeconomic mission, which she largely appears to share as a self-professed Upper West Side liberal. Much of the de Blasio-Glen model followed both of their prior work, leveraging the private market for public good; utilizing public space to broad economic benefit; taking a “balanced” approach to policy to keep developers in the game, businesses in the city, and the middle class in affordable homes.

To some critics, their pro-growth policies and strategic decisions -- from which neighborhoods they rezoned to launching the ferry program -- seemed to contradict the “tale of two cities” rhetoric that got de Blasio elected to office. Many on the left who were hopeful about de Blasio’s tenure use his appointment of Glen, and her Goldman Sachs background, as emblematic of a mayoralty far more moderate than envisioned and far too cozy with big real estate developers.

The de Blasio-Glen approach put into place a framework for long-term inclusive growth, some say, that eschews the grand, glitzy legacy projects for many inflection points toward a more fair and equitable city. “A lot of what I understood her to do was actually not necessarily something that would be superficially magnificent, but really was thought out right and it will have this lasting impact,” said Rachel Meltzer, chair of the urban policy program at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment at the New School. “Because it is about how you integrate some of this stuff so that it becomes part of how the city works and operates...In that regard, I would hope it would be long-lasting. I think that's a smart approach.”

Glen explained that she was given immense responsibility, and leeway, by de Blasio to advance her vision.

“You have to remember, I was handed over a third of the government in a day, OK? And also the mayor, and I think he’d be the first person to admit this, he is not a person who focuses on the built environment,” Glen said. “That has never been his interest. I mean, he’s always been pro-development and thoughtful about development and the built environment, but he would always say he is much more interested in policy, service issues, education, however you characterize all that...One of the reasons why he chose me, and…we were very simpatico, was because I’m a person who has a track record of actually building things and getting things done in the built environment.”

Affordable Housing, Development & Neighborhood Change
One of the most prominent aspects of Glen’s legacy is the massive de Blasio “affordable housing” program that she took the lead in designing and implementing. The plan originally aimed to create or preserve 200,000 units of rent-regulated housing by 2024. It has been retooled twice, first to target more low-income housing and later expanded to a goal of 300,000 units by 2026. (Glen’s successor as deputy mayor, Vicki Been, formerly the housing commissioner under Glen, is expected to announce another new iteration of the plan in the coming months.)

In January, the administration announced that had already put $5.05 billion directly into the housing plan, and another $8.12 billion in bond financing; money that helps subsidize and incentivize the building and preservation of rent-capped units, which are available to tenants with a wide variety of incomes depending on individual city deals with landlords and developers.

On July 30, the city announced that it financed 25,299 affordable housing units in the just-completed 2019 fiscal year, meeting the annual goal but a drop from the 32,244 affordable homes that were financed in the previous fiscal year. The city said, though, that a record amount of housing was financed for the most vulnerable residents – homeless people, seniors, and those who need supportive services – part of a developing response to ongoing criticism about the plan’s designs.

According to the latest numbers from the city, the de Blasio administration has over five-plus years so far funded 43,930 new “affordable” (meaning rent-regulated in some way, though thresholds vary widely) homes and preserved another existing 91,507 “affordable” units into longer-term regulation, for a total of 135,437. In comparison, the Bloomberg administration built and preserved 165,000 “affordable” units over his 12 years in office.

But to the lay New Yorker, the affordable housing program isn’t always conspicuous. “I think some of Alicia's most important legacies may be somewhat invisible,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, associate professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP, founder of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, and a former city planner under Bloomberg. “Housing preservation...that's a policy issue where you don't really see the physical legacy as much as her extension of the Citi Bike network. A lot of these things, I think, are issues that are going to be hard to see even though I think it's a very impactful legacy.”

Glen said she came into her job aiming to avoid “endless analysis paralysis” and to obtain actionable results. “I was very clear that I wanted to have really concrete measurable impacts so that New Yorkers today and New Yorkers of the future can be like, ‘yeah, we’ve changed the blueprint of New York City,’ and that’s what I set out to do and I would argue we did it,” she said in discussing the affordable housing program.

The first major step in achieving that goal was wonky and technical, but essential -- the passage of two amendments to the city’s land use laws: Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA). Under MIH, the new regulations mandated that developers seeking to build taller, denser buildings than existing zoning allows -- thus in need of city approval to do so -- would have to include a certain percentage of units at specified caps on the rent. Importantly, this would also apply to rezoned neighborhoods, where the city changes land use rules for a larger geographic area than when, in most cases, a developer seeks a zoning change for a specific plot of land.

ZQA updated zoning and building design standards to encourage the creation of affordable senior housing and mixed-income housing, and to promote the growth of commercial and retail space.

The zoning changes allowed the city, under Glen’s leadership, to pursue rezonings in several neighborhoods targeted for greater housing density, as well as new retail space, park land, school seats, and other varied built-environment additions. The first of those was approved in East New York in April 2016, followed later by rezonings in Downtown Far Rockaway and East Harlem in 2017, and then the Jerome Avenue Corridor in the Bronx and part of Inwood in 2018.

Each of the rezonings will have significant long-term influence over what the neighborhoods involved look like, the make-up, functionality, and benefits of specific communities across the city. But while each also clearly offers certain community upgrades and potential for more, they also come with questions around enticing or accelerating gentrification, and whether communities of color are mainly those expected to welcome increased density as the city grows.

The East New York rezoning covered three main corridors: Atlantic Avenue, with a stretch of semi-industrial businesses but few residences; Fulton Street, a shopping corridor with two- to four-story buildings with stores and housing; and Pitkin Avenue, which contains two- to four- story residential buildings. Low-scale row-houses, semi-detached homes and small apartment buildings line the side streets. Under the rezoning, the character of those side streets will be preserved, while allowing mixed-use growth along the main corridors, including rent-restricted and mixed-income housing, moderate density industrial growth, and new retail and commercial space. That will mean taller buildings with new retail or community facilities on the ground floor: 6-8 story buildings on Liberty Avenue and Fulton Street; 8-10 story buildings on Pitkin; and 12-14 story buildings on Atlantic Avenue. And new residential development where earlier only manufacturing facilities could be located.

In East Harlem, the rezoning was meant to stave off market-rate development that threatened to accelerate displacement of existing residents already happening in the gentrifying neighborhood. The final plan established limits on building heights and density (owing to the City Council) while expanding residential development and promoting new commercial and industrial space.

On the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, a slew of development is expected to take place, most of which will be mandated to include affordable housing. There’s the 14-story building at 1331 Jerome Avenue, with 255 units, including supportive housing. There’s the 17-story mixed-use building at Jerome Court, with 63,000 square feet of residential space, 52,000 square feet of community facility space, and 7,500 square feet of commercial space.

