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A Budget Expert Looks at the Numbers


Late last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year, calling for a wide range of service and job cuts along with new taxes and increases in some existing ones. The proposal met with sharp criticism from municipal employee unions, education organizations and some City Council members, among others.

(To see if you can craft a better taxing and spending plan, play Balance, Gotham Gazette's 2010 budget game.)

While acknowledging these tough economic times -- notably a recession that has hit New York hard and opened a multibillion dollar budget gap -- many New Yorkers have questions about how the cuts will affect them, whether their taxes will rise and other issues.

To discuss these matters, Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the city's Independent Budget Office sat down with Gotham Gazette for a live online chat last week. Her office provides objective, nonpartisan analysis of the city's finances. (For a related story on the IBO report on options for cutting spending and raising revenue, go here.)

The following is an edited transcript.

Gotham Gazette: We all know a lot has changed in the past year. What are the primary differences between the city's fiscal year 2009 budget and the mayor's preliminary budget released last month?

Ronnie Lowenstein: Over the past six months it has become clear that the United States is in the midst of a deep, broad-based recession and that the financial industry -- which remains the primary engine of New York City's economy -- is in crisis. The mayor's preliminary budget reflects these difficult economic realities, estimates their impact on taxes and spending, and proposes ways of bringing the city budget into balance. The city has to focus on bringing its own budget into balance -- as required by law.

Gotham Gazette: Let's delve into some of those budget gap-closing measures. What are they? And do some of them rely too much on other governments, like the state or the federal government?

Ronnie Lowenstein: The mayor is proposing to close a roughly $4 billion gap for the upcoming year in several ways. These are -- very roughly -- $1 billion in spending cuts, another $1 billion in tax and other revenue increases (mainly sales tax increases), $1 billion from more federal funds for Medicaid, about $360 million in health co-pays from city workers and about $240 million in unrestricted state aid.

Gotham Gazette: This question is fro a reader: Will there be higher taxes for lower tax brackets this year?

Ronnie Lowenstein: Assuming you're talking about income taxes, the mayor has not proposed increasing the city's personal income tax. In Albany, however, there is considerable discussion of state income tax increases, particularly for high-income taxpayers. And definitions of "high income" vary from one person to the next.

Steve Koch: Would it be fiscally responsible to offer the highest paid teachers and administrators in the Department of Education an incentive to retire early?

Ronnie Lowenstein: While it could potentially save money, you would also need to consider the impact on education of losing the city's most experienced teachers and administrators. Another thing to keep in mind is the difficulty of finding qualified replacements in math, science and special ed -- areas where the city has had trouble recruiting in the past.

Larry Littlefield: Is the city's share of state education funding, including STAR aid, going down again? [STAR, or School Tax Relief is a state program that includes offers propterty owners a rebate on school taxes and a partial property tax exemption.]

Ronnie Lowenstein: The city's share of state aid appears to be down slightly under Gov. David Paterson's budget proposal. We haven't yet measured the effects of the changes in the STAR program, however. Under the governor's proposal, the mayor has estimated that New York City would receive $770 million less than the city had anticipated. That's what's behind his raising the possibility of laying off 14,000 teachers.

Gotham Gazette: Regarding those layoffs, is Albany really to blame?

Ronnie Lowenstein: One way to look at this is as an attempt by the mayor to lobby for local education funding in the federal stimulus package and to ensure that any federal funds flow through to local schools. You might want to see the blog we posted on this issue. [After this chat, the mayor said the federal economic stimulus package could provide the money to avoid the teacher layoffs.]

 

Peter: To what extent, if any, is the city counting on a trickle down from the federal government's bailout to help deal with NYC budget woes?

Ronnie Lowenstein: So far the mayor is counting on at least a billion dollars for Medicaid in each of the next two years. There is a good chance that some local education aid will also be included in the federal stimulus package, but the mayor didn't factor those funds into his preliminary budget proposal. Then there are other federal stimulus funds that could flow to the New York City Housing Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Piper Hoffman: I understand that the fiscal year 2010 plan excludes $12 million in funds the City Council had added on, including $4 million for meals; $3.1 million for transportation; $1.3 million for the Healthy Aging Initiative and $1 million for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. What is the IBO's position on effectively cutting these social services when New Yorkers need them most?

Ronnie Lowenstein: The council has made these services priorities in the past and we'll see how they respond in their upcoming hearings on the mayor's preliminary budget and in the council's formal response, which is due in early April.

Gotham Gazette: With all the talk about the operating budget, there hasn't been much talk about the capital budget. How will it be affected by the deficit and the recession? Are there projects already started that will have to stop?

Ronnie Lowenstein: The mayor has proposed a 30 percent cutback in the capital plan from 2009 through 2013. But the administration is not providing any details on which specific projects will be affected until the executive budget is released in April.

Gotham Gazette: Thanks, Ronnie for shedding some light on this year's budget proposal. For our readers, thank you for participating.

Ronnie Lowenstein: Thanks for asking me.

Paying Attention to Cities


ggcommentary
For More on Helping New York's Economy

An $825 Billion First Step By James Parrott
The stimulus package proposed by Congress is key to halting the economy's downward spiral but it will not solve all our problems. Economist James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute looks at what the package would do -- and what more needs to be done.

Using the Crisis to Prevent the Next One By J. Mijin Cha
The current turmoil can help us reduce our dependence n Wall Street and create good "green collar" jobs that help fuel a resurgence of the middle class. The director of campaign research at the Urban Agenda explains how.

Infrastructure Investments that Make Sense By Carter Craft
As big as the stimulus package may be, the country has to invest the money wisely. An urban planner offers some novel ideas for New York projects -- from recycling grease to ferries for freight.

From Gas-Guzzling Cars to Clean Buses By Charles Stone
Simply lending funds to struggling auto companies won't spur economic growth. Instead, an economist suggests, the government should create a voucher program to deploy the resources of the auto companies, spur investment -- and help the environment.

Previous Articles
A Federal Stimulus for City Parks By Anne Schwartz
Advocates hope that President Obama and Congress will recognize that funding parks would not only improve the quality of life and the environment but also spur investment and raise real estate values.

Stimulus Money: The Downturn's Silver Lining? By Graham Beck
The stimulus package could offer more federal funds for transportation projects. The MTA is making its list, but there are sure to be lots of restrictions -- and competition.

Barack Obama's early pronouncements, from creating a White House Office of Urban Policy to promising bold new investments in infrastructure, education and alternative energy, suggest that the new president understands something that many of his recent predecessors clearly did not: what's good for cities is good for America.

