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Opinion

Slowing Down 14th Street Bus Plan is Anything But Progress, or Progressive


mta bus electric

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)


One of the most frustrating things about local New York City politics is that many people who believe in progressive ideas on the national stage do an about-face when it comes to progressive change on the local level, often when that change might actually touch their day-to-day lives in some way.

This phenomenon has been captured perfectly by the current debate around the 14th Street busway -- a pilot program approved by the mayor, which would prioritize public transit and trucks over private cars on one of the city’s busiest corridors -- and the troubling last-minute temporary restraining order against its implementation.

Just about everyone talks about how we need to make transit better for working New Yorkers, and that moving New Yorkers by bus, train, and bikes is more efficient and environmentally-friendly than by car, and yet, progress has been ground to a halt in the name of “environmentalism” by a few local residents using their connections and resources to jam up a groundbreaking transit project.

The lawsuit that led to the restraining order comes from a few wealthy, car-driving “progressive” West Side residents who claim that the 14th Street bus plan, as well as the protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, should be subject to an environmental review. (Funny, the car lanes and free parking weren’t subject to an environmental review.)

The cynicism being displayed here by some of my West Side neighbors is far from universal. In fact, support for a busway on 14th Street in our community is overwhelming.

Community Board 6 Manhattan, of which I am a member, represents 147,000 New Yorkers on the East Side, covers half of the 14th Street corridor, and has been on the record supporting bus priority for almost a year. We first voted in favor last September, and then just reiterated our support in a second resolution in February.

Our position has been informed by the testimony of dozens of people at multiple meetings, including meetings hosted by us, by the city Department of Transportation, by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), by our elected officials, and others.

Our support for bus priority on 14th Street is informed by our own experience. Because there’s no area north-south subway east of Union Square, we depend on MTA buses more than people in other parts of Manhattan. We rely on the M15-SBS almost like a subway. We use existing upgraded crosstown bus service like the M23-SBS and M34-SBS to connect to the subway system. And we absolutely depend on 14th Street bus service, which (as everyone knows) is unreliable even after recent MTA upgrades.

In our neighborhood, we need and we deserve world-class transportation, and the transit and truck priority corridor the DOT planned would give it to us. It was planning to launch last month — until West Side attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is leading the lawsuit, somehow convinced a judge to put it on hold.

It’s rich to have Schwartz attack the busway with the baseless claim that the community is united in opposition to it. I am here to tell you that that claim is false; the support of Community Board 6 is emphatic and broad-based and it’s on the record. It shouldn’t surprise us that this same attorney has been cluelessly quoted that he doesn’t take the bus when he’s in a hurry.

But some New Yorkers don’t have much of a choice; people like me and 27,000 of our neighbors ride the M14A -- the city's slowest bus -- and M14D every day. Collectively we've lost out on about a year's worth of time while our buses idle in mixed traffic. Our voices matter.

The benefits of faster and more reliable bus service disproportionately accrue to people with lower incomes (that’s the definition of progressive). That reality isn’t lost on most of us invested in the fight to improve transportation in New York City, and we aren’t going to let people like Schwartz wear a mantle that he hasn’t earned, no matter how much they like to call themselves progressive.

I hope the baselessness of this lawsuit is exposed at Tuesday’s hearing where a New York State Supreme Court judge will hear arguments on both sides. I’m optimistic we can get the busway back on track as soon as possible. It will be a game-changer for tens of thousands of working New Yorkers, saving us thousands of hours a year otherwise sitting in traffic or standing in the rain. That’s a progressive step forward that everyone should support.

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Rich Mintz is a member of Manhattan Community Board 6. On Twitter @richmintz.

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A Threat to the Right to Abortion Anywhere is a Threat to Abortion Everywhere


mbdb flcm

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The fight for safe, legal abortion started long before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion care. Planned Parenthood of New York City and all Planned Parenthood affiliates will always stand in solidarity to protect safe, legal abortion. That has not, and will never change. However, we live in a country where health care is deeply politicized -- because politicians have made it that way, even here in New York.

Abortion is health care, and health care is a fundamental human right. Let me be clear, the same politicians who seek to outlaw abortion are also the same politicians who are forcing dying patients off their insurance by dismantling the Affordable Care Act. They are the same politicians who are lobbied by big pharma in order to triple the cost of insulin. They are the same politicians who want to allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. These politicians continue to pull the levers of power in favor of themselves, and not the people they represent. These are the types of political barriers our patients and health care professionals face every day. 

In May, I stood before a crowd of nearly a thousand New Yorkers, who were enraged over the extreme abortion bans sweeping our country. New Yorkers are fortunate to live in a state where the protections of Roe v. Wade were recently enshrined into state law, but New Yorkers are also savvy enough to know that an attack on abortion in any state, is an attack on abortion in every state.

I echoed the true New York City spirit - If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us - that evening at a “Stop the Bans” rally in Lower Manhattan. I described the abortion bans as a coordinated attack in order to drive care underground and force a national showdown at the Supreme Court. I added that it’s not just an attack on women, it’s an attack on anyone who can and might get pregnant - including transgender men and gender non-conforming people. The crowd cheered with approval. I imagine in that moment, people who fought to be seen as human, got the recognition they needed and deserved.

Immediately after the rally, anti-abortion extremists pounced on the opportunity to denounce my statement. One network rolled footage of a woman in front of a podium at a reproductive rights rally, while the host criticized what I said. It was clear the network failed to acknowledge the unique individuality of women, and all people, across our country. The host growled the stale notion that “that only women can bear children...reality is worth defending.” I disagree. This reality is worth defending, as are the fundamental human rights of our patients.

Transgender men and gender non-conforming people can have children if they want to. They are also at risk of pregnancy against their will. A 2015 survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. For transgender men, a devastating rape could result in unwanted pregnancy. Planned Parenthood of New York City will always be a safe haven for anyone who needs compassionate, non-judgmental care. Our doors will always be open to everyone.  

Unfortunately, the Trump-Pence administration refuses to embrace people with the same compassion. This year, the White House welcomed Pride Month with a proposal to dismantle Obama-era protections for transgender people. The administration wants to make it legal for doctors to discriminate against patients based on their gender identity. The White House also wants to define gender as a fixed biological condition -- essentially erasing transgender identity out of existence.  

Now, the Trump-Pence administration has created a new health care hurdle by enforcing the Title X “gag rule.” The “gag rule” makes health care providers, like Planned Parenthood, ineligible for federal funding for family planning and preventive care -- like birth control, STD tests and treatment, and cancer screenings -- if they also counsel or refer for abortion care. This is another way of politicizing health care at the expense of underserved and uninsured people -- our people, our patients. 