Similarly, in Downtown Far Rockaway, the city is financing several projects that will lead to mixed-income and affordable housing, while also creating new commercial and public spaces. At 1414 Central Avenue, construction has begun on 140 new units of affordable housing, 2,500 square feet of commercial space, and a new building to house the Community Church of the Nazarene. The city has also engaged the nonprofit developer Phipps Houses to redevelop Far Rockaway Village, to replace a shopping center with 450 units of affordable housing, 92,000 square feet of commercial space, and 23,000 square feet of public space. Another developer, The Community Builders, will create 224 units of affordable housing on a city-owned site, as well as 24,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 8,000 square feet of community space.

“I think it's something that's really not only the envy of other cities in the United States, but other places around the world, which are all struggling with the issue of affordable housing,” said Carl Weisbrod, the former head of the Department of City Planning and currently senior advisor at HR&A Advisors, of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. “Most successful cities are struggling with that issue,” said Weisbrod, who worked closely with Glen on many issues and projects, including the passage of MIH.

“I think that the housing program is just so large and central to the city's future, that that will be the centerpiece and a lot of these other accomplishments will help support that legacy,” Weisbrod added.

While each of those rezonings was focused on creating and preserving thousands of units of new affordable housing, they also came with a spate of prominent community, economic development, and infrastructure investments. In East New York, the city has already broken ground on a new 1,000-seat school, begun work on park expansions and new playground sites, and landmarked the Empire State Dairy Building.

In Downtown Far Rockaway, a new two-story 18,000-square-foot library is being built. The Jerome Avenue corridor will have two new elementary schools serving over 1,000 children, and new parks and playgrounds as well. Inwood will receive a library with a new universal pre-kindergarten facility, a youth STEM education center, a cultural and job training center, and two new waterfront parks.

The housing plan and the rezonings undertaken to help achieve it have earned de Blasio and Glen a significant amount of both praise and criticism.

Most of the criticism has come from the left, saying that the self-described progressive mayor has not really had a truly progressive approach to housing development. While some favor the new rules that make it obligatory for developers to build affordable housing, others say that rezonings have exacerbated gentrification and displacement in low-income communities of color and that the housing program does not sufficiently address the lowest-income New Yorkers, including many of the existing residents of the rezoned areas.

While some want to see more housing density in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, others believe de Blasio and Glen have been too pro-development in general.

“I think the ramifications of Alicia Glen's impact on the city are going to be felt for decades to come, in a very similar way that, you know, how Robert Moses reshaped the city of New York and not in a good way,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change. “Her policies to rezone low-income neighborhoods in New York City to allow developers to build luxury condo towers and unaffordable apartments for everyday New Yorkers is going to have lasting, lasting impact of displacing people of color and communities of color across the city, and I think it's going to actually further segregation across the entire region.”

Glen has faced the Moses comparison before, though she somewhat embraces it. “Well I’ve always said, that’s a complicated topic,” she said. “Someone once joked to me, ‘What do you think you’re Roberta Moses?’ Well sure If I can be a better, kinder, gentler, more inclusive, feminist city builder, yeah I’ll take that. Put that on a t-shirt. That’s fine.”

Westin said the focus on community rezonings effectively threw gasoline on the city’s gentrification crisis. He insisted the administration should have instead worked to sculpt smaller rezonings to maximize affordability and to ensure that housing goes to the families living in those neighborhoods. The result of the current approach? “Communities will definitely get richer and whiter, but entire communities will be displaced. East New York will not be East New York in ten years. A lot of those families will be gone. I think the same is true of Harlem and the same is true of the Bronx,” he said.

“You know what, in ten years, when you go to those neighborhoods, in the old days, sure you’d see development there but you wouldn’t see any sort of comprehensive neighborhood infrastructure being done because that wasn’t the way the city was doing business,” Glen said of such criticism. “So yeah, I feel pretty good about the fact that when I walk down the street, I see a lot of new buildings going up. There’s affordable housing in those buildings. That didn’t use to be the case. That’s not visible to the human eye but I know what I did and the brutal battles that we took on to get MIH, to get 421-a done. I didn’t sleep for six months. I mean, totally worth it.”

“We have completely changed the housing landscape in New York City in the most radical way,” she said of changes to the zoning code, “which is what’s allowing all the radicals to say it’s not good enough. So that’s great.”

Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, is more ambivalent, noting that the effects of the rezonings may not be known for years. MIH, he said, created “the strongest-in-the-nation floor for what the private sector’s obligation is to affordable housing when the city upzones. And so that was really an important step that she played a key role in.”

But he noted the concerns about the neighborhoods the administration chose, where displacement pressures already exist. “The way that they have focused on rezoning as a way of harnessing market forces may do more harm than good,” he said, cautiously.

Glen is not defensive, but rather defiant and self-assured in the face of critics. “We broke every record since records have been kept, and there are hundreds of amazing projects that are now fully occupied or out of the ground,” she said.

She continued: “I think that the vast majority of people, the real issue is, even with everything we’ve done, it’s not enough. Right? And that’s a true statement, sure. But what’s the alternative? To do nothing? To not try to make a big dent? So that’s why, yeah sure, we need more affordable housing. OK. I challenge anybody to tell me how you can do more and leverage resources and do anything at scale that we haven’t been able to do. I challenge anybody.”

She conceded that it’s a “fair position to take, that everything should be for the lowest income people, every dollar should be putting into serving the lowest,” but she disagrees with the notion.

“It’s everything we fought against. Everything we learned about the mistakes of the ‘60s and ‘70s where people were really stigmatized and very low-income people were crowded together,” she continued. “Most social scientists and urban economists and urban thinkers would agree that real mixed-income buildings and neighborhoods are much healthier ecosystems. The buildings themselves are healthier and certainly neighborhoods are healthier. So I’ve never believed...that the city’s sole role in development and housing is to serve only the lowest income. I just disagree with that philosophically, as does the mayor.”

“I think her primary legacy is really accelerating the process of gentrification and overdevelopment in New York, running roughshod over the wishes of local communities, and helping to turn City Hall into a pay-for-play revolving door for lobbyists and real estate interests,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, in a phone interview.

Berman has particular contempt for the administration’s record on historic preservation. “This has been one of the most preservation-unfriendly administrations in New York City in a very, very long time,” he said. “The only time the administration seems to show any interest in landmarks is when they can come up with a way for them to sell air-rights in order to increase the size of development in surrounding areas, sometimes at the expense of other landmarks.”

For preservationists like Berman, Glen had a rebuttal ready. “We landmarked more buildings in five years than the entire Bloomberg administration did in 12 years. So I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” she said. While Glen's point about a better record on landmarking than Bloomberg was correct, her timeframe was not. In de Blasio's first term, the city landmarked more buildings and sites than any other mayor in their first term other than Ed Koch. And in an apples-to-apples comparison with Bloomberg's administration, at this point in de Blasio's tenure, his administration has landmarked about 4,988 buildings and sites, 45% more than the 2,248 that Bloomberg did in the same time, according to a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

“I’m not worried about being unpopular,” Glen said at one point in the interview, “because it’s not junior high school and I’m not running for prom queen. Everything I’ve ever done has been about doing something that’s good for New York. That’s been my only agenda, what other agenda could I have had. Why would I have given up all these other jobs?”