New York, the nation's biggest city by population and economic activity, could greatly benefit from a president who is committed to ending years, if not decades, when the federal government all but turned its back on the needs of urban communities. Even before the current economic downturn, the city lacked the resources to adequately address mounting problems of aging public infrastructure, housing shortages, traffic congestion, environmental pollution and growing economic inequality. While these problems can't all be placed at the feet of officials in Washington, the federal government has long underfunded programs that primarily benefit city dwellers. In the last eight years, things got even worse for New York.

Federal support for mass transit stayed roughly flat since the start of the decade, even as ridership in numerous cities - including New York - surged to record levels. The Bush administration drastically reduced funding for public housing, contributing to rent hikes, service cutbacks and a nearly $6 billion backlog in capital work at the New York City Housing Authority, whose buildings are home to more than 400,000 low-income New Yorkers. The administration also underfunded the project-based Section 8 program by nearly $3 billion, dealing a profound blow to one of the nation's most critical affordable housing programs at a time when demand for low-income housing in New York far outstrips supply. And it cut funding for the nation's workforce development system by roughly $2 billion, with New York City's job training and youth employment services taking a disproportionately large hit. Perhaps most galling, New York was consistently shortchanged in homeland security funding.

Washington's disdain for the priorities of cities like New York was not limited to traditional areas of concern to urban advocates. The absence of federal leadership on issues such as immigration, health care, energy policy, scientific research and access to higher education also adversely affected the five boroughs in countless ways.

Reciprocal Relations

New York could use a helping hand from Washington, especially in these tough economic times. While the Bloomberg administration has made progress in several areas, only the federal government can provide the resources and leadership needed to help the city accomplish its housing development goals, expand the transit system or make the city more energy efficient.

But, more than ever, the country also needs New York. In today's global economy, the nation's singular international city is inextricably linked to that of the country.

Obama, himself a lifelong resident of cities, has sent some encouraging signals that he understands this dynamic and plans to free up more resources to strengthen urban areas. But just what should he do to help New York?

A Plan for the City

Last week, the Center for an Urban Future published a report that laid out 51 specific recommendations for what the Obama administration and the 111th Congress could do to help New York.

Our recommendations started with the premise that one of the most critical jobs of the federal government today is keeping New York safe. This means allocating anti-terror funds to localities based on risktheyface rather than politics, moving aggressively to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, passing legislation to get illegal guns off the street and enacting bills already proposed in Congress that would pay for thousands of additional cops in New York and other cities.

Another critical priority is helping New York and other cities maintain and upgrade their existing transportation infrastructure. Specifically, the Obama administration should dramatically increase the share of federal transportation funding that goes to mass transit, fund Amtrak at a level that enables vast improvement to intercity rail service, accelerate plans to develop and implement a more technologically advanced air traffic control system that would reduce flight delays and include more ferry projects in federal transportation infrastructure packages.

On economic development, Obama could help New York by increasing federal investment in microlending programs as a way to support the smallest entrepreneurs. A renewed federal commitment to scientific research would also go a long way given that New York is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of academic research institutions.

On housing, the president should restore funding for public housing, meet federal commitments to the project-based Section 8 program and help spur the creation of new supportive housing for the mentally ill.

There are many other things the new president could do, from taking immediate steps to ensure that the 2010 Census does not undercount New York and creating a large-scale nationwide effort to retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient, to expanding the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and streamlining the visa process to make it easier for artists to enter the country.

Others will undoubtedly have different ideas. The important thing is for New Yorkers to realize that having a friendlier audience in Washington is only the first step. Rather than simply waiting for Obama-or Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx borough president, who will reportedly head the new Office of Urban Policy-to set an agenda, New York's policymakers and champions should be helping to frame the national debate about what a more enlightened urban policy should look like and crafting a set of policy recommendations that federal officials could run with from the get-go.

Jonathan Bowles is director of the Center for an Urban Future

Mixing Gas and Water: Drilling in the City's Watershed.


Correction added at end of story (1/16/09)

Turn on the tap and New Yorkers get completely unfiltered H2O, flowing from the upstate streams and rivers to faucets from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

Since 1993, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has exempted New York City from its filtration requirement, making it only one of a handful of major U. S. cities that does not have to filter its water before letting its citizens gulp. The city's system is the largest unfiltered water delivery system in the country.

Now, some New York City officials worry that anticipated gas drilling will jeopardize the water supply of more than 9 million people in the city and several upstate counties. Gas producers want to drill into the Marcellus Shale formation, part of which lies upstate. They would then inject millions of gallons of water treated with chemicals in order to extract what experts believe could be trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

Proponents of the drilling say tapping the state's deep reserves of natural gas could bring a bonanza of royalties, jobs and tax revenues to cash-strapped upstate communities and help ease the state's budget crisis. Officials closer to New York City, however, say compromising the quality of the city's drinking water is too high a price to pay. They want the state to ban gas drilling in the watershed.

City Councilmember Jim Gennaro, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, has sounded the alarm about the potential cost of filtering the city's water. Gennaro has cautioned fellow committee members -- and anyone else who will listen -- that a filtration system could boast a price tag in the billions.

"What the people of the City of New York, I fear, are looking at is a $20 billion consequence to this 'drill baby drill' policy," Gennaro said.

The Energy Rush

Gas production in the Empire State is nothing new. The first gas well opened in the 19th century, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency that regulates oil and gas exploration and production.

Geologists have known for decades that potentially huge amounts of gas -- as much as 500 trillion cubic feet, according to one study -- are trapped in the Marcellus Shale formation, a succession of narrow slabs of subsurface rock that stretches through Appalachia from West Virginia to Ohio and New York's Southern Tier. About 30 counties in New York State sit over the formation, which is as much as 7,000 feet below ground in some places.

Because of the depth of the gas and the high density of the rock, traditional drilling and extraction methods have proved to be costly and inefficient. In the last few years, however, technological improvements in horizontal drilling and hydrologic fracturing, or "fracking," have made it more affordable to get the gas out.

As gas prices climbed and construction of the Millennium Pipelinefrom Cornng to Ramapo neared completion, fracking became more economically viable. Early 2008 saw a feeding frenzy of sorts among gas producers as agents for independent producers like Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, Chesapeake Appalachia LLC Fortuna Energy, Inc. and EOG Resources, Inc. rushed to secure drilling leases from upstate landowners and drilling permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Today there are some 13,000 oil and gas wells in the state. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, a dozen gas wells in Schulyer, Steuben, Chemung, Livingston and Allegany counties produced 19.7 million cubic feet of gas in 2007. In the last year, the state agency approved nearly 50 new well applications, according to the department.

The recent drop in gas prices and the economic crisis may have served to cool the gas rush for the time being. According to an October article in Oil and Gas Journal, 14 different operators had filed 77 permit applications for gas wells in the shale formation by the end of July, and the state approved 48 of the permits. As of October, only nine different operators had drilled 31 wells. No operators have requested or received -- a permit to drill in New York City’s watershed.