Here in New York the situation is much different. Earlier this year, New York shielded legal abortion in our state with the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), cementing New York’s position as a safe haven for sexual and reproductive rights, even if Roe is overturned by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court. The RHA was a political win for New Yorkers and the national fight for reproductive freedom. Our Albany lawmakers exercised their legislative power to safeguard reproductive rights for all New Yorkers, and for anyone across the country who may have to travel to our state for safe, legal abortion. Simply put, this victory proves that elections matter.

Health care is at the core of Planned Parenthood’s mission, and has been for more than 100 years, but it is also our obligation to heal the scars of political oppression and ensure that laws and policies allow us to continue care for the next 100 years. We will stay committed to protecting our patients, because if we don’t advocate for their right to affordable, quality medical care, who will?

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Laura McQuade is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. McQuade will assume leadership of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York when the affiliate launches in 2020.

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A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City


assist parade cleanup

(photo: Michael Anton/Department of Sanitation)


Environmental advocates and labor unions are dissatisfied with New York City’s system of collecting garbage from commercial establishments. Unlike waste from residences, including apartment buildings, which is collected by the city’s Department of Sanitation, waste from office buildings, retail businesses, and restaurants is collected by for-hire companies that charge their customers fees for the service.

Environmentalists decry the traffic and pollution caused by multiple different waste collection companies’ trucks driving all over the city on uncoordinated routes and schedules. Labor unions are concerned about the reliance of many of the smaller waste-haulers on non-unionized workers with low salaries, no benefits, and relatively little in the way of safety protections. These concerns were highlighted by fatal crashes that led to the shutdown of one waste hauling company. 

My former organization, Citizens Budget Commission, has long been concerned about the high costs of New York City’s waste disposal practices; as CBC President I first testified about this issue before the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management in October 2011.

We published a comprehensive analysis of city solid waste management in 2014. With respect to commercial waste collection, CBC noted that the high number of private carters (as many as 250 in 2014, including those that handle only special types of waste such as construction and medical) has kept collection prices low and minimized corruption, but a more efficient zoned system would minimize congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:

“...the City should shift from “open” competition to competitively awarded franchises for service in designated districts. The franchise should not be given exclusively to one carter but instead limited to a small number of firms. Such “non-exclusive” franchises allow for greater competition and provide greater opportunity for small and medium size businesses to compete…The franchise agreements should include standards for worker safety and vehicle environmental performance.” 

In November 2018, after two years of study and consultation with stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation released a reform plan that largely reflects CBC’s recommendations. As the City Council appears close to movement on solid waste management reform, it would be wise to quickly adopt legislation that includes the key tenets of what CBC and Sanitation have put forward, so that an aggressive but careful multi-year implementation process can begin.

Sanitation proposes a Commercial Waste Zone (CWZ) program that would divide the city into 20 zones. Within each zone carters would compete to win city contracts to provide waste collection services. Three to five carters would be selected in each zone, depending on the density of commercial activity in the zone. Selected carters would have to specify a maximum price, offer recycling and organic collection at discounted rates, and comply with vehicle emission standards. The contracts would last 10 years and the first awards would be made in 2021 with the system to be phased in over the following two years, 2022-2023.

CWZs would be a dramatic change and all change meets resistance. Some carters are opposed to limiting the number of franchisees, fearing that they would not be able to compete and would go out of business. Businesses, especially large ones that are now able to drive a hard bargain, are concerned that collection fees will increase and they will have little leverage to control costs. They also want flexibility to be able to change trash haulers if they believe they can get a better deal or performance isn’t meeting expectations.

Environmentalists contend that there should be only one carter per zone to achieve the maximum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Labor unions want the better salary and benefits that union-only employees would receive and that only very large collection firms that have exclusive franchises can assure. 

The City Council Sanitation Committee chair, Antonio Reynoso, has been a strong advocate of some environmentally–oriented waste management policies, like charging for single-use plastic bags and curbside collection of organic waste. Now, he has taken the lead on CWZs by introducing legislation to create franchise zones.

His bill provides for only one franchisee per zone. The enviro/labor groups are pleased, but the business community is very concerned about the prospect of dramatically increased waste collection fees and a loss of customer choice. They point to the recent experience in Los Angeles, which adopted single-vendor zones and prices for some companies quadrupled.  (The LA system is quite different and much larger and more expensive in that it applies to multi-family residential as well as commercial waste collection.)

As they say, the mark of a good compromise is that all stakeholders are somewhat dissatisfied. CWZs will require significant readjustments by the Department of Sanitation, the city’s Business Integrity Commission ( which licenses carters), the business community, and the waste collection industry; it would be wise to move resolutely but carefully.

Moving from what is essentially a free-for-all to a highly constrained and regulated system is probably too much to do all at once. The Department of Sanitation’s proposal to allow several franchisees per zone would give businesses some price and quality leverage to select among a few competitor vendors. It would enable some of the smaller waste haulers to remain in business while elevating the quality of equipment and safety of the industry citywide.

Studies indicate that as much as 85% of the greenhouse gas emission reductions to be gained from a CWZ system would be achieved by limiting franchisees to a small number. So while it may not be the more categorical result that some would prefer, let’s hope that the Council doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the very good.

The Sanitation Department’s proposal is a thoughtful balancing of interests and concerns. Hopefully some areas of compromise can be found so that the Council can adopt CWZ legislation in the fall and adjustments can be made, if needed, after the city has some experience with the new system. But the time to act is now.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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Leaving the REBNY vs NIMBY Doom Loop


city planning manhattan brooklyn waterfront

(photo: NYC Planning)


This past week, amidst flooded streets, blackouts, overheated jails, and subway failures, New Yorkers saw the consequences that result from a failure to engage in strategic long-term planning for the future of our city. In the final decisions of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, we also missed a big chance to do something about it.

The dangers of failing to invest strategically in the infrastructure that sustains our city will grow in coming decades, as temperatures and sea levels rise. Meanwhile, even as our infrastructure strains, the city’s population continues to grow. So our housing affordability crisis is on track to get worse – exacerbating displacement, inequality, and the unfair imposition of our city’s burdens on low-income communities of color.

It’s clear that we need a better way to make infrastructure and land-use decisions that take climate change, affordability, and the challenges of growth seriously. Our piece-meal planning system is not up to the task. 

Currently, the process of developing a capital plan to invest in our infrastructure constitutes just making a big list – a list that is in no way informed by plans for rezoning or development. How can we plan which neighborhoods should get resilient infrastructure like levees and seawalls when land-use and growth decisions are happening elsewhere? Shouldn’t we include capital budgeting for infrastructure like transit and schools as part of the process of planning for the new residential growth that will require it?