When it comes to the complicated issue of public housing, Glen’s legacy is far more shrouded. She inherited problems at the authority -- which she is quick to remind is under federal and state auspices, as well as city control -- that had been decades in the making but seemed to reach their zenith under the de Blasio administration. While she is not as readily associated with NYCHA, perhaps because it is an authority rather than a city agency, than her signature plans and projects, Glen acknowledges NYCHA was under her purview, wants credit for some of what has gone right there over the last five-plus years, and knows the crises are immense.

NYCHA faced a nearly $17 billion capital need in 2011, but that quickly grew to about $32 billion last year. Through various tools, including by turning over developments to private management, the administration has a plan to cover about $24 billion of that need, but it was only launched in December 2018, an updated version of a 2015 NYCHA plan Glen helped design.

Despite their putting more emphasis on and resources into NYCHA than their predecessors, conditions for the authority’s residents continued to be plagued. Major problems and scandals with basic building maintenance, crumbling roofs, lead paint, elevator breakdowns, heat and hot water outages, and more have made NYCHA a blight on the de Blasio-Glen record, even if those problems have been decades in the making and federal and state aid have been extremely limited.

Glen is hopeful that key elements of the NYCHA 2.0 plan, including new private housing development on underutilized NYCHA land that will provide revenue for the authority, will bear fruit.

This is part one of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" in New York City. Read part two -- dealing with economic development, transit, and more -- here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Glen's comments on the de Blasio administration's preservation record compared to the Bloomberg administration were not entirely accurate. Additional context has also been provided.  

Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City’s Physical Space - Part I: 'We have completely changed the housing landscape' Wed, 14 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
‘This Town Needs a Woman Mayor’: Alicia Glen Isn’t Ruling Out a 2021 Run depmaypant sho ho bug

former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

While she insists she has no intention to run at this time, former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen is not ruling out a campaign to become New York City’s next mayor, and says the city needs a woman in charge after her former boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, is term-limited out of office at the end of 2021.

“Right now I have no plans to run for mayor because I think that the constant speculation about who’s running for mayor sort of distracts from what the real issue is,” she said during a recent interview with Gotham Gazette. “And what the real issue is, is what kind of mayor do we need going into the next decade? And, in my mind, I think this town needs a woman mayor. I think this town needs somebody who actually has experience and a track record of running things.”

With the all-important Democratic primary for New York City mayor just under two years away, in June 2021, the four declared and likely Democratic candidates, all men, have begun earnestly raising funds and pitching potential allies for what is expected to be a highly competitive race. Each of the four -- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Comptroller Scott Stringer -- has significant political experience, a base of support, and an early, distinct pitch of their vision for leading the city.

While one essential question of the last open race for mayor, in 2013, was whether the city would elect its first female mayor, in then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who lost to de Blasio in the Democratic primary, one ongoing question about the 2021 race is whether any female candidate will enter the race. (Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis challenged de Blasio in the 2017 general election and lost by a wide margin, indicative of Republican chances in today’s New York City.)

Given her fairly high-profile status as deputy mayor for housing and economic development for de Blasio’s first five-plus years as mayor, Glen’s name has been bandied about as a potentially strong contender should she jump into the mayoral race, though she would clearly face an uphill climb given the likely field, and her lack of an electoral base or popular name recognition. And while she would face criticism over various housing-related crises the de Blasio administration has faced, she would be able to boast a series of tangible accomplishments at the highest level of city government.

A controversial figure given the affordable housing program she designed, her work to broker the ill-fated Queens Amazon campus deal, and the state of the city’s public housing, Glen would likely face opposition from a growing progressive movement across the city. But some say Glen would present a clear and viable alternative to the other candidates and that her time as deputy mayor makes her perhaps most qualified to be New York City’s chief executive. Glen has been in and around city government for decades.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top housing and economic development official for nearly five-and-a-half years, and as a former Goldman Sachs executive, Glen has managerial experience and concrete accomplishments that would make for a robust mayoral resume. She’s helmed the mayor’s housing program, which is on schedule to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing over 12 years (2014-2026); she spearheaded large economic development projects, like those at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that are expected to directly and indirectly create tens of thousands of jobs; she helped turn around the operating finances of the New York City Housing Authority; and she oversaw the expansion of the Citi Bike program and the launch of the new ferry system.

But with each item on her resume comes an asterisk, especially in a Democratic primary. Housing advocates say the mayor’s plan doesn’t target enough housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers and marginalizes the homeless; the ferry system is massively subsidized and isn’t linked to the current MTA fare system for buses and subways. The biggest blot is the public housing system, home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers and scandal after scandal. As residents continue to live in squalid and dangerous conditions, a federal monitor is now in place. And while de Blasio and Glen have accurately pointed to a lack of adequate federal and state support for NYCHA, with crises dating back into past administrations, the turnaround job they promised is far from complete.

Those who have worked with Glen believe that she has the chops to be mayor. Vishaan Chakrabarti, associate professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP and founder of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, said he would vote for her. “I think that position [of deputy mayor] definitely qualifies one to run for mayor,” said Chakrabarti, formerly a city planner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

“I'm hoping we get to a place where we can reconcile the...very progressive agenda that...many people want to see with the ability to really get things done on the ground, where it's not just rhetoric, right? It's actually being able to deal with the controversy of bringing change,” he added, insisting that Glen has the “toughness” for the job of mayor. 

Glen is no stranger to controversy and she has never shied away from tough decisions. And she sees the job of mayor as more than a political position. “[I]t’s also a job that requires you to be able, in a very complex economy, in a very complex jurisdictional construct between state, regional, national politics, in a city which is still, I would argue, the global capital of commerce, culture and hopefully innovation -- that requires I think some skills that are not necessarily the skills that people who are always in the political class appreciate as much,” she said, insisting that she was not referring to any of the current candidates in the race. 

Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State Region for CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm and chair emeritus of the Real Estate Board of New York, said Glen “would make a great mayor.” 

“It would be thrilling to have a mayor who would place all her energy in the job and who knows how to manage,” she said. “You know, at the end of the day, a mayor’s job is that of a manager. It's not setting national policy, if you know what I mean. It's sticking up and getting the garbage picked up. It's making the life of the city fair and safe. I think Alicia would do thrilling things that would really benefit New York City if she were to be elected.”

One of the challenges for Glen may be her close association with de Blasio in a race where most of the candidate will be running as a break from him. Organizations like the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, ascendant in recent state and city elections, would also be heavily opposed to Glen, given her ties to real estate and business.

Some Democratic consultants believe Glen’s chances of victory would be slim. “She has no constituency to count on. She is not well known in the city,” said George Arzt, a veteran of citywide races. “That said, there is also no woman in the race.”