A rise in prices could spur renewed demand. Before gas prices backed off of their staggering high this summer, industry officials had projected that there would eventually be between 25,000 and 50,000 drilling pads upstate.

"This will be the environmental issue of the next decade, and it will be the biggest thing to hit the northeast since strip mining took apart West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky," said Al Appleton, a former city commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection. "The scale of the potential damage is that great."

Getting the Gas

To extract the gas, the operator - typically an independent exploration and production company -- drills a conventional cement-cased vertical well bore into the earth down to the level of the shale.

The bore then turns 45-degrees to run horizontally through the center of the shale slab, which ranges in thickness from 50 to 100 feet. Fresh water, and lots of it, is mixed with chemicals and forced through the well bore and into the shale. The water causes the rock to fracture, allowing the gas to flow back into the bore for capture at the wellhead.

Hydro-fracking has been used for about 30 years, and while it has grown more reliable and affordable, it also requires up to five times more water per well than it did in decades past. A typical "frac job" in 1992 used less than 100,000 gallons of water, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation; today the same job would require between a million and 5 million gallons.

Environmental Concerns

Hydro-fracking's biggest perceived threat to the environment comes from the chemicals that are used in frac fluids. Gas producers have been historically close-mouthed about what actually goes into the well bore, claiming the mix is a confidential trade secret. Foes of hydro-fracking, though, say they have identified by analysis more than 100 chemical compounds believed to be used in the process across the country. The list includes some highly toxic and carcinogenic compounds like benzene and formaldehyde, and ethylene glycol, as well as hydrochloric acid, N,N-dimethyl formamide, Gluteraldehyde and bleach.

The use of such chemicals creates an unacceptable risk to public health, in the view of Appleton, currently an environmental consultant and a senior fellow at City University of New York's Institute for Urban Systems. Under his leadership in the early 1990s, the city's Department of Environmental Protection launched an ambitious watershed protection program and convinced the federal Environmental Protection Agency to exempt it from filtering its water. In Appleton's opinion, the only reliable way to ensure that our drinking water supply remains safe is to ban gas drilling in the watershed.

"You've got to have a failsafe system. Once these pollutants are in the water they're very hard to get out," he said. "Standard filtration procedures don't get them out, and standard industrial toxic waste treatments, which have never been done on a scale like this before, [are] highly expensive and they're not 100 percent reliable."

There are a number of ways for toxins to find their way into the drinking water collection system, according to Appleton. Some percentage of fracking fluid is never recovered from the shale and instead remains in the ground where it can migrate to aquifers, the natural surface and below surface channels that move the groundwater to streams, rivers and reservoirs. Lax regulations or careless operations in the handling, storage and disposal of recovered frac fluid also pose a contamination risk.

The gas industry downplays the hazards. A report by one industry consultant - also a consultant to the state environmental department - points out that some of the chemicals used in fracking are common chemicals found in everyday household products and are heavily dliuted before being injected into the shale.

Not in New York

Opponents of hydro-fracking point to groundwater contamination from drilling operations in states including Colorado and New Mexico, but state environment commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis said New York has stricter standards and that his agency won't let the same mistakes be made.

"While I can't account for the environmental protections in those locales, I can tell you that what may have happened in those places -- where drilling and production fluids were improperly handled, where unlined permanent waste disposal pits were allowed, and where the disposal method was evaporation -- has not happened, and will not happen, in New York State," Grannis told members of the state Assembly's environmental committee this fall.

HIs agency is currently working to revise its generic environmental impact statement to address the issues raised by the newer hydro-fracking process, It wants to identify and address potential effects on the environment. To that end, the agency held public hearings upstate in the fall to hear concerns from interested residents, local governments, and environmental advocates.

It held no sessions in New York City, despite requests from the city's legislative delegation and members of the City Council. Instead, Grannis assured the city in a September letter that his office would accept any written comments that the city wished to send to Albany, "as we undertake to fully protect the city's watershed, while meeting our obligations to move forward with the permitting process for this type of drilling."

That same month, Grannis appeared before Gennaro's environmental protection committee to say the agency would not grant permits for any projects that endanger the city's water supply.

Click on graphic for larger map.

Avoiding Filtration

All of New York City, except for Jamaica in Queens, gets its drinking water from two upstate watersheds: The watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed is east of the Hudson. Combined, they cover about 2,000 acres, from the Delaware River Basin to the Connecticut border.

The Catskill collection area, more than twice the size of the Croton system, lies wholly within the boundaries of the Marcelus and provides 90 percent of New York City’s drinking water -- unfiltered. The Croton watershed, on the other hand, is some 30 miles beyond the reach of the Marcellus play. And while the Croton water is currently unfiltered, the city is building a filtration plantfor that water supply, having lost its filtration exemption in 2006 due to poor water quality. The project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and city officials are not keen to build another plant for the Catskills water.

Furthermore, city officials say, many of the aqueducts, tunnels and shafts that help collect and carry the water downstate from the Catskills are on land over the Marcellus Shale. They are concerned that parts of that infrastructure, particularly those that operate under high pressure, could be seriously damaged by any inadvertent penetration during gas drilling.

Gennaro, a former city geologist who worked under Appleton, was involved in the city's efforts to get its first filtration exemption in 1993. Since then, he said, the city has spent billions of dollars to protect its water sources -- maintaining the aqueducts, tunnels and reservoirs and acquiring land to forestall development. Now he worries that gas drilling will jeopardize the remaining exemption.

Gennaro recently asked the Environmental Protection Agency for a determination on whether gas drilling in the watershed would jeopardize the exemption. Although the agency has not yet responded, Gennaro believes the answer is "yes" and hopes a statement from the EPA to that effect will prop up his call for a ban on drilling in the watersehd.

If the city loses its exemption, a filtration system hefty enough to handle chemical contamination could place a monumental strain on the city's shrinking resources. Ten years ago, Gennaro said, the city estimated the cost of a bacteriological filtration system at around $10 billion. Now, he said, a system that could handle chemical contamination would easily cost twice that.

For its part, the city's Department of Environmental Protection has not joined in the call for a ban on drilling in the watershed, much to Gennaro's consternation. A July letter to the state by the city's former environmental chief, Emily Lloyd, asked for a one-mile buffer zone around components of the city’s water supply infrastructure -- reservoirs, tunnels, aqueducts and shafts -- but stopped far short of asking outright for a no-drill zone encompassing the entire Catskill watershed.

Three months later, the department’s Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush told a panel of the New York State Assembly that the city might modify its position on watershed drilling, depending on a forthcoming report by a consultant, but did not suggest that the city might ultimately support a ban.