Meanwhile, New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is a reactive, project-by-project process for considering changes – bereft of strategic vision, shared values, or a connection to long-term infrastructure planning.

Codified in 1975 when the city’s challenge was abandonment rather than growth, ULURP has become reduced to a shrill, tug-of-war between the pro-growth forces of the Real Estate Board of New York (who profit on each development, and therefore rarely worry about which ones make long-term sense for the public good) and neighborhood activists whose Not In My Back Yard advocacy (rooted in a variety of motivations) leaves no way to figure out where and how the growth we need to address the scale of the housing crisis should take place.

The process ensures that decisions are driven by the interest group with the most powerful political connections, creating a planning rationale that reflects and reinforces systemic inequities.

If we are going to plan for the future that’s coming, like it or not, we need a way out of the REBNY vs. NIMBY doom loop. 

The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission -- which last week issued its final decisions on ballot proposals to go before voters this November -- had the chance to plot a better course forward. The Charter Revision Commission heard more complaints about New York City’s land use process than any other topic. Commission members and staff acknowledged “a level of public disillusionment” and that “the somewhat scattered approach the Charter currently takes to its various planning requirements exacerbates this disillusionment and confusion.”

But, even with all the signs pointing to the need for better long-term planning, they failed to propose any meaningful changes. When we vote in November on charter changes, addressing our disparate and dysfunctional planning processes won’t be on the ballot, though 19 other proposals will be.

When the commission began its work last fall, we proposed a real step forward. Together with the Thriving Communities Coalition of community-based groups, affordable housing, environmental, and planning advocates, we asked the commissioners to require New York City to undertake a comprehensive planning process, in which we would work together to set a broader citywide framework for land use and infrastructure decisions.

The process would begin with data-driven, citywide analyses of our challenges. We would then have a public conversation about the values that should shape decisions -- values like fairness across communities, making sure people can stay in their homes, mitigating climate change, investing in resilient infrastructure, new modes of transit, and closing the Rikers Island jails. We could do it every ten years as they do in so many other cities, or every four years to coincide with our mayoral election cycles. 

Together, we would set a citywide framework for the tough job of balancing citywide needs and neighborhood preferences. Communities would get a real voice, but not a veto. The City Council would vote on this broader framework. After that, zoning actions, development proposals, and infrastructure investments aligned with the comprehensive plan would move more smoothly. Those that conflict with the plan would not (or, at least, would have to clear extra hurdles). 

We would plan for increased transit capacity alongside increased housing density, budget for new parks equitably across the city, and take a holistic look at where we need to take further action to plan for rising sea levels and more 100-degree days. Communities could be able to have confidence that promises made to them – for new parks, schools, libraries, or transit – would actually be kept.

Comprehensive planning is not a panacea, but evidence from other cities suggests that it is an essential component of fair and rational progress. As part of their process last year, our friends in the Minneapolis City Council voted to get rid of single-family zoning across the city, and upzone their transit corridors citywide to address their housing shortage (at the same time, they voted to strengthen tenant protections to protect renters from displacement as growth occurs).

Let’s be honest: there is no way Minneapolis would have done this with a process like ULURP, which goes one neighborhood or project at a time. What neighborhood would have agreed to be the first one to give up the privilege of single-family zoning? Not one.

By comparison, of the ten neighborhood rezoning processes initiated during the de Blasio administration, nine have been in low-income communities of color. This would not have happened if we had developed a comprehensive plan, with fairness across communities as one of its principles. 

The Charter Revision Commission failed to get the job done. But the heat wave and its impacts reminded us that, in the longer term, we really don’t have a choice. So in the coming months, we’ll be working in the City Council to do what we can through legislation. And in the coming years, we’ll try to make sure that the 2021 city elections focus on issues that matter the most, even if they don’t always make the daily news cycle. 

Comprehensive planning may not top the polls. But if we are going to meet the collective challenges of rising temperatures and sea levels, growing population, aging infrastructure, keeping people in their homes, and addressing deeply-rooted inequality, we’re going to have to start doing it.

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City Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @BradLander & @CMReynoso34.

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New York City Comptroller Wants to Start Country’s Largest Teacher Residency; Here’s 3 Ways to Make it Successful


maybloomberg totalschools

(Photo: Edward Reed/Mayor's Office)


Late last month, New York City Comptroller (and likely 2021 mayoral candidate) Scott Stringer proposed allocating $40 million a year to run the nation’s largest teacher residency program in New York City. According to an analysis released by his office, a large-scale teacher residency program would address teacher retention and shortages of teachers of color and teachers in hard-to-staff areas of the city. 

Teacher residencies are a high-potential pathway into the classroom. And Comptroller Stringer’s plan is particularly promising. The residency would be an alternative certification program to prepare new teachers for the classroom. In it, residents would complete a year of training, primarily in the classroom, under the tutelage of an effective mentor teacher. Classroom experience would be complemented by relevant coursework completed at an institution of higher education. Residents would receive a living stipend during the program, and at the end of it, would be able to teach in a classroom of their own. 

And there’s reason to believe that Comptroller Stringer may get his way on this. Past analyses out of Stringer’s office called out issues in physical education and arts education, which ultimately led to $124 million in investments in those programs.

Stringer obviously did his homework, and proposed a residency program built on current best practices in the field. But now is the time to think through implementation. Operating an effective residency requires careful planning and design choices. Here’s what would need to be done to ensure this idea works:

1. Select and support effective mentor teachers
The success of Comptroller Stringer’s residency plan hinges on the quality of its mentor teachers. They serve as the model for what good teaching should look like, and are responsible for connecting what candidates learn in their coursework to classroom practice. They need to be effective teachers of children and adult learners. 

Stringer’s residency program will provide mentor teachers a “salary boost” for serving in this coaching role on top of their regular work. But other residency programs provide similar incentives and still struggle with recruiting mentor teachers who have the skills and willingness to shape the next generation of teachers. Without effective mentor teachers, Stringer’s entire program could fall apart.

2. Provide stipends large enough to attract the teachers the city needs
A key strategy of Stringer’s proposal is to provide teacher residents a financial stipend to offset the cost of living expenses, which may give the residency an advantage over other teacher preparation programs that don’t provide stipends, and appeal to people who otherwise may not consider teaching. The strategy may work: other residency programs offer similar incentives, and evidence suggests that they produce more diverse teachers and shortage area teachers than other preparation programs. 

But even with a living stipend, a residency is a year of full-time employment, and few people have the financial means to forgo a year of wages. Other residencies address this by paying residents a full salary and benefits. Especially in a place as expensive as New York City, the stipend alone may not be enough to recruit the candidates Stringer wants and the city needs.