There are relatively few women in elected office in New York City: none of the current citywide officials are women and while two of the five borough presidents are women, neither Manhattan’s Gale Brewer nor Queens’ Melinda Katz, who may be on the verge of becoming district attorney, is likely to run for mayor in the next election. Just 12 of the 51 members of the City Council are women. Quinn has been the subject of speculation with regard to the upcoming mayoral race, but few if any other names of women have been mentioned in the early chatter.

“I think I wouldn’t rule it out because of the fact that New York City doesn’t have, right now, a lot of women candidates,” Glen said just after leaving City Hall, appearing in March on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast, adding, “There are an unbelievable number of young women out there who blow my mind every single day, but there’s still a dearth of women who have executive experience, have run complex organizations, who’ve had multiple experiences, both in politics and the private sector, and in the nonprofit sector. You know, it’s something I would obviously think about at the right time.”

Arzt said Glen is behind. “If she started earlier, she could have been getting some publicity,” he said. “Starting this late and going into it next year, I don't think she has the momentum going forward or the fundraising that the others do…She is way behind.” Arzt also noted that, even if she chose to run, even real estate interests and business groups would be unlikely to rally behind her. Rather, they’ll back the candidate most likely to win, he said. “I would view her potential candidacy as a real long shot,” he said. 

Another consultant who wished to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely said Glen doesn’t have the progressive track record necessary to be successful in the upcoming Democratic primary. The consultant cited Glen’s past as a Goldman Sachs executive, her lack of focus on NYCHA, and the city’s unaffordability despite the much-touted affordable housing program.

“I think she would be an interesting foil for the rest of the candidates, especially Stringer, who is focused on running as a progressive, because I think she would turn off folks like DSA,” the consultant said. “I'm not totally sure where she would actually get her votes from because it seems like Eric Adams is focused on Brooklyn, Ruben Diaz Jr. has the Bronx. Corey and Scott are sort of fighting over Manhattan. But Alicia seems like she would also be working on Manhattan...So I’m not totally sure where her base would be that wasn’t overlapping with multiple other people.”

Glen has hardly the level of name recognition as the others. Diaz Jr. and Adams are popular in their boroughs, each having won multiple borough-wide elections as well as legislative ones before those. Johnson is increasingly seen as stepping in for an absentee mayor as de Blasio runs for president. Stringer is ubiquitous at events around the city and the only one of the four already elected citywide (twice). “The everyday person does not know what a deputy mayor is,” the consultant said. “Alicia Glen is not a known name outside of the political chattering class.”

For her part, Glen says she will continue to work towards the city’s future, whether she’s in government or outside of it. She’s currently the new chair of the Trust for Governors Island, but it’s unclear what other moves may be on the horizon, near- or long-term.

“At the end of the day, New York City is a really, really, really complex organism and I do believe strongly that we need to have a mayor and a team of people who can appreciate that and sort of understand you have to get stuff done,” Glen said during the recent sitdown with Gotham Gazette. “And that doesn’t mean there aren’t really important policy arguments going on, and policy informs implementation but you have to be able to play in a much more nuanced, complex world.”

“[T]he economy is not necessarily going to stay as strong as it has been,” she warned, “just as you look at historical cycles and that’s going to require people who understand how to leverage resources really well, assemble great teams, manage the balance sheet and those are hard skills. I don’t think you need Michael Bloomberg to come back. What he may have known about running a big company he may have lacked in understanding some of the other great things that our mayor has to do. But I do think I want to be part of the ongoing success story of New York and however that plays out, I’ll be there.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

‘This Town Needs a Woman Mayor’: Alicia Glen Isn’t Ruling Out a 2021 Run Mon, 05 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Alicia Glen on Her Legacy as Deputy Mayor and the Future of New York City alicia glen deputy

Alicia Glen (photo: Paige Polk/Mayoral Photography Office)

After more than five years as New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Alicia Glen recently left City Hall, having spearheaded a major affordable housing plan, efforts to diversify the city economy, and other aspects of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda, which she helped shape.

Glen oversaw the city’s troubled public housing authority, the implementation of a new ferry system, investments into public land to spur business development and the rezoning of East Midtown, and more. In a recent lengthy and wide-ranging interview, she reflected on her work as deputy mayor, the state of the city as she leaves its government, some of the unfinished work she started, and the fact that for an official with her portfolio, much of the legacy will not come to fruition for years.

Appearing on the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast from Citizens Budget Commission and Gotham Gazette, Glen also gave her take on the recently-opened Hudson Yards, what should be done with Rikers Island when the jails there are closed, the fallout from the undoing of the deal to bring Amazon to Queens, whether she might ever run for elected office herself, and more. Glen said that she came to the position with a different background from some of her predecessors in prior administrations, which fit the goals de Blasio had laid out as a candidate, to use the tools of government to fight inequality.

“I had come from a background of having really spent time on all sides of the issues,” Glen said. “I had been a legal services lawyer, I had worked in city government before, I had run an urban development platform that was focused on public-private partnerships, and I was really truly truly like a born and bred New Yorker who had grown up in a sort of lefty upper west side household and that was a major change.”

“I came in after three men who had come from Wall Street, as had I, but had come from sort of a different perspective,” she continued, “all terrific people in their own way, but I certainly felt a pressure of being a woman in this job with a difference in political perspective.”

“I am a woman and I think you do think about the world differently and how you structure deals. And clearly, I was a person in the administration who had come from more of a financial and pro-business background, but not to be conflated with somebody who had never actually been in the trenches working with all these issues, which I had been working on my whole life,” she said, explaining her perspective as she came into the job in 2014.

When asked about her mission coming into office, she said, “I think most people felt really positive about the city. I get it, people look and these big metrics and crime was down, tax collection was up. Things were generally good by those broad metrics. By the same token, it was clear that both the mayor’s election itself was a bit of a referendum on how some people were left out of the recovery, if you will, from both 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008.”

“We clearly were elected as change agents with a mandate,” she said.

[LISTEN: Alicia Glen on What's The [Data] Point?]

Until de Blasio named Vicki Been, a former city housing commissioner in his administration, as Glen’s successor, Glen was the only deputy mayor for housing and economic development in this mayor’s tenure. She helped design, redesign, and push ahead the administration's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which has coincided with changes to the city’s land use rules to help spur affordable housing and the upzonings of several neighborhoods. The plan has been criticized by some on the left as too broad, not targered enough on the lowest-income New Yorkers and those experiencing homelessness, with too many subsidized units for individuals of moderate and middle incomes.

“Many many folks, many communities felt not included in that good part of the story and [Mayor Bill de Blasio] came in on a platform of ways we can address those issues, and so for me, obviously, thinking about how we could make a real dent and shift into a more proactive stance both on inclusive economic development for job growth and a more five borough economy and thinking about what that meant in the 21st century and then obviously his signature initiative of trying to do something in housing that was much bigger than been done, even in prior administrations,” Glen said.