More recently, in formal comments filed with the state in response to its preliminary inquiry, the city administration urged the state’ s environment agency to closely evaluate the possible environmental effects on the entire watershed, not just the infrastructure, noting, "Impacts do not need to be within close proximity to a reservoir or water supply infrastructure to negatively impact the water supply."

Gennaro is clearly frustrated with what he sees as the city’s weak response. He called out the department’s acting commissioner, Steven Lawitts, at his committee’s hearing in December, saying that the Bloomberg administration should have started from the presumption that drilling in the watershed should be prohibited.

Gennaro reminded Lawitts that the department had taken a much harder line against a proposed private golf course development in the Catskills in 2004, out of concern for the watershed. He then scolded the agency for not taking the same "vigorous approach" against the state's stand on drilling.

"The city is arguably up against a very tough foe in this case. Maybe it doesn't believe it can prevail in that kind of matchup and is settling for playing this game by the state's rules. I think that's an abdication," Gennaro told Lawitts. "This is our watershed, we have to protect it, the state doesn't care to the same degree that we care, and we have to be leading the charge on that."

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., also on the committee, suggested that the ctiy should at least demand financial safeguards from the state, so that if drilling causes the city to lose its filtration exemption, the state would pay for the costly new system.

"It's our water supply, but we're allowing the state to make the decision as to where the drilling is allowed," Vallone said. "If there is no guarantee from the state that they will be responsible for the ramifications of their decision, then the state shouldn't make that decision. We here in the City of New York should make that decision."

Lawitts defended his agency, saying it lacked expertise in the issues surrounding hydro-fracking, but would have a more definitive position once the consultant’s work is concluded. That is slated for sometime this spring, in time for the city to respond to the state’s draft environmental guidelines.

Appleton predicts that the city will eventually come around to his view, that no risk to drinking water is acceptable. "The suggestion that we need to bend over backward for the state to accommodate natural gas drilling is ludicrous," Appleton said. "I have a lot of confidence in the science that at the end of the debate there's only one way to do this: preclude it in the watershed. If it's done right, a lot of areas are going to be off limits, end of story."

This article originally stated that gas wells in five upstate counties produced 19.7 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2007. The correct number is 19.7 million. The copy has been corrected.

Homeland Security Funding


New York City's first responders continue to suffer severe shortages in funding and can expect to see their limited resources diminish even further under the Bush Administration’s proposed Budget for 2005. The safety of New Yorkers has already been compromised by, a 15 percent reduction of the police force since 2001, extremely low access to vital equipment and HAZMAT material and the closure of six firehouses, which has resulted in dramatically higher response times. Frankly, this is unacceptable.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has recently awarded over $103 million to New York State for the training and equipment of first responders, it does not come close to compensating the budget cuts already suffered, or those proposed for 2005. The budget for fiscal year 2005 cuts $2.3 billion for first responder programs. This includes both a $1 billion cut in the State Homeland Security Grant Program that assists first responders, and the removal of the Law Enforcement Block Grants, currently worth $225 million, that specifically assists police officers.

The budget cuts $800 million from state and local homeland security grants. It cuts state and local grant funding for first responder training, exercise, and technical assistance from $320 million in 2004 to $178 million in 2005. It also cuts Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act grants for equipment and personnel to local fire departments by $246 million.

The bottom line: Critical needs of first responders will be under-funded by $98.4 billion over the next five years.

These radical reductions will consolidate the mounting burden placed on state and local governments. It will also prove to be a disatrous setback in aquiring the equipment and training first responders need to fulfill their increasing duties in preserving our homeland security.

In one way or another, we were all affected by the tragedy of 9/11. We saw the brave response of our police, fire, emergency medical personnel and other first responders and we still harbor a great sense of admiration and respect for them. In the time that has since passed, we have come to more fully appreciate our dependance on their service to our communities. Yet we have failed to demonstrate our support for them; we have failed to ensure they are provided with the very tools they need to keep us secure.

We know what needs to be done.

The New York City Fire Department recently made a list of requirements for the adequate preparation for response to future terrorist attacks. It included:

  • A reliable communications infrastructure for first responders
  • A secure dispatch network for fire and EMS personnel
  • An expansion of Fire Department Operations Center as a fully functioning emergency center
  • A back-up emergency location
  • 12 months of emergency preparedness training for personnel.

It would cost about $277 million to acquire these and other equipment and infrastructure -- more than double the amount granted to New York State by the Department of Homeland Security.

As an effort to remedy the reduced funding and skewed allocation of funds for First Responders, I have introduced the Homeland Emergency Response Act of 2003 (HERO Act), which allocates $15 billion to protect New York City and other American cities. It creates a $3.5 billion first responder program in the first year and maintains a $3.75 billion program per year for three years thereafter. The bill protects high threat urban areas by mandating that 1/3 of all first responder funding be earmarked to the five cities with the greatest vulnerability or threat risk as determined by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction CIA, FBI and HHS.

The bill also creates a new Anti-Terrorism Account for firefighters, while changing the Federal Firefighter Grant Program that is currently in place. The HERO Act also ensures that the allocation of funds is more equitable and based on threat ratio, thereby directing valuable funds to cities with the most need.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are holding up this important piece of legislation.

I have also proposed fundamental changes to the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act Grant Program, the nation's homeland security funding program targeted specifically for fire departments. Currently, grants are limited to a sum of $75,000 and are distributed according to population. The pre-9/11 cap imposes an unnecessary restriction on access to funds for New York’s first responders.

If, as I propose, the cap were lifted and the $750 million of funds available through the FIRE Act grant program were distributed based on population, New York City would receive $20.5 million, much more than the current cap of $75,000, or even the $2 million cap proposed in President Bush's budget.

Furthermore, it is important to distribute these funds according to threat. While distributed according to population, Montana, for example, receives $9.07 per person while New York City receives only .09 cents per person.

To stand by and allow important funding for First Responders to be so drastically cut is to increase the vulnerability of our great city and undermine the huge strides we have been taking in protecting New Yorkers.

Josephy Crowley, a Democrat, represents the seventh Congressional District in the Bronx and Queens.

From the Ground Up: Five Ways to Help Small Businesses Still Struggling After 9/11


Before September 11, 2001, I owned four small businesses located on the 87th floor of One World Trade Center. I worked in financial services, trading and creating mutual funds. Now, I spend much of my time re-creating the reams of lost records destroyed in the attack, applying for grants, and advocating for other downtown business owners as president of From the Ground Up, a grassroots support group for lower Manhattan small business owners.