3. Encourage teachers to stay in the classroom past the residency year
One stated goal of the residency program is to improve teacher retention; nearly 40 percent of New York City teachers leave within the first five years. But unlike other residency programs, this one doesn’t require a teaching commitment after completing the program. 

It’s possible Stringer plans to phase that requirement in later, given that the report highlights several residency programs that require similar teaching commitments as models of success. But if that’s not the case, the city could end up making a substantial investment without actually improving teacher retention. 

Stringer’s residency proposal gets a lot right. But resources are scarce, so if the city is going to invest $40 million every year, it needs to do everything possible to make sure the plan is successful.

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Ashley LiBetti is an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners. On Twitter @aklibetti & @bellwethered.

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The Root NYCHA Problem: A Culture of Disengagement & Dysfunction


mayor bdb carl

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Last week the federal NYCHA monitor issued his first quarterly report. It was a scathing indictment of the agency, describing “putrid liquid” spilling into a laundry room and rats scurrying through a 14-floor high garbage compactor. As one resident explained, “we are hostages in our own homes at night…due to rats that are the size of cats.”

But as disturbing as these examples are, the most important finding was less graphic but ultimately more dangerous:  A systemic culture of failing to take responsibility. NYCHA, the monitor found, was simply unable to proactively recognize and tackle problems, and in many instances showed little interest in even making the attempt.  

For example, NYCHA initially explained that it could not fix the leaking of putrid liquid because scaffolding was needed to complete the job. After the monitor made inquiries, the problem was solved in a matter of hours using a ladder.  

Further, to this day, NYCHA cannot accurately identify (or even quantify) the number of children living in apartments with potentially dangerous levels of lead paint. Indeed, NYCHA cannot even accurately quantify the total number of people actually living in NYCHA’s apartments. While NYCHA continues to insist it has 400,000 residents, the Department of Sanitation estimates the number, based on waste produced, is closer to 600,000.  

These systemic issues, even more than any one graphic example, are the real danger. An agency that can only fix a basic leak after pressure from a monitor is an agency that cannot manage to maintain its buildings. Relying on a monitor to raise these fixes is not a long-term solution; the monitor cannot be everywhere, and the monitor will not be there forever. Similarly, without basic information about who is living in which apartments, the task of protecting children from lead is unmanageable.

None of this is a surprise to us. For five years we served as Commissioner and First Deputy Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Investigation, which runs the NYCHA inspector general’s office. During that time, we wrote multiple reports detailing similar failings. Most notably, 20 months ago we issued a report after our investigation determined that children in NYCHA apartments were being exposed to dangerous levels of lead paint and that senior NYCHA officials had filed false forms with the federal government that failed to disclose this fact.  

The lead report followed earlier reports finding that NYCHA failed to perform safety checks on smoke detectors (and often falsified documents to cover up the fact) and did not follow safety rules regarding its elevators. The first report came after two children died in a fire where the smoke detector did not go off, even though an inspector had been in the apartment just hours before the fire and falsely filed paperwork stating that he had tested the alarm and it was working. The second report came after an elderly resident was killed when an elevator malfunctioned and threw him backwards to the ground.

NYCHA’s response to many of DOI’s findings was to minimize the problem rather than to aggressively tackle it. It seems little has changed.

This is the real problem. Not just putrid liquid, not just rats, but a culture starting at the top that has continually sought to downplay problems and avoid public embarrassment rather than energetically work towards real reform. Until this underlying problem is fixed, NYCHA will continue to put its residents in danger.

Moreover, while NYCHA suffers from federal disinvestment, this is not solely a problem of money. Indeed, it costs less to have someone with a ladder fix a leak than to erect unnecessary scaffolding to do the job, or even to have a worker mopping the floor every day for two months.

These failures have real world consequences for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living in NYCHA apartments. The mounting number of young children now known to have been exposed to dangerous lead paint is just the most well-reported example. As our earlier reports demonstrated, the failure to carry out other basic safety checks can also put residents in harm’s way. The failure of City and NYCHA leaders to do what they can to change the culture of disengagement that now exists is unacceptable.  

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Mark Peters & Lesley Brovner are the founding partners of the law firm Peters Brovner LLP and, respectively, former commissioner and first deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation.

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Preparing Our City’s Youth for the World of Work Through CareerReady NYC


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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


In recent years, New York City has racked up a series of impressive gains within the systems that prepare our youth for work and careers. The question is whether this progress will be enough for the city’s youth to navigate a rapidly changing labor market and achieve steady work and economic security. 

While the economic expansion of recent years has swept many young adults into the workforce, most of these new workers are not on pathways to upward mobility. Part of that is the nature of the jobs, almost all of which are part-time, low-paying, or both. But another factor is work readiness -- employers do not feel students are generally well-prepared for the world of work. One recent survey found that while 96 percent of college academic officers felt their institutions effectively prepare students for the workforce, only 11 percent of business leaders agreed. 

With education and skills requirements for high-paying positions continuing to rise, and automation potentially pushing low-skilled workers even further toward the economic margins, there’s a real chance things could get significantly worse. In fact, recent research estimates that one in every three jobs in New York City could become mostly or totally automated, with lower- and middle-income jobs at greatest risk. The workers in those jobs are overwhelmingly women and people of color.  

To address these challenges and help New York City’s youth prepare for steady work and economic security,  Mayor de Blasio has launched CareerReady NYC. This initiative prioritizes and connects the raw ingredients of career success: academic attainment, work experience, time management, critical thinking, communications, and teamwork. By linking up the subsystems of public education, youth employment, and postsecondary education, we can improve the odds for young people who might not have the strong family or community support networks to make meaning from unconnected academic and work experiences. 

Developed over a two-year period by leaders from city government, the public school system, CUNY, employers, philanthropy, and community-based organizations, CareerReady NYC reflects two core truths. First, “school” and “work” are vital and complementary inputs to growing up, and should be supported as such. Second, when it comes to the success of our youth, everyone has skin in the game, and everyone needs to pitch in on their behalf. 

The good news: there’s a lot of success to build upon. High school graduation and college readiness rates are the highest yet recorded. CUNY has rededicated itself to student success, with substantial investments in programs such as ASAP (Accelerated Success in Associate Programs) that are helping students to complete degrees. The Summer Youth Employment Program, a mainstay of life in the five boroughs since 1963, is putting more than twice as many young New Yorkers to work in 2019 as it did just six years ago. Finally, New York City is blessed with the strongest and most generous philanthropic partners of any city in America.

With all that in mind, the city is making a pledge through CareerReady NYC to begin to manage these programs to reflect the reality that they serve the same young people, and work toward providing more and better career guidance in school and work experiences outside of it. Our hope is that the Department of Education and CUNY will continue to embrace the goal of career readiness for their students, prioritizing career awareness, career exploration, and work-based learning.