Now out of government, Glen was asked if the affordable housing mix was the right one. Unsurprisingly, she said yes, arguing it is important that New York not become a “barbell city” with only wealthy and poor people. She touted the administration’s work on the “messy middle,” helping to provide moderate- and middle-income people with subsidized housing.

“There’s a natural inclination for people to say we should put every single dime and all the resources we have into serving our most vulnerable people,” she said. “But what kind of city are we going to be if literally people who make eighty to ninety thousand dollars a year cannot live here and are forced to commute two hours out of town.”

The de Blasio administration has been criticized for exclusively upzoning lower-income neighborhoods, communities of color, to both create more housing density and invest in local areas. Developers are thus allowed to build bigger, but have more affordable housing requirements in the mix.

“I continue to think the mayor’s position and our position was that you have to link density to more equitable growth and you have to buy into the notion of growth,” Glen said.

“We are now building a significant number of permanently affordable units across the city, both in private projects and neighborhood-wide rezoning. And that’s going to take a while to bake into the zeitgeist and for communities to realize that we meant it and that we have permanently changed the blueprint for how you do increased residential growth across the city,” she said.

“These are fights. Every single inch you have to fight, and you have to take. It takes political leadership and courage,” Glen continued. “There are several deals where I really wish the [City] Council had shown a little bit more guts around these issues and I really hope going forward people understand the tradeoff of some increase in density in order to assure we are proportionally building permanent affordable housing in New York City in the right deal for New Yorkers. I wish I could have done more of that.”

Asked which neighborhoods she would upzone if she could snap her fingers and do it -- a laughable concept given how notoriously contentious New York City land use decisions can be -- Glen returned to the list of neighborhood rezonings that the administration said it wanted to at least explore a few years ago, citing Flushing and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx as places she’d still like to see rezonings move ahead. The city has moved ahead on fewer than expected, though several major rezonings have happened, in places like East New York and East Harlem, with others on the docket for this year and beyond.

The city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, has had a tumultuous past few years, from charges of mismanagement to illegality, with questions about mold and lead paint remediation, and forged documents, plus ongoing sagas around buildings that are falling apart. Recently, NYCHA and the city entered into an agreement with federal authorities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which includes a federal monitor of NYCHA.

Asked about her role on NYCHA and whether she saw it from the beginning as a key part of her portfolio, Glen said absolutely. “[I]t was 100% under me,” she said, while acknowledging it is a complicated situation given it is an authority, not a city agency. “I worked very closely with the chair of the housing authority and the staff there and we did make a lot of progress.”

“It is something we have to own in many ways, not literally because it’s a federal authority, but we have to own it in terms of what we see the future of New York City to be and the incredible resource that the housing authority can and should continue to be for low-income New Yorkers,” Glen said. “It is an enormously complex issue and, as I said, this is something, it took 80 years to get to where we were. If it takes four years to figure out how to have a housing authority in the 21st century given federal policy, that doesn’t feel good if you are the person living in the housing authority and your conditions are terrible and I would ever want to suggest that that isn’t a real issue, but systemically, it’s a very complicated issue.”

Glen expressed excitement about the “NYCHA 2.0” plan the administration announced at the end of last year, which includes a more aggressive program to build new housing on underused NYCHA land, housing that will be a mix of market-rate and affordable housing and the proceeds from the leases to developers will go into NYCHA repairs.

On economic development, Glen also highlighted investments that she believes will pay off long-term for the city, including development of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal, key city assets that the city is now more fully utilizing to help spur job creation.

She also cited the rezoning of East Midtown to foster modernization and growth of the key office and retail hub. Glen worked with City Council Member Daniel Garodnick to pass a complicated rezoning of the area that had faltered, she noted, during the end of the Bloomberg administration.

Glen’s economic development legacy will also include her role in helping strike the deal, later undone, to bring an Amazon headquarters to New York City.

“I think Amazon underestimated what it would and should take to establish a major presence in New York City,” she said. “I think they misunderstood how much that needed to be front and center as they continued to engage.”

“At the end of the day, they may not be as sophisticated as they should be and it’s too bad because ultimately having up to 40,000 jobs would have been a very good thing for New York City,” Glen said.

But what does the undoing of the Amazon deal mean for New York City in terms of attracting companies? Not much, Glen said. While she acknowledged an anti-corporate energy as evidenced by the public backlash against the Amazon deal, she said, “what I worry about and what I’d say to all the advocates and folks who have been against Amazon is if you create an atmosphere that companies do want to participate in a smarter, more collaborative engagement process around workforce development and public benefits, if you send a message that folks are not welcome in those areas, all you’re going to do is send them back to Manhattan. Is that really what you wanted?”

However, she doesn’t see the failed Amazon deal disincentivizing other businesses from expanding into New York offices. “The fundamental reasons why Amazon wanted to be here are still here,” Glen said. “We still have the most extraordinarily diverse, educated talent pool and we have the coolest city.” She cited Google’s recent expansion in the city, which she said she helped negotiate over the course of years.

In terms of future projects, Glen still thinks the planned Brooklyn Queens Connector, or BQX, will happen, just that it won’t “happen on the original timeframe.” She also wants the city to look further into an aerial gondola to connect lower Manhattan and Governors Island. Glen wants a new soccer stadium in New York so New York FC doesn’t have to play in Yankee Stadium. She called development of Sunnyside Yard, “it’s the future,” explaining that “if you’re pro-growth, Sunnyside Yard is going to be the next great community.” Glen said it would be a “more scaled and a more inclusive version of Hudson Yards,” with a great “open space ratio” and the “best of the planning principles that the de Blasio administration embraces: true mixed use, but not scared of density.”

Asked about the newly-opened Hudson Yards development of office, retail, and residential space on the far west side of Manhattan, Glen said, “It's not my personal favorite place. It's not a 'neighborhood' as they are characterizing it.” But, she also called it an “extraordinarily important piece of the broader New York City economic puzzle” because of the new office space coming online. “Architecturally and design-wise,” however, “it seems very male to me,” she said. The investments made have “proven to be true” and provide an important revenue stream.

On the future of Rikers Island, where the jails are targeted for closure over the next several years, Glen said the administration had looked at it closely, including for housing development, but few things make “economic sense” for the island given “its in the flight path, it’s very hard to get to.”

“I think that Rikers Island could be and should be a place where there are a lot of really important city services that can be relocated there, so that we can free up some of the other spaces that could be more highly utilized for housing, for schools, for job creation,” she said. She also said there could be “an interesting deal to be made possibly with the Port [Authority], to sell it to them to do the next [LaGuardia Airport] runway.” She indicated she has several ideas for land swaps with the Port Authority.

As for her own future, Glen said she doesn’t know what the next thing will be yet, though she will continue to be involved as chair in one of her recently-launched initiatives,, a multi-service platform for women, with a variety of resources, because, she said, “New York City really has the opportunity to be the place where women can succeed -- and to say that as such, to brand ourselves as such.”