Ariel Goodman

My businesses were totally destroyed when Tower One fell. Today, only two of them are operating. I need at least $350,000 to restart my businesses and rebuild them to what they were before September 11. To date, I have only received $30,000 from the Economic Development Corporation. This is just a drop in the bucket compared to my losses. I have not yet received any of the proceeds from my insurance policy. Because I also lost my home 500 feet from the World Trade Center, I had no property to put up as collateral and was turned down for a Small Business Association loan.

Frustrated with my search for aid, I co-founded the advocacy group From the Ground Up for small business owners who were affected by September 11, 2001. The group, which now has about 400 members, works to reform and improve 9/11 aid programs. We successfully lobbied for federal programs to include businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

More than a year after the towers fell, lower Manhattan small business owners are running out of time and options. The programs created to aid small business victims of September 11 need to be changed. They exhaust people with ever-changing rules and offer awards that are too small considering the efforts involved. No program to date addresses our special needs.

The following five suggestions would be an important start:

1. World Trade Center tenants must be adequately compensated for their losses. There is a world of difference between businesses like mine, that lost everything, and ones two blocks away that still have an infrastructure and records. Right now, this disparity is not addressed in any program. The World Trade Center Business Recovery Grant Program should be changed to increase the grants given to World Trade Center tenants, or else should create a new program to give small business tenants flat grants of $150,000 each.

2. The grant program to keep and bring small businesses downtown also must be changed. The program, called the Small Business Attraction and Retention Program needs to include all lower Manhattan small businesses that existed on September 11 that are willing to reaffirm their current leases. Right now, the program only includes companies with leases that expire within the next two years. In this area, most leases last 10 years. The present program rules just do not work. As of the end of August, only 8 percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars in this program had been allocated or distributed. By making this simple change, we can get funds to the businesses that need them right now.

3. Grant programs should loosen their requirements for documents. Like all small businesses that were located in the World Trade Center, all of my documents and records were destroyed. Nonetheless, I must produce the same type of proof as a business on Wall Street that was intact on September 12. Recreating documents has become a full time occupation for all of us who were tenants in the World Trade Center -- and every time I turn in a completed application for one of these assistance programs, I am told that I am missing yet another document. Instead of spending my time re-starting my businesses, I am collecting documents for financial assistance programs. In fact, I was unable to apply for a grant from the World Trade Center Business Recovery Grant Program until this month, simply because I did not have the required documents. Putting procedure before substance like this is absurd, and must be rectified.

4. Lower Manhattan small businesses need an ombudsman program to help them deal with difficult aid programs. Those of us "in the trenches" with these programs have found that the rules are obscure, confusing and inconsistently applied. Members of From the Ground Up are often denied assistance based on rules or criteria that do not appear on any application or program guidelines. As a result, many of us are falling through the cracks of the very programs that are intended to help us get back on our feet. An ombudsman who has the authority to work with the various program administrators to coordinate and facilitate delivery of program benefits would be a tremendous help to lower Manhattan small businesses. The foundation I and other members of From the Ground Up created has already developed a proposal for an ombudsman program.

5. Finally, the grants lower Manhattan small businesses so desperately need should not be taxable on the federal, state or local level. By making these grants taxable, the government is giving with one hand, and snatching back with the other. If the grants are truly intended to compensate lower Manhattan small businesses for their 9/11 losses and help get them back on their feet as productive, tax-paying members of the community, they should be tax-free.

Ariel Goodman is president of From the Ground Up, a 9/11 small business advocacy group.

How Long Before We Act On "Lessons Learned"?


During this past year, I have been searching for answers about why there were so few options for those innocent people trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. My husband, Rich, worked for Aon Corporation at 2 World Trade on the 103rd floor. I was told that he was last seen waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor Sky Lobby. Injured when the second plane's wing tip crashed through that floor and the walls fell in, he was still alive waiting to be rescued when the buildings collapsed.

We must address the critical issues relating to the emergency response to the September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. I am deeply concerned about the information that has come to light in the past year regarding the fire department1s inoperable radios, lack of coordination with the police department and other emergency agencies, and unfamiliarity with the World Trade Center.

It is apparent to me that the input of fire experts must play a more important role in the development, design and construction of buildings. The fire service should no longer be left on the sidelines to come into the game only after the buildings are up, left to figure out how best to defend and evacuate them in an emergency. The fire service needs to have a voice in how to equip a building so that they can put out fires and rescue people more quickly, lowering the potential for loss of life, both uniform and civilian.

We can never again allow a building to be built that is immune from building and fire codes, as the World Trade Center was. The fire department had no authority over those buildings, and could not force the Port Authority to comply with their recommendations. If the Port Authority does not begin following building and fire codes, they should leave the real estate business.

Regarding coordination between the police and fire departments, the continuous turf wars must cease. The various agencies charged with the safety of the public need to learn to work together. The lives and safety of our loved ones are at stake. The agencies must realize that the first and foremost responsibility is the safety of the public, put aside the competitive nature that has been in place for many, many years, and start anew.

I was also deeply disturbed to find that there was no helicopter rescue available to those trapped on the upper floors of the towers. When was the decision made to no longer attempt rooftop rescues, and who told the occupants of those towers about it? It has been written that many occupants of the World Trade Center were believed that in case of an emergency or devastating fire, that they could be rescued from the roof. Instead, many found that the doors were locked leading to their eventual doom.

It is clear to me that there has to be a very concerted effort made to take a hard look at what happened on September 11th. We need to take a good look around this great city of ours. We need to be aware of potential dangers. We need to find ways to work together to ensure that if there is ever another devastating event, we will be aware of what needs to be done and can communicate those instructions and dangers to others.

I keep hearing about "lessons learned." But over a year later, some of the simple issues have not yet been addressed or changed. How many reports or meetings will it take to make use of these lessons?

Monica Gabrielle is co-chairperson of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign.

As INS Deadline Approaches, Pakistanis Flee For Canada


Yousef Medhani, who asked us not to use his real name, left Lahore, Pakistan with his family for Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn three years ago.When Medhani first came to America he thought he had found a new home for life. "We had good hopes for America," he said.

For the past year, Medhani, a former university teacher, has worked as a driver for a car service illegally because his visa extension applications were rejected twice when checks from his immigration lawyer bounced. "Now I’m scared that maybe they arrest me on the spot."

Since December the Immigration and Naturalization Service has required "non-permanent" U.S. residents from 25 nations to register with the agency-- a process that would reveal Medhani's immigration status. Instead of registering, Medhani decided to leave the United Stares for Canada.

Like Medhani, hundreds of undocumented New Yorkers have chosen to pack up and start over again in Canada because they fear detainment if they register.

"My kids come home from school and say, ‘my friend, Imad, left with his family to go to Canada. Why did they go to Canada?" and I say "Oh, because his father got a good job up there,’ " he said.