We’re calling upon employers to participate by hosting student site visits, serving as guest speakers, providing financial support, taking interns, and ultimately hiring well-prepared graduates.

Finally, we’re asking private funders and service providers to sustain their support of youth development through resources, sharing best practices, and feeding back insights from the field to continuously improve programs and policy. 

Over the years, far-sighted civic leaders in and out of government have taken concerted action to stabilize New York City’s finances, dramatically improve public safety, expand infrastructure to support a growing population, and address the ramifications of climate change. 

The young people of New York deserve a similarly visionary approach to how we help them prepare for success in the world of work. This investment will pay off in both economic and moral terms: a broader-based and more sustainable prosperity, and a community in which we live up to our professed values of equal opportunity for all. 

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Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson is responsible for spearheading a diverse collection of priority initiatives for New York City.

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Getting New York City Ready for the Next Big Storm - & the Next Heat Wave, Flash Floods & Other Climate Emergencies


cm carlos m cm dan gardonick marine

 (photo: William Alatriste New York City Council)


Billy Joel’s dystopian vision for New York City, laid out in the very upbeat but equally terrifying “Miami 2017,” is coming true. The lights have indeed gone out on Broadway. Perhaps the only difference is that Queens won’t stay. 

This is New York City in 2019: a near 100-degree heat wave shut down power for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, who then trudged through flooded streets once the high temperatures gave way to torrential rain. 

One thing became clear as climate change brought its greatest hits to the Big Apple: we are nowhere near ready for the next big storm. 

Considering we’re quickly approaching the seventh anniversary of Sandy’s decimation to Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, that’s downright shameful. The City of New York needs to move into high gear for both short- and long-term solutions that protect every single neighborhood from the effects of climate change, because this is a public safety crisis. 

Don’t believe it? Clearly you haven’t seen the footage of a straphanger at the Court Square station who was nearly swept onto the tracks by downpours. Twitter is filled with cellphone video of Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue flooded by water from the Gowanus Canal, which is a Superfund site. Or maybe you haven’t heard of instant New York legend Daphne Youree, who got out of her car near Exit 25 on the Long Island Expressway and used an orange traffic cone to clear a clogged drain to alleviate flash flooding. 

These sound like a new version of the stories our parents told of the bad old days in the 1970s, when the Fiscal Crisis turned New York City into a living performance of Mad Max. But, as skyscrapers for the ultra-rich keep cropping up along 57th Street, we can’t shrug at the fact that half of New York City’s 10 wettest years have come since 2003. 

If another Sandy-caliber storm struck today — though we hope it doesn’t — New York would be brought to a grinding halt based on what we’ve seen in the last week. Temperatures caused some 53,000 customers to lose power last weekend, as Con Ed pulled the plug on parts of Brooklyn and Queens, apparently so the grid wouldn’t be further strained. Even after the heat broke, on Tuesday, almost 3,000 customers were still without power and they were overwhelmingly in the outer boroughs.

Add a hurricane’s storm surge to the mix and our electrical grid would crumble. 

Con Edison has failed its duties as a public utility throughout the heatwave, which begs the question: how would they perform if a big storm hit tomorrow? The men and women who worked in the heat should be commended for getting power back up, but they shouldn’t also be responsible for communicating that to those suddenly cleaning out their refrigerators. That’s their bosses’ job — one they didn’t do well enough. All the while, they’re asking New Yorkers for a collective $695 million rate hike. 

Meanwhile, New York City’s streets are starting to look like Venice. You’d think that, after the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Southern Brooklyn went under water in Sandy, we’d be in better shape. The 500,000 New Yorkers who live along our shores have little more than some sandbags despite scientific models showing that sea levels will rise a foot over the next 30 years. 

In the short term, we have to promote more green infrastructure. Bioswales, which are sidewalk gardens, absorb up to 75 percent of stormwater. The Climate Mobilization Act paved the way for green roofs atop newly constructed buildings, which can retain 95 percent of rainwater dropped in summer months. And we have to make serious investments in infrastructure that might not always seem exciting, such as sewers.

But we also have to make sure our kids don’t have to deal with the mess we were too scared to clean up. Earlier this year we introduced a bill requiring New York City to create a five-borough resiliency plan.

Lower Manhattan is great, but asking Congress for $10 billion to protect a single business district when JFK Airport could be underwater by 2100 seems fiscally irresponsible. Failing to protect every neighborhood from Riverdale to Rockaway helps stave off tens of thousands of climate refugees the National Climate Assessment warned of when the seas come to claim our coasts.

We look forward to holding a hearing on this bill in October ahead of Sandy’s anniversary, so we can get to work on doing the long-term resiliency work. In the meantime, our city agencies need to mobilize, assess what’s causing rampant flooding throughout the city, and fix the problems immediately. Lastly, we need to make sure our threats against Con Edison have teeth and give the utility an ultimatum: give us the resilient, renewable grid we deserve or we’ll come for your power lines. 

The status quo is quickly sinking under the floodwaters, and New Yorkers are taking notice. Just like we’ve put our foot down to demand reliable service from the MTA, we need to take a stand on infrastructure. Because being late for work is one thing — being unprepared for a storm is fatal. 

***
Costa Constantinides represents western Queens in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection; Justin Brannan represents southern Brooklyn in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. On Twitter @Costa4NY & @JustinBrannan.

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The Citi Bike Expansion Plan is Great; Here’s How to Do It Right


dot citi bikeride ues

(photo: New York City Department of Transportation)


New Yorkers across the city have reason to celebrate, with the news that the Citi Bike network is expanding to the Bronx and deeper into Brooklyn and Queens -- bringing the benefits of bike share to every corner of Manhattan and extending its reach into neighborhoods like Morrisania, Flatbush, and Jackson Heights.

Citi Bike’s expansion into more communities of color not only represents a huge opportunity for improving New Yorkers’ lives; it will help set the tone for cities across the country and the world.

It’s important that we get this right, scaling Citi Bike’s existing equity programs alongside this massive infrastructural investment.

Through my work with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation’s first community development corporation (CDC) focused on promoting the economic futures of black families in Central Brooklyn, I’ve been on the front lines of encouraging ridership and promoting a feeling of system ownership among black and Latinx residents.

We’ve hosted bike rides, worked with the city Department of Transportation to give away helmets, promoted low-cost memberships, and cultivated community champions; with our seat at the table, we have pushed for policies to benefit communities of color, like changing pricing for SNAP recipients and ensuring that youth have access to Citi Bike.