Asked if she would ever run for elected office, Glen indicated it might be on the table. “Right now, I’m still recovering and trying to go to yoga a few times a week,” she said, but added: “I think I wouldn’t rule it out because the fact that New York City doesn’t have, right now, a lot of women candidates. There are an unbelievable number of young women out there who blow my mind every single day, but there’s still a dearth of women who have executive experience, have run complex organizations, who’ve had multiple experiences, both in politics and the private sector, and in the nonprofit sector. You know, it’s something I would obviously think about at the right time.”

[LISTEN: Alicia Glen on What's The [Data] Point?]

by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Alicia Glen on Her Legacy as Deputy Mayor and the Future of New York City Tue, 09 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 69 -- 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Alicia Glen was Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development under Mayor Bill de Blasio for more than five years, until she recently left the administration after being the chief architect of its signature affordable housing plan, a broad variety of economic development initiatives, and more. Glen joined the podcast (for the second time) for an "exit interview" on her legacy as deputy mayor, key issues facing the city and where the city is headed, the city's overall economic competitiveness, the Amazon deal that was undone, NYCHA, whether she would ever run for elected office herself, and other topics.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen Tue, 26 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Experts Analyze Mayor De Blasio's Jobs Plan 32122764952 40cb06af67 z

Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

An expert panel convened at The New School on Wednesday by the Center for An Urban Future delved into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs in the next ten years, discussing the challenges of growing the city’s economy while ensuring that New Yorkers are its beneficiaries.

The mayor’s “New York Works” plan, unveiled in June, envisions targeted city investments in booming or burgeoning industries such as cybersecurity, life sciences, virtual reality, tech, culture, freight, and manufacturing to create 10,000 jobs each year that pay at least $50,000 a year, promoting the middle class and reducing income inequality in the city. Some have questioned the less-than-ambitious goal -- the city has created on average about 90,000 jobs each year in the last decade -- while others have raised concerns that the new jobs may not be sufficiently well-paying in a city that is increasingly unaffordable for many. The panel of experts explored those issues, and the related economic factors that they agreed were necessary to facilitate and maximize the impact of the job creation plan.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen kicked off the event with the administration’s pitch for its ten-year plan. She pointed to the city’s record-high employment rates and job growth -- employment is at 4.4 million jobs, unemployment is at 4 percent this year and the private sector has grown overall by 9 percent under this administration -- and laid out the strategies for creating quality jobs through city actions. Notably, the 100,000 target only accounts for jobs created directly through city intervention, and doesn't include employment that may be created as a secondary result.

“It’s really important to remember there’s a short game here and a long game and we have to play both of them,” she said, touting the administration’s first-term achievements as contributors to a stronger economy including universal pre-kindergarten, improvements in educational achievement, record-low crimes and the building of affordable housing, among other factors.

But she recognized that industry trends such as automation and globalisation are increasingly impacting the middle class and that the city would have to actively intervene to stem job losses and promote growth in specific sectors “where specific government intervention in either space or talent or certain kinds of incentive structures, we believe, are actually necessary for them to reach their true potential. So this is on top of any organic growth that would happen without our interventions.”

She also noted that the administration has leveraged its land use and regulatory powers to encourage economic development. Referring to comprehensive land use changes passed in East Midtown, Far Rockaway and East New York, she said, “All of these neighborhood rezoning plans are not just about housing, it’s also about creating opportunity for smart job growth and many of those will have very interesting overlaps with this plan.”

After Glen spoke, she quickly departed and a five-member panel comprising real estate insiders and urban policy experts, and one City Council member, took the stage.

Panel moderator Winston Fisher, a partner at real estate firm Fisher Brothers and co-chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council, posed the central question. “If the economy is doing so we need a strategy for good jobs?” he asked. “Why do we need this and how do we even measure this?”

“Absolutely we need it,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “This is the big economic development question today.” Bowles noted that projections show seven out of the ten occupations that will create the most jobs in the next ten years will be in low-wage sectors, and the other three in high-wage fields. “It’s not just that we need more jobs, we need more good-paying jobs that are accessible for a broad range of New Yorkers because so few of the new jobs are in that middle range that are accessible to people without a college degree.”

There was general praise for the administration's jobs plan but certain concerns among the members of the panel about whether it targets the right population, whether job growth will directly benefit the city’s residents, and whether it adequately accounts for the overarching factors that affect the economy and income inequality at large.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee, questioned whether the administration was being sufficiently ambitious in aiming for 100,000 jobs. “I do think we need to be asking the question, is that the right number? Is it aspirational enough?”

But panellist Seth Pinsky, executive vice president at RXR, a real estate firm, and former president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said the problem was not the number of jobs. His “quibble” about the plan was that it does not explicitly address the need to bring jobs to those who require them most, particularly New Yorkers without an advanced education.

“The problem is not creating jobs, it’s who’s getting the jobs,” Pinsky said, noting that the unemployment rate for those without a high school degree is three times that of those with a master’s degree or higher. That was, for him, the biggest challenge for the city, noting that the administration would need to figure out how to “creatively” educate those without a formal education and also establish a robust safety net for those who are likely to never catch up in education and job skills in increasingly automated industries. “This is a problem that’s bigger than New York City, it’s a problem that cities and countries all over the world are dealing with,” he said.

Kevin Ryan, an entrepreneur and founder of companies including MongoDB, Zola, Workframe and NoMad Health, echoed that uncertainty. Although the high school graduation rate in the city hit an all-time high of 79.4 percent last year, Ryan was pessimistic about the job prospects of the more than 20 percent who don’t receive diplomas. He also pointed to the city’s lack of affordable housing and abysmal transit infrastructure as factors that negatively impact the economy.

Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, stressed that jobs created should meet the needs of residents of communities and also the needs of current and prospective employers. Chiefly, she said, it was necessary to ensure that “our students, our New York City residents get the first bite of this New York City apple…Economic development and jobs start at the cradle, we need a healthy child, we need a great excellent education system, we need affordable ensure our kids get the first crack at the apple.”

One of the more pressing issues, repeated often by different panellists, was the need to enhance affordability to complement increased wages among lower- and middle-wage job holders.

Pinsky emphasized the role real estate could play, by increasing housing density to create more affordability. And, if the city were to invest heavily in transit infrastructure and connectivity across the boroughs, he said, it would relieve stress on the housing market and automatically lead to more affordable housing units farther from the city center. He also pointed out that, since the economy is not organically creating middle-wage jobs, the city should take an aggressive approach to incentivise companies to create those jobs through subsidies, similar to the way the de Blasio administration has approached affordable housing.

Cintron repeatedly emphasized the need for affordable education, which she suggested could be implemented through the CUNY and SUNY systems by New York State, building on the recent Excelsior program that provides tuition-free college for families making $100,000 a year or less. Ryan added that creating a more affordable city, through infrastructure and housing, would also discourage companies from outsourcing jobs and would draw more qualified workers to the city.