In fact many Pakistanis go to Canada to apply for refugee status. After crossing the border, most will be transported to Montreal or Toronto until Canada’s refugee board decides whether or not to grant asylum to individual cases.

According to Pakistan Post, between December 27-31, Pakistanis counted for 235 of the 240 refugee claimants at the Plattsburgh, New York border. However, U.S. and Canadian officials have been discussing for a tighter border security that includes the "smart border" agreement, which will immediately send refugee claimants back to the United States.

But undocumented immigrants do not have many options if they stay: either they flout the law and stay illegally or register and risk deportation. Nonetheless, Medhani says he might not feel comfortable staying if he did have legal status.

"We are feeling victimized. In my knowledge, this is not a democracy where they snatch rights away from human beings like that. This is more like a communist country."

Neighborhood residents say that undocumented immigrants aren’t the only ones heading for Canada; some American citizens and green card holders are leaving as well, citing persecution and a declining quality of life for all Pakistanis in New York. One long-term Pakistani resident of New York said, "We are being made to feel like third-class citizens. I don’t want my children to grow up around this kind of hatred."

On Coney Island Avenue, home to the city’s largest Pakistani community, many shops and restaurants are conspicuously empty. According to a spokesman from the Council of Pakistani Organizations, "Some people just up and left their businesses; there was a barber shop here and one day it was just closed and the owner never showed up."

In spite of his troubles here, Medhani said he will miss his first adopted home, "I love America, especially Brooklyn. A lot of my friends say, "Come to Queens," and I say, no, you don’t know about Brooklyn, it’s beautiful."

Not Always As Sweet


I came to this country from Yemen, Arabia at the age of three. I remember it was a cold March night, and when I woke up the morning after we had arrived in upstate New York, I looked outside the window and saw, to my delight, that there was sugar everywhere, sugar covering the streets and all the trees. My father said "no, honey, it's not sugar, it's snow." I did not understand what it was since I had never seen it. He opened the window and he let me touch it and I said "well, can I taste it?" Of course it did not taste like sugar, but I loved that I could play in it.

But not everything about America was as sweet. At first, I did not speak English, and the other children laughed at me. I learned the language quickly after that, and at a young age I became the interpreter for my mother and father when they needed to go to the doctor or to any other appointment. As I grew up, I faced great difficulty searching for my identity as an Arab-American. I remember one year, I decided to put a henna design on my hand for my Arabic friend's wedding party. At school, my teacher sent me to the bathroom to wash my hands even though I told her it would not come off. Because of the design, my classmates would not hold my hand or touch anything that I had touched. Another time, I went to school wearing the hijab, the headdress worn by Muslim women. The whole day, one student after another taunted me.

I did not wear it again until I married and moved to New York City. That is when I noticed all over Brooklyn African American Muslims wearing the hijab. I admired them for their grace and beauty in their modest Islamic dress. They seemed comfortable and content with their presence in public. No one stared at them or made remarks about their appearance. I began to reflect about my religion and culture. How can American converts embrace a religion I was born into and I can't embrace it with pride? After a great deal of soul searching I decided to follow my heart and cover my hair. Wearing the hijab empowered me to reach my personal and professional goals. It gave me a high stature. People recognized and respected me for what I knew, not for my physical presence. Being a modern woman in traditional garb has made me a role model for young women across the city. I symbolize the co-existence of both worlds during a complex time. I came to realize that New York City is a place that is accepting of all cultures, races, colors and creeds. I finally found a place where I felt comfortable and could call home.

Still, when my daughter, at the age of nine, decided she would go to school wearing a hijab, I was worried. I prayed all day that history was not going to repeat itself. When she came home, I waited nervously to hear what had happened. "Mom," she said, "everyone liked my hijab. Everyone said I look beautiful in it."

My daughter, Shifa, is now 13 years old and wears her hijab all the time. She is your typical American girl whose passion is music and being on the phone with her friends, especially her best friend, who is Jewish. Shifa went to her bat mitzvah.

I also have two sons. The older one, Yusuf, decided to join the US Army three years ago. I was torn because I'm a person who loves peace. But this is what he wanted to do and so we supported his decision. However, now I say to myself I wish I had not supported him then. On September 11th, he was activated to report to his unit, and then was sent to Ground Zero. He has been there ever since. In the beginning, he was part of the rescue mission, and I waited anxiously by the phone every night hoping he would call. But he could only call every three or four days, which felt like months. What's worse, usually he called during the day, when we were away at work. He left a message on our answering machine: "Mom, Dad! It's Yousif. I'm okay. Don't worry about me. I'm eating better now and sleeping a little longer. I'll call you soon. I love you."

After he had been there two weeks, his job switched to patrolling the area. More recently he has been assembling telecommunication equipment.

I spend my days worrying about his physical and emotional well-being. He has experienced something that only grown men in the army usually experience, and he is only 19. I know he has shown his honor, love and dedication to his country, but my concern is, how do others perceive him? Do they recognize his deep commitment? Especially now, since Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians have become scapegoats for many frustrated people.

Recently Yousif came home for the night; it was the first time since the tragedy. His presence at the front door was a relief for sour eyes, but I almost did not recognize him. I thought, Oh my God, he could pass for his father's brother today, because this experience has actually made him look like he's aged at least five or ten years. When I asked him "how is it like there?", he couldn't talk about. And God only knows when he will be ready to talk about it. The evil doing of others has stripped my child's innocence on many levels. He remains with visions of destruction and uncertainty.

In the school where I teach, PS 261, students, teachers and parents have been incredible in the way they have been sensitive and supportive of the Arab and Muslim community. On September 13th, all of my colleagues and parents were very happy to see me at work; they all came over and hugged me and kissed me. A group of parents offered to escort the Arab and Muslim children to school for as long as needed. I ended up going out into the community to reassure Arab and Muslim parents that they need to send their children to school, that they should not worry about their safety there.

Since September 11th, I have been involved in so many projects to safeguard my Arab, Muslim and South Asian neighbors in Brooklyn. This all evolved from my membership in the Brooklyn Dialogue Project. It is a group of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and others who meet on a monthly basis, just to talk about the issues of the world and give each other a sense of hope and support. Immediately after September 11th, some members of the dialogue called to check up on how my family and I were doing. Based on the concerns and issues I raised, I was invited by these members to go to their churches and synagogues and to speak on behalf of the Arab- American and Muslim communities in Brooklyn.