We adapted as we learned, and we’ve had real results. Ridership in Bed Stuy is growing faster than systemwide since we signed on as a Citi Bike partner. One year ago, we joined Citi Bike and Healthfirst in launching Reduced Fare Bike Share. More than 3,400 low-income New Yorkers have signed up for Citi Bike for only $5 a month.

Here’s what we’ve learned -- I hope it provides guidance in Citi Bike’s new phase of expansion:

First, community engagement must be real and consistent.

There are complex reasons that ridership is lower in majority-minority neighborhoods than others, at least in part due to the suspicion that the system isn’t meant for everyone.

As Restoration’s partnership with Citi Bike has proven, real impact comes with grassroots organizing and consistent community presence. Citi Bike and Healthfirst’s newly-announced $300,000 Community Grant Program for local nonprofits in the expansion zone will go a long way; there must be a sustained commitment to these partnerships long after that seed money has run out.

Second, there must be parallel investments in protected bike lanes.

Expanding Citi Bike is a great first step, but equal commitment to protected bike lanes in these new neighborhoods is crucial to encouraging ridership from a diverse array of residents.

Studies have shown that female ridership, for example, is boosted by a feeling of security on a bike, and that bike safety is achieved in numbers.

Bike safety is a compounding phenomenon: the more comprehensive the infrastructure is, the more people will ride; the more people ride, the safer the roads become.

Third, the fight for transit equity does not stand alone.

We must remember that advocacy around transportation equity is part of a larger effort to stem the tide of historic disinvestment across many facets of life in communities of color.

The City and its partner Citi Bike have an opportunity to model what equitable infrastructure investment looks like; not just what resources are where and when, but who is at the table when those decisions are made.

We must be aware of the unintended consequences of our decisions, and ensure that our investment in communities doesn’t equal the displacement of longtime residents.

As Citi Bike expands, I’ve already seen a real effort to address these challenges, to scale what’s working and to correct what isn’t.

Expansion of collaborative efforts like the Better Bike Share Partnership, authentic community engagement and support, and affordable pricing will help guarantee that equity goals are met. They will undergird all efforts to ensure that bike adoption in new neighborhoods is top-of-mind and that infrastructure investment is responsible.

It wasn’t long ago that many in communities like Bed Stuy bemoaned Citi Bike’s arrival. Just a few years later, New Yorkers stood on the steps of City Hall to demand bikeshare quicker and that it reach further.

It was one of the quickest changes in public approval maybe ever, and speaks to the system’s overwhelming success in not only getting people where they need to go, but doing it in a way that people enjoy.

I believe we’re close to realizing a system that meaningfully supplants car ownership and is cemented as part of the public transit infrastructure across the boroughs.

With a thought-out, comprehensive plan for bike equity, Citi Bike can meaningfully support communities across the city, bringing new access to former transit deserts, opening up economic opportunity for diverse commercial hubs, making our communities greener and healthier, and showcasing to the world what a truly equitable, integrated transportation system can look like.

***
Tracey Capers is Executive Vice President of Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

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Cuomo’s Getting His Belmont Arena, But the Numbers Don’t Add Up


belmont park redev

Belmont arena rendering (rendering: Sterling Project Development)


Delayed appraisal, dubious benefits analysis, interest-free financing complicate rosy outlook

Three lessons from the long battle over Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn are that promises of huge financial benefits deserve skepticism, that independent studies trump promotional ones, and that scenarios should be presented as a range of outcomes, rather than just the best case.

Unfortunately, those lessons have been ignored regarding the new sports-and-entertainment arena complex planned at Belmont Park in western Nassau County, with the New York Islanders as anchor tenant and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, surely anticipating a big ribbon-cutting in 2021, as the chief cheerleader.

The near-final step toward approval of “the transformational $1.26 billion Belmont Park Redevelopment Project” came in a Cuomo press release July 8 announcing that a new Long Island Rail Road station would help serve the project, which also includes a hotel and “luxury outlet stores.” (That retail, as I explain below, might be the priority for the Islanders’ owners.)

The press release came with a chorus of praise—the new station might lessen the likelihood of arena-related traffic chaos—but left seeds for doubt.

Unfortunately, as the project comment period ends August 1 and approval votes loom soon after, the Cuomo administration has obfuscated public assistance for the station and an overall deal that gives the developers the project land essentially rent-free, while presenting an economic benefits analysis with glaring gaps, and delaying the delivery of promised data.

Who’s paying for the station?
The estimated cost of the station is $105 million. According to the press release, “The arena developer will cover $97 million— 92 percent of the total cost — and the State will invest $8 million.” The developer is New York Arena Partners, or NYAP, involving Sterling Equities, the Scott Malkin Group (Islanders’ owners), Madison Square Garden, and the Oak View Group.

That scenario was belied by a “Fiscal and Economic Benefits” report attached to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (or Final EIS), which said NYAP would initially contribute $30 million for that new station, then pay $67 million over the course of 30 years.

That sounds like the equivalent of interest-free financing, a huge bonus for the developer. Unfortunately for the public, Newsday, Long Island’s dominant newspaper, initially accepted Cuomo’s framing, while an editorial columnist echoed Cuomo’s take, gaining an enthusiastic tweet from a spokesperson for Empire State Development (ESD), Cuomo’s economic development authority, who essentially called alternative explanations fake news.

By contrast, Neil deMause, writing in Gothamist, estimated that the financing offered a $33 million public bonus to the developers.

To me, it recalled the 2009 deal in which Forest City Ratner, which had bid $100 million for the right to build over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn, negotiated relaxed terms: permission to put $20 million down (for the parcel necessary for the Barclays Center), then pay, over 21 years, the equivalent of $80 million in 2009 dollars: approximately $173 million, at an implied 6.5% interest rate.

Four days after Cuomo’s announcement, Newsday reported that NYAP was, in fact, getting the equivalent of interest-free financing for the station, and was essentially getting the entire 43-acre site in exchange for payments being reinvested into project infrastructure. One sports economist quoted in the story thought the rail deal was fair while another thought the deal might stimulate the economy, even if the land was a bargain. 

New public revenue?
I have more doubts, and not just because of Cuomo’s record on transparency. Consider: the ESD board meeting July 8 to accept the Final EIS was scheduled with exactly one business day’s notice, a decision that provoked project opponents to protest to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

According to Cuomo’s press release, the state-commissioned analysis “found the new arena, hotel and retail village will generate nearly $50 million in new public revenue per year and produce $725 million in annual economic output” (spending, apparently).

Sure, building on underutilized land adds significant jobs and tax revenues, especially from the retail, but Cuomo’s numbers deserve scrutiny rather than blind endorsement.