Pinsky, Bowles and Garodnick also touched on the broader economic conditions that are necessary to promote job creation. Noting Pinsky’s argument about workforce development, Bowles said the mayor’s plan would need to incorporate jobs training and skill building to create a “talent pipeline” across diverse sectors. And he said that it was impossible to tell which job sector would grow the fastest. “We do know that New York has this amazing opportunity to scale up our small businesses,” he said, emphasizing that that could create more middle-wage jobs with benefits.

Pinsky agreed that certain sectors were ripe for growth, but he said it was a mistake for the city to focus too heavily on them. “People in government often think that they’re chasing the next big thing when, in fact, what they’re chasing is the last big thing,” he said. “We’re much better off trying to create the conditions for all sectors to thrive and then to let the marketplace sort through which are the ones that actually should be here and which are the ones that have a less logical connection to a specific place like New York.”

Reiterating that point, Garodnick said, “The plan makes only passing reference to those general conditions which are necessary for businesses to be successful in New York.” He said the city needed to account for the “fundamentals” that affect economic activity, be it the ongoing subway crisis or traffic congestion. “Until we’re adequately dealing with those, we’re gonna have challenges,” he said. He did praise the administration for including land use policy in the jobs plan, but was disappointed with inadequate steps taken to relieve burdens on small businesses. In particular, he called for reforming the commercial rent tax that is levied on businesses below 96th Street in Manhattan. “We can’t ignore some of these other issues that the city can actually act on right now,” he said.

Bowles agreed that the city should foster an “ecosystem” to strengthen small businesses and put resources into modernizing infrastructure, which would naturally create jobs as well.

The de Blasio administration is well aware that achieving its goals will require an organic approach that meets the needs of the economy as it develops and changes. Deputy Mayor Glen noted as much on Wednesday. “This is a ten-year plan,” she said. “I can’t say in year eight or nine where every single job is going to be. That would be an unrealistic expectation. So we have to be nimble, we have to be thoughtful. We have to adapt in real-time to changes in technology, to changes in capital markets, to changes in political and regional realities.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Experts Analyze Mayor De Blasio's Jobs Plan Wed, 20 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? 100,000, with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 6 -- 100,000, with Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development.  [You can download What's The Data Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of What's The [Data] Point?, a podcast from Citizens Budget Commission and Gotham Gazette, we were joined by Alicia Glen, New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, who discussed the rezoning of East Midtown, the de Blasio administration's new jobs plan, and the recent tweaks to the administration's housing plan. Glen explains the significance of the East Midtown deal, which just came together and passed through City Council committee, and discusses key aspects of the jobs plan, which seeks to create 100,000 jobs that pay at least $50,000 annually over ten years.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC, and guest Alicia Glen (@DMAliciaGlen).

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What’s The [DATA] Point? 100,000, with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
‘Interventionist’ De Blasio Unveils Ten-Year Jobs Plan bdb jobs booklet presser works

The Mayor & his jobs plan (photo: Felipe De La Hoz)

Holding up a glossy, 114-page booklet emblazoned with “New York Works” in bold yellow lettering – the same words hanging from the wall behind him – Mayor Bill de Blasio promised on Thursday to make New York City the “capital of cyber security.”

Cyber security is one plank in the mayor’s ten-year job creation plan, which he announced from the sleek Garment District offices of SecurityScorecard, a firm specializing in cyber security monitoring and threat detection. Cyber security has been identified as a growth sector, one that will be home to more jobs if the city helps spur it along, the mayor explained.

The overall jobs plan, largely put together by Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen, promises 100,000 jobs with “good wages” – defined as an annual salary of at least $50,000, which the mayor admitted was somewhat an arbitrary number – through 25 initiatives.

Ultimately, the proposal was framed as a way to create a “critical mass” of tech innovation, as the mayor put it, and ensure New Yorkers enter into fields allowing them to live in the city without being “rent-burdened” – spending more than 30 percent of one’s income on rent. The jobs plan is the other side of the coin to the mayor’s 200,000-unit affordable housing plan, which he and Glen unveiled in 2014; both of which attack the city’s affordability crisis and the inequality that the mayor promised to address as a candidate.

During the announcement and the press questioning that followed, de Blasio and Glen repeatedly stressed that the plan’s purpose was to create “jobs that would not be created otherwise” as opposed to riding the wave of growing industries and claiming credit. Glen, who said she had spent time studying other jobs plans at the municipal, state, and federal level, derided them as “usually about positioning yourself to take credit for a lot of different things that are going on in the economy already,” but insisted that this plan would supercede those by having a “quality screen” to the jobs.

She said that only jobs that could be directly traced to the administration’s efforts would be counted towards the stated job-creation goal, though the exact criteria that would be used was not made clear. The administration committed to providing yearly progress reports.

The mayor also couched the proposal as part of what he called a “high investment model of government,” and characterized the proposals -- a variety of city efforts including new uses of city land, workforce development, deal-brokering, and more -- as “investment,” with job gains the expected return.

“Private sector folks do key off of government signals, and government actions, and government investments,” he said, and alluded to conversations with tech leaders in which an obstacle had been “a certain amount of lack of cognition on how to get started in New York.” He argued that the investments would demonstrate to job-creators that New York City was serious about accepting their business.

The initiatives are subdivided into five areas: tech – the largest, with 30,000 projected jobs; life sciences and healthcare (15,000 projected jobs); industrial and manufacturing (20,000 projected jobs); creative and cultural sectors (10,000 projected jobs); and, the especially and purposefully vague “space for jobs of the future” (25,000 projected jobs). The job targets are further broken down into particular projects, in what Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett called a “framework” that would be adjusted depending on changing industries and sectors. Patchett’s job includes shepherding the plan, adjusting its pieces, and meeting the targets.

Under the industrial plank, the Brooklyn Navy Yard expansion is estimated to create 4,800 “good-paying jobs,” but some points are less clear, such as “discretionary tax incentives” leading to 1,500 jobs. The programs will be funded by $1.1 billion in already allocated spending, plus $250 million that “the administration will apply in its November and January updates to the budget.”

The job-creation plan comes at a time when the city’s unemployment rate has hovered at around 4 percent, a modern record-low and fact that has been routinely emphasized by the mayor. But, de Blasio explained the need to create jobs with good wages and long-term career options, allowing the city to “shape our own destiny” and lift more New Yorkers out of poverty.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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‘Interventionist’ De Blasio Unveils Ten-Year Jobs Plan Thu, 15 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
As Cities Wrestle with the ‘Sharing Economy,’ A New Alliance alicia glen sharing cities summit

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: @DMAliciaGlen)

City governments across the world are trying to adjust to and standardize their approaches to companies in the so-called sharing economy. With rapidly advancing technology, major financial investment, creative entrepreneurship, and little regard for the status quo, sharing economy companies -- such as Uber and Airbnb -- often catch government regulators unprepared and disrupt entrenched interests, leading to conflict. Government leaders are forced into difficult decisions, needing to balance embracing new economic opportunities, establishing the right regulatory framework, and protecting constituents.