Arab- American and Muslim women have become very limited in their daily routines. I for one was a prisoner in my own home for almost a month after September 11th. I was afraid to go out in public alone because I wear the hijab. My husband became my escort; he drove me to work and drove me home. He did everything that I needed to get done outside because I feared for my safety, if not my life. We were afraid of having someone attack me physically or verbally. There have been many attacks in the city. Women wearing the hijab have been chased and had their hijabs pulled off. Many have been spat on. Gangs of teenagers beat three women in Brooklyn. One woman walking down the street with her child in a stroller was stoned with cans, bottles and trash. An Islamic school in Brooklyn was vandalized with eggs and dog droppings. Local businesses had their windows or awnings destroyed.

These are some of the incidents that have been reported. However, there are some that have not been reported. Many Arabs, Muslims and South Asian do not know enough English, or know enough about their civil rights, to make reports. Some fear being detained by police or discovered by their attackers. Many think that reporting what happened to them will not change anything. They feel isolated and outcast by New Yorkers in general. Many feel guilt and shame for what has happened, even though they had no involvement whatsoever in the hideous acts of terrorism.

Why can't all New Yorkers treat Arabs, Muslims, and South Asian with respect, love, trust, and compassion? Many of my friends at work and in My Aspiring Leaders Program at Baruch College fear for me as much as my family does. Many have asked me to take off the hijab in public and wear it when I get to work or class. I very much appreciated their concern and told them not to worry. But taking off the hijab was not something I would do. I cannot compromise when it comes to my beliefs. I would rather die than take it off. For me, it would almost be like asking me to walk around topless.

I am blessed to have such caring friends because they have not let me travel by foot or train alone. Many have extended themselves to support me emotionally and physically. Some are escorting me to work, college, and around the city. Others are calling on a continual basis to cheer me up and tell me how much I mean to them. Because of their continuous love and support, I was encouraged to start helping my community rather than stay home and feel sorry for myself. After speaking at different churches and synagogues, I realized that many people within the community did not know their Arab and Muslim neighbors on a social basis. So I decided to open my home to neighbors, friends and people I met at the churches and synagogues. I wanted them to get to know who we are and how much we have in common. I had over a hundred and thirty guests. Who are now good friends and allies.

This open house opened the doors for me to help my community on many levels. Many of my guests were very eager to help, such as the Christian Children's Fund. With their facilitation and moral support, members from Park Slope and myself were able to develop the Brooklyn Bridges Project, which offers to escort people who are afraid, makes legal and mental health referrals, and tries to educate people about Arabs, Muslims and South Asians. Another group with which I have become involved is developing with the help of expert educators from across the city a curriculum that will be distributed to New York City schools and universities. All this volunteer work has literally become a full time job.

What's important now is that we need to come together as a community to be educated and educate others as you would children: There are people who do bad things, but there are many people who do good things. We must get to know each other by speaking to one another. We need to make sure that everyone's voice is heard rather than silenced, to overcome our fears. We need to take this unfortunate event as a way to build bridges with the communities that are affected. We need to develop relationships with our Arab-American, Muslim and South Asian neighbors and merchants to develop understanding and insight. We need to show our solidarity by morally and ethically supporting their existence as Americans.

One of my Israeli guests said to me, "I have always wished to get to know an Arab on a personal level but had no idea how to go about it, thank you for opening your home, your life and your heart."

For those of you who are interested in finding more information about ways to promote understanding and justice, the following are some useful resources:

  • The Study Circles Resource Center helps communities organize study circles - small group, democratic, peer-led discussions that give people opportunities to make a difference in their communities.
  • Tolerance.org aims to create a national community committed to human rights. Its goal is to awaken people of all ages to the problem of hate and intolerance, to equip them with the best tolerance ideas and to prompt them to act in their homes, schools, businesses and communities.
  • Whole Nation: Whole Nation is dedicated to bringing about reconciliation of the peoples of America.

Debbie Almontaser is an Arab-American who wears the hjiab or head-covering of a devout Muslim. She is also a schoolteacher and a mother whose son is a soldier standing guard at Ground Zero. Above all, she is a New Yorker.

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Read History Of Arab New York

History Of Arab New York


When Arabs, many of them Syrian Christians, first came to New York around 1870, they settled on Washington Street, in the shadow of where the World Trade Center would be put up a century later.

Since then, there have been many strands of Arab immigration. Arab Christians, Arab Muslims and Muslims from south Asia and Africa as well as the Middle East and North Africa have made their presence felt in neighborhoods throughout New York, opening shops, founding churches and mosques and entering the commercial life of the city. These communities have received increased attention, much of it unwelcome, since September 11.

WASHINGTON STREET AND BEYOND

The immigration of Arabs came in two waves. The first arrived between the 1870s and the 1920s, when new laws cut off much of the influx to the United States. The second large group of arrivals entered after immigration laws changed again in 1965.

The earliest immigrants that we would call Arabs had Turkish passports because of the reach of the Ottoman Empire. But most spoke Arabic and came from Syria and what is now Lebanon. The majority were not Muslims but Catholics, divided among Maronites and Melchites. There were Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Jews. Once here, they were known as Syrians.

This is the community that settled on Washington Street. From the late 19th century until the building of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1940s, Manhattan's Little Syria was home to countless immigrants from Syria and Lebanon, again most of them Christian. They were bankers and publishers as well as manufacturers and importers of lace, linen, embroideries and lingerie.

Philip Kayal, a professor at Seton Hall University who wrote "New York: The Mother Colony of Arab-America, 1854-1924," said, "This community was an entrepreneurial community, it wasn1t an educated community. It had been influenced by French imperialists. They thought like Western Europeans for the most part."

When the immigrants became more affluent, they took the ferry from Whitehall Street to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. There, they found more spacious residences and created the South Ferry community, which encompassed most of the areas now called Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. By 1895, there were 30 Syrian families living in South Ferry. As more arrived, they organized churches and societies and started businesses. Many were merchants or peddlers worked in the needle trades.

What did Brooklyn think of these immigrants? One New York newspaper said, "There is not a more industrious or capable representative of the East than the Syrian. He generally brings money and lives at peace."

But the immigrants also faced discrimination, according to Mary Ann Haick DiNapoli of the Arab American Heritage Association. "There were feuds with the Irish because it was the Irish immigrants whom the Syrians were displacing as they moved into these neighborhoods." And the 1921 immigration act sharply restricted Syrian immigration.

In 1920, half of all Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in the U.S. lived in New York City. And half of those lived in South Ferry. Meanwhile, the original community on Washington Street faded until the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1940s ended the community for good.

The Brooklyn Syrian community, though, entered what DiNapoli calls a golden age in the 1920s, becoming a self-sufficient ethnic neighborhood. By this time, Syrians left peddling and entered any and all industries and professions, although the needle trades continued to be key. The Syrian Lebanese community became autonomous and successful and, because of that, more assimilated. People learned English quickly and many married outside the community.