The state's fiscal estimates ignore the cost of additional public services and infrastructure, as well as the value of various tax exemptions. Unbiased agencies, like the New York City Independent Budget Office, typically weigh benefits and costs. The watchdog group Reinvent Albany has asked ESD for an analysis of Belmont subsidies, without results. (In Streetsblog, Reinvent Albany also raised several questions about the new train station, including operating costs and cost overruns.)

Moreover, the report by BJH Advisors performed for Cuomo doesn’t consider “whether the spending and jobs are moving from one site presently in New York State to the new project location.” That’s said to be reasonable, “given the type and unique nature of the retail uses and the newly generated demand for hotel and accommodation services.” 

Maybe, but that excludes the nearby Nassau Coliseum, clearly an arena rival, as explained below. 

The new luxury outlet mall
And if, as the state says, “there are currently no direct comparable development [sic] to Value Retail's luxury outlet product within the United States,” shouldn’t the developers of such high-end retail be paying for the land?

We haven’t heard much about Value Retail, founded by Islanders’ co-owner Malkin, but Belmont would represent the first United States example of a successful European chain, of which Bicester Village, not far from London, is now the United Kingdom’s second-busiest attraction and generates more sales per square foot than any retail outlet in the world. 

Consider: at 315,000 square feet, if Belmont achieves sales at $2,000 per square foot, that means annual revenue of $630 million, and big success for Value Retail, which typically charges brands 12.5% of sales: meaning $78.8 million in annual rent given that estimated revenue. (Is $2,000 per square foot realistic? Well, sales at less-exclusive Woodbury Common, as of early 2018, were $1,624 per square foot, and Bicester achieved sales of $4,000 per square foot, as of 2016. Even at Woodbury Common results, the Belmont numbers would be formidable.)

No wonder Value Retail founder Malkin has let Islanders’ co-owner Jon Ledecky be the public face of the project. 

Rent goes back into the project
Beyond the rail station financing and tax breaks, the Cuomo administration has figured out how to mask significant public help for what was long portrayed as an “entirely privately funded” project. (Now, I suppose it’s “almost entirely privately funded.”)

Along with that initial $30 million payment for the station, NYAP will pay $20 million upfront for Project Site infrastructure. However, these payments fulfill the developer’s seemingly sweet land lease: announced at just $40 million to control 43 acres for 49 years.

So, instead of paying New York for the site, that money—plus an extra $10 million—goes back into the project.

What about the appraisal?
Is the land worth just $40 million (or even $50 million)? The annual payment, per acre, is but 10 percent of the cost paid for the right to build a “racino” at Aqueduct, another racetrack. In March 2018, ESD promised the Village Voice an appraisal would be done before “the conclusion of the environmental review in 2019.”

Apparently appraisals exist. ESD, in the Response to Comments Chapter of the Final EIS released July 8, said that “The transaction between ESD and the Applicant is a fair market transaction confirmed by appraisals received by ESD.” 

However, ESD has not released them. Despite that July 8 statement, Newsday reported five days later that an appraisal would be complete “in the coming weeks”—just in time for the final approval votes.

The Belmont process suffers from opacity, as I’ve written. A rival bidder for the site withdrew in 2017, citing (to Long Island Business News) “extraordinary requirements, preconditions and reviews” that pointed to a wired deal for a hockey arena; LIBN’s editor opined that the state “only solicited proposals tailor-made for the Islanders and their well-heeled backers.”

Impact on the Coliseum
The claim that spending and jobs won’t move within the state has a huge blind spot: the county-owned Nassau Coliseum, less than ten miles away. The state review fudges the new arena’s likely devastating impact on the Islanders’ former (and now part-time) home, which, after being downsized and renovated, seats only 13,900 for hockey—too small for the National Hockey League—and up to 15,000 for concerts. 

The new arena would seat 18,000 for hockey and up to 19,000 for concerts—and, of course, would contain many more luxury suites. Unlike Barclays, announced in 2012 as the Islanders’ new permanent home as of 2015 but making an awkward fit for the team, it would be built to accommodate hockey.

Asked in the public comment period about the need for another arena, the state responded, “The arena would meet the demand for larger events that cannot be hosted at smaller venues such as Nassau Coliseum.”

Well, it might meet the demand for Islanders games. But it’s dubious that the Coliseum couldn’t host “larger events.” Even at Barclays, which offers far better transit access and a denser population nearby, only a few supernova performers, like Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand, have consistently sold out, while concerts averaged between 9.711 and 11,944 over the first four years, as I reported. Even the Belmont Final EIS (Chapter 7) notes that non-sporting events at Barclays averaged 8,468.

Nonetheless, the Final EIS Project Description chapter quotes the Belmont arena developer without question: “In addition to the approximately 44 to 60 New York Islanders home games, NYAP envisions approximately 145 non-NHL arena event days annually, including: approximately 50 marquee concert/entertainment event days that would fully utilize the arena’s space (approximately 19,000 seats); approximately 65 large to medium event days (utilizing between 6,000 and 11,500 seats), such as Disney on Ice, Cirque Du Soleil, E-Sports, or high school sports; and approximately 30 small or non-ticketed event days (3,500 seats or fewer).” 

“Assuming the above-described events were to sell out at the utilization levels indicated, attendance on arena event days would average approximately 15,000 patrons,” the document states. That’s extremely dubious. Even Madison Square Garden—the region’s premier event venue, in the heart of Manhattan—falls short, averaging 14,825 for non-sporting events, as acknowledged elsewhere in the Final EIS.

If the attendance estimates are overblown, that also lowers the expected number of jobs, and tax revenue from new spending, further undermining the projections.

Dancing around the damage
Another commenter during the environmental review asked how, if visitors to non-sporting events are expected—according to a previous project document—from “a catchment area of no more than a 20-30 minute drive to the arena,” Belmont would compete with the Coliseum. 

The ESD response acknowledged that the arenas “would overlap significantly,” but asserted that “both venues attract visitors from throughout the entire MSA [Metropolitan Statistical Area], which is significantly large enough to absorb the additional supply of events and entertainment.”

That’s an astounding leap of logic. The MSA, while it contains 20 million people, extends to New Jersey and even Pennsylvania. How many people would travel long distances to attend shows at Belmont? Remember, many Islanders fans decided they had little interest in attending weeknight games at Barclays, the team’s temporary home, given the travel commitment. In other words, demand depends on logistics.

The response, however, continued in fantasyland: “One venue might focus on larger shows, both venues could host the same acts on different nights, or perhaps host events marketed at different audiences.”

Sure, events are marketed to different audiences. But most shows too big for the Coliseum don’t exist, as attendance figures show. As to hosting “the same acts on different nights,” that’s not just dubious business practice—why would an arena coordinate with a rival?—but also a logistical nightmare: why would an act that has loaded in equipment and sets move nearby for a second performance?