A growing number and variety of emerging platforms in recent years highlighted the necessity to adjust existing regulations, reevaluate security measures and benefits for consumers and workers, and outline partnership frameworks between government and platform providers.

Software companies, government representatives, and gig economy experts gathered in mid-May in New York City for the 2017 Sharing Cities Summit -- “embracing and shaping the sharing economy” -- hosted by New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen. Partially closed to the media, the gathering was framed as an opportunity for participants to discuss issues related to adapting to and embracing the sharing economy, in part through sharing experiences, and to come up with a set of guiding principles for cooperation.

The summit, which mostly took place over three days at the New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, addressed three key topics: “data collection and policymaking,” “consumer protection,” and “worker protection.” Its opening and closing sessions, which featured remarks by Deputy Mayor Glen, Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Kajsa Ollongren, an introduction to the topic by gig economy expert Arun Sundararajan, and others, were open to the media.

“I think that we need a common shape our approaches beyond just reacting to a single company, or even a sector,” said Glen, who oversees housing and economic development for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Working together we can expand our own knowledge of this transformation and send a very clear signal to the companies about what our expectations are.” For the sharing economy platforms, it would mean more predictability and less political risk when expanding to different cities and countries, she added.

“The cuddling phase of sharing is far behind us,” said Ollongren, of Amsterdam. “The issue is that there are new players out there,” she continued, “new business models, and our systems are old and not fit to deal with it.”

“Crowd-based capitalism”, another term for the sharing economy concept, is an emerging form of economic activity that will be “increasingly dominant” in the coming years and will overturn, at least in part, the “20th century industrial capitalism as a way of conducting business”, explained Sundararajan, who is a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and author of the book “Sharing Economy.” This new economic model connects various service providers, or even a collective of individual service providers, to various consumers as opposed to established institutions with many employees supplying a product to customers, it has new intermediaries and shifts the basis of consumer trust. As one of the industry experts, Sundararajan gave a 20-minute overview of the concept and moderated a panel consisting of four sharing economy platform providers: Lyft, Postmates, Managed by Q, and Getaround, at the summit kick-off dinner.

Transportation and accommodations have become essential pieces of the “sharing economy,” which is often noted as a misnomer, given that money is typically exchanged. Other sectors include professional services, like consulting, and areas within the food sector. The sharing economy will affect the energy sector as well, Sundararajan added, explaining that as the batteries that preserve solar power improve, people will start accessing and redistributing energy locally, instead of sending it back to the grid. This may lead to new regulatory challenges for the energy sector in the future.

The sharing economy is blurring the lines between casual labour and professional work and changing the significance of what it means to have a job, Sundararajan said. But despite opportunities emerging thanks to the popularity of sharing economy platforms, there are downsides. For example, sometimes freelance workers have to deal with wage theft and misclassification by employers trying to avoid legal fees.

In the light of this trend, Deputy Mayor Glen highlighted the importance of further developing the concept of “portable benefits.” Now, when more and more people are tiling together their career mosaic, there is a necessity to “level the playing field” for them and find a way to provide adequate healthcare, pension, and other benefits, according to Glen.  

“The employment model that built economic security for many during the 20th century— often a unionized job that provided a pension, health benefits, Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance—has become increasingly out of reach,” a report published by the Roosevelt Institute indicates. Its authors, Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of National Employment Law project, and Nell Abernathy, Vice President for Research and Policy at Roosevelt Institute, --- the latter participated on a summit panel -- identify three key measures to address the issue: “expand the public safety net, support new models of negotiated benefits, and ensure business and public funds supplement the contributions of workers and consumers.” The report was included in the list of references for summit participants, and also reviews possible funding options for portable benefits, such as public money, user fees, business and worker contributions.    

“One out of 20 people in New York City now hire somebody on a website to do basic things,” Deputy Mayor Glen said, ”that’s just the beginning of a major transformation.”

Glen, whose administration waged a losing battle against Uber in 2015, offered a few examples of situations in which the workers and the consumers may need protection. For example, ensuring that workers are compensated fairly. Here, for instance, she gave “positive credit” to TaskRabbit for removing a system of bidding on tasks from its platform and sticking to fixed hourly rates, because it helps prevent users from bidding themselves down, she mentioned. Another priority is to ensure both quality of service and safety for consumers. Considerations must be given to workers’ hours and benefits, liability and insurance, on-time payment, and more.

New York City recently passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which regulates the gig economy in the city, including mandates for contracts and payments. According to research published by City Council Member Lander, who sponsored the legislation, as of September 2016 over 70% of freelancers claimed to be victims of “wage theft or late-payment.”

The gig economy creates a vast amount of new data. “We’ve got this digital interface that is going to be be sitting between us and the things that we get,” Sundararajan said. Consequently, there is a need to figure out what to do with this data, how to regulate it and protect consumers, how the government should use it and collaborate with platforms to access it.

There are a few examples of how data exchange between sharing economy platforms and government could help improve citizen experience. For instance, in the beginning of 2017, New York City mandated Uber, Lyft and other for-hire car services share data on where drivers pick up and drop off passengers. Understanding how people move could potentially help the government improve the city’s transportation system, by identifying congested zones that are lacking enough public transport options, for example. This information will be in addition to other data already collected by the city.     

Another example is cooperation between the government of New Orleans and Airbnb that includes data sharing. The company supplies to the city the names and addresses of hosts. Airbnb came under fire in New York, where its ability to operate as it had been received a major blow through new state law cracking down on those posting illegal apartment rentals.

In light of the recent global cyber attack, protecting and regulating consumer data was also a topic highlighted repeatedly during the Sharing Cities Summit.

The forum served as the grounds for launching the Sharing Cities Alliance, an independent association headquartered in Amsterdam, that aims to bring together city leaders and sharing economy participants to exchange knowledge and data in the hopes of creating some shared principles and, possibly, regulatory frameworks. The five founding cities of the alliance are New York City, Amsterdam, Toronto, Copenhagen, and Seoul, according to a Twitter post by Deputy Mayor Glen.

Seoul was dubbed the world’s first “sharing city” by the alliance, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Park Won-soon and Seoul’s Metropolitan Government that launched the Sharing City Seoul initiative in 2012.

The Sharing Cities effort, as described on the website of the Alliance, includes a few milestones in its brief history. One is the Sharing Cities resolution signed by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2013 that promotes “better understanding of the Sharing Economy” and encourages creation of local task forces to establish regulations. Another is the launch of Amsterdam Sharing City in 2015.

by Natalia Erokhina for Gotham Gazette

As Cities Wrestle with the ‘Sharing Economy,’ A New Alliance Wed, 31 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000