In the 1950s, most Syrian Americans moved to Bay Ridge. The old South Ferry community changed with an influx of Puerto Ricans and of people wanting to fix up the neighborhood1s elegant brownstones. But then the 1970s saw a new wave of immigrants.

According to Kayal, these newcomers were different from their predecessors. They were better educated, Muslim and from a number of countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Palestine and Jordan. This continuing influx of immigrants to New York City from numerous Arab nations, said DiNapoli, "has continued to re-ethnicize the South Ferry area more than a century after Syrians and Lebanese first settled there."

PRESENT DAY ARABS AND MUSLIMS

Today, Arabs in the city are part of a larger Muslim community from virtually every part of the globe. Muslim New Yorkers come from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Iran, from the Balkans, from West Africa (notably Ghana, Senegal, Niger and Sierra Leone) and even from the Americas, principally Guyana and Trinidad-Tobago.

Of the estimated 600,000 Muslims in New York, about 200,000 are of Arab ancestry, according to Louis Abdulatif Cristillo of the Muslims in New York Project at Columbia University.

Arab Muslims, who have immigrated in greater number since the mid 1960s, were once a nearly invisible minority compared to Christian Arabs. But now the Muslims have become increasingly engaged in the public life of the city. They live beyond the traditional enclaves of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, and South Brooklyn, venturing out into the other boroughs to live, open businesses and become part of mixed neighborhoods.

There has been a tremendous expansion of mosques since the late 19701s, with close to 130 mosques now in the city. Muslim Arabs can purchase meat in dozens of butcher shops, send their children to 14 private schools, have litigated for the right to wear religious clothing or beards in the workplace, and have successfully lobbied the city to suspend parking rules for major Islamic holidays.

The Museum of the City of New York currently has a series of programs connected to "A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York." The exhibition, originally scheduled for November, has been delayed until March, 2002, in light of recent events.

Alexander Garvin, What's the Big Idea?


As lead planner at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Alexander Garvin may have a better idea than anyone else about what the World Trade Center site will look like. So there were loud gasps when, dressed in his characteristic bow tie, he stepped up to give the keynote speech at the annual meeting last week of the New York chapter of the American Planning Association, and he said that he was not going to talk about rebuilding Lower Manhattan.

Instead, armed with color slides, he talked about the Eiffel Tower in Paris and a mall in Minneapolis (the IDS Center), Penn Center in Philadelphia and a mall in Santa Monica. He talked, in other words, about projects that he thinks have changed whole cities, for better or for worse -- and, in the process, sometimes changed the world as well.

That is what Garvin, the development corporation's vice president for planning, design and development, clearly hopes will happen on the site of the World Trade Center. "We have a chance to start all over again," Garvin said when he was first hired a few months ago. "Things are possible at the moment that have not been possible in my lifetime."

Garvin, 61 years old, has spent his entire life as a resident of the Upper East Side, and more than half of it teaching at Yale University, which he attended as an undergraduate and where he also attained a masters in both architecture and urban studies. He has been a real estate developer, a private architect, and a public official as well, serving as a deputy housing commissioner during the 1970s and as a member of the New York City Planning Commission since 1995. Garvin is a planner on the committee to bring the Summer Olympics to New York in 2012, where he works closely with another rebuilding insider, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Daniel Doctoroff.

If he spoke only briefly about lower Manhattan at the end of his slide show for his fellow planners, it was not because he has no ideas; quite the contrary. Garvin has said that his inspiration for the rebuilding project is Daniel Burnham, the planner who designed much of Chicago in the early 1900s and believed that big ideas are the only ones to succeed.

Already, he led the corporation's planning team as it developed an April blueprint for the site, suggesting building a transportation hub linking PATH, subway, and future regional rail service and moving West Street underground to connect the Financial District with Battery Park city.

In his best known book, The American City: What Works, What Doesn't, first published in 1996, Garvin gives a nearly 500-page critique of the ways that cities have failed and succeeded in planning their futures. In the book, he gives as one case study Battery Park City, celebrating the developers' decision to blend the project with the rest of the city by following the pattern of existing streets and extending waterfront views.

Throughout his book, Garvin maintains that it is vital for a project to benefit the surrounding community by drawing private businesses and investors to the area. This philosophy is likely to guide him in plans for rebuilding New York, as he works to revitalize the area's business core. "We have to regain for lower Manhattan a role that has slowly leaking away for two-thirds of a century," said Garvin. "Most important, it has to be something that will generate a wide-spread and sustained reaction by the private market." In The American City, Garvin presents six basic ingredients for project success: market, location, design, financing, entrepreneurship and time.

Market: A specific group of people must want the goods and services involved in an urban planning project, and be willing and able to pay for them, even if there are other alternatives, he explains.

Location: A planning site's physical characteristics, such as a beautiful view or historic value, as well as its proximity to other areas, are also very important to its success.

Design: Design, Garvin says, doesn't just mean architectural style, but the ways that an area is accommodating and attractive to visitors, homeowners, or retailers. He describes Ghirardelli Square, in San Francisco, as an example of remarkably successful design, as it capitalizes on its panoramic views and brings people into the various businesses on the square.

Financing: Garvin warns that financing for further development is key to a project's success. A revitalization plan in the Bronx's Mott Haven neighborhood failed because no further funding was available.

Entrepreneurship: A plan also cannot simply follow a formula, but needs an entrepreneur, who can supply the extra energy and vision to bring everything forward.

Time: Finally, Garvin details three different moments of time that need to be considered when planning an urban project: the time that an individual person takes to pass through an area, what happens on the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and what will remain important over a long period of time, for decades to come.

Garvin's other central philosophy, outlined in The American City, maintains that public input is vital to any urban planning process. He writes, "we also need a better understanding of how effective planning is translated into a better quality of life. It is not accomplished by planners operating in a vacuum." This will be tested as the rebuilding process continues, because all of New York is very invested, in many different ways, in what will be built in Lower Manhattan.

Because Garvin's influence over what is built in Lower Manhattan is considerable, he has been under public scrutiny ever since he was appointed. Garvin's enthusiastic support for the selection of architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle as the planning consultant to work on downtown's redevelopment provoked a minor controversy last month. After the New York Times ran an article reporting that Garvin gave every firm but Beyer Blinder Belle much lower scores than the other members of the selection committee, the panel re-evaluated the top two firms, ultimately choosing Beyer Blinder Belle.

At Yale's School of Architecture, Garvin teaches a popular undergraduate course called "Study of the City." A major part of the class is a month-long role playing game, where Garvin assigns a fictional development project. Students playing planners, developers, bank lenders, retailers and public officials take on actual development decisions. They are graded on how well they are able to justify the choices they make.

As the public closely watches Garvin in the upcoming months and years of rebuilding, what marks will he receive?

Transcript to chat with Garvin.

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