Where’s the audience?
The Final EIS Socioeconomic Conditions chapter claims that “the Nassau Coliseum would continue to focus on smaller-scale events than those hosted at the Barclays Center and the proposed [Belmont] arena.” When that passage appeared in the Draft EIS, I pointed out—in a January op-ed for the Daily News—that the Coliseum relies on family shows, which Belmont plans to pursue.

That contention remains un-rebutted. Instead, both the Draft and Final documents confidently assert, “Overall, the metro area is considered sufficiently large to comfortably absorb additional non-sporting events from the proposed arena without having a significant impact on the existing venues.” 

Such passive-voice phrasing, backed by no independent analysis, severely undermines the claim and further undermines the credibility of the state review.

***
Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the daily blog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report and is working on a book about the project. On Twitter @AYReport.

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Note: this piece has been updated: the original version referenced the 15,000 attendance estimate without including the Islanders' games, and didn't clarify that the MSG attendance figures were for non-sporting events.

5 Solutions the Public Advocate Should Deliver for New York City


cityscape

(photo; Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


The New York City Public Advocate is a poorly defined position that, over its 30 years of existence, has often been used to advance the political interests and status of career politicians. I’m running for Public Advocate because I want to do something very different with the office: turn it into a “startup” working in the public interest to deliver real products and services that improve New Yorkers’ lives and helps under-resourced civil servants modernize our city’s government.

I’ll do this by delivering five noncontroversial “solutions” that I’ve outlined in Gotham Gazette columns over the last few years: 1) strengthening our social safety net; 2) kickstarting technology-enabled government reform; 3) improving civic engagement processes; 4) facilitating metro-regional coordination; and 5) producting websites that help New Yorkers see and understand their government.

1) A Searchable Safety Net
Politicians talk constantly about our city’s safety net, but where is it? New York City doesn’t have what almost every major city in the country does -- a “211” system that organizes government and nonprofit health, human, and social service information and makes it available to the public through a website and 2-1-1 phone hotline.

Everyday thousands of city and nonprofit staff are duplicating work and struggling to keep their own resource directories up-to-date, recognizing that the availability of this information is the difference between a New Yorker accessing the critical health and social services they need or needlessly suffering without it.

No nonprofit or government agency has taken it upon themselves to solve this citywide problem -- but the Public Advocate can and should.

As Public Advocate, I will create an open source directory of all available health, human, and social services available in New York City, and make that information accessible on the web, via an app, by phone, and via API to partner organizations all over the city.

2)  Digital Transformation Team
New York City’s bureaucracies were designed in an era of telegrams, switchboards, and printed memos. It’s past time for an upgrade. And the best way to get one is by helping city agencies create their own Digital Service Organizations (DSOs). These groups use open source technology and agile production techniques to bring government services and the bureaucracies that provide them into the modern era.

The first DSO was the UK’s Government Digital Service. Founded in 2011, it has driven a digital transformation in the UK government -- greatly improving services and reducing annual operations’ costs by over a billion pounds per year. We could get similar results in New York City, but someone needs to lead. That someone should be the Public Advocate.

As Public Advocate, I will work to ensure that New Yorkers get faster, better, and cheaper government services by working with civil servants and their agencies to train, support, and network them together as we create DSOs throughout our city’s various government agencies.

3) Civic Engagement Oversight
In November 2018 New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to establish a “Civic Engagement Commission” (CEC) to “enhance civic participation.” We need to make sure that the CEC advances the interests of the public, rather than those of politicians.

As the voice of New Yorkers, the Public Advocate is in the perfect position to provide oversight and help improve New York City government’s civic participation programs. We can do this by providing New Yorkers with clear information about the city’s existing public participation processes, which agencies are doing them, who leads them, what metrics they use to determine success, and how those programs could be improved using best practices (which I’ve honed over the past decade from working around the world).

Then, we will establish an “Engagement Lab” that works with individual civil servants and government agencies to support them as they establish and improve public engagement processes.

4) A Regional Organizing Project
New York City is the largest city in the United States with more than 8.5 million residents, but we’re also the beating heart of the nation’s largest “metropolitan area,” with a population of over 23 million spanning four states and 30 counties.

Our city’s ability to tackle some of our most important challenges such as housing, transit, energy, pollution, climate resilience, and more all require regional solutions. But systemic coordination among the 30 counties and four states in the New York Metropolitan Area doesn’t happen efficiently. In fact, it’s hardly happening at all. Our current methods for regional coordination are woefully inadequate, relying on a hodgepodge of nonprofits, commissions, and multi-government “authorities” that each work on their own sliver of these massive and deeply interconnected challenges.

Sometimes these groups compete; sometimes massive areas of work go completely uncoordinated; and the public is hardly aware these groups exist or that they are charged with making such important decisions. Unfortunately, we experience this coordination failure everyday -- crumbling subway systems; out-of-control infrastructure construction costs; our communities’ unmitigated vulnerability to extreme weather are all evidence of this massive problem. 

That’s why, as Public Advocate, I’ll launch an online metro-regional coordination hub that aggregates and organizes information from the various coordination bodies, produces events that bring these bodies together, and develops a 10-year plan for improving metro-regional governance.

5) An Open Government Interface
Thanks to the city’s innovative open data law, city agencies are publishing a tremendous amount of information to the city’s open data portal, but finding the right information can get a little tricky. Professional researchers and large businesses have the resources needed to make sense of city data, but smaller businesses, journalists, and the vast majority of residents often do not.

Fortunately, the city created the Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC) with a charter mandate to “educate the public about the availability and potential usefulness of city produced or maintained information and assist the public in obtaining access to such information.” Unfortunately, information on COPIC is hard to find. It seems to lack an official website or an active Twitter. Go figure!

As Public Advocate, I will reconvene COPIC and work with that body to create a unified interface for information about city agencies, such as their budgets, expenses, capital projects, social services, performance indicators, and more. In the words of the original OpenCongress.org web project, we’ll build “the website [the city] should have made for itself.”

Successful implementation of the five solutions described above requires a focused vision, a motivated team with the right skills, and the resources -- financial and political -- that come with the Public Advocate’s office. As a technologist that helps nonprofits, governments, and startups build information systems to achieve specific goals, I know how to get this work done. As a concerned New Yorker dedicated to giving this city the government it deserves, I’m confident I will -- whether I’m elected Public Advocate or not.

***
Devin Balkind is a nonprofit executive, civic technologist, and startup advisor running for Public Advocate as the Libertarian Party nominee. On Twitter @DevinBalkind.

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