Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




On National Night Out, Vision for a Safer Brooklyn

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Commissioner Bratton, left, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the author (photo: Kathryn Kirk/BK BP's office)

There are many things that have contributed to the Brooklyn renaissance, but perhaps no factor has been more essential than New York's transformation into America's safest big city. Places like McCarren Park in Williamsburg, a hot spot for drug-dealing during my days patrolling the 94th Precinct, are now a peaceful haven for stroller sets, as real estate values in the surrounding area continue to climb to all-time highs. Every investment that the public and private sectors make in our neighborhoods is predicated on the foundation of public safety, either in its maintenance or its ongoing improvement.

The reduction in crime that began in the 1990s was sparked by the leadership of Bill Bratton, a public servant who our city is fortunate to have back as the city's police commissioner. Early on in this second tour of duty, we have seen his analytical, proactive approach to crime fighting be enhanced by the progressive vision of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has turned the page on the days where bias-based policing was thought to be the only way to keep New Yorkers safe.

The duo has already moved forward to improve relationships between police and community by ending the arbitrary use of stop, question and frisk and halting the humiliating surveillance of Muslims, while instituting a seven-point plan to train officers on the norms of neighborhood courtesy, professionalism, and respect. They moved to improve security at NYCHA by adding more cameras, outdoor lighting, and patrolmen, and they introduced the "Summer All-Out" program to put more cops on our streets in response to community conditions on the ground.

More can and must be done to ensure public safety for all, actions that go beyond the reach of City Hall and One Police Plaza. With the recent spike in shootings and the possession of illegal handguns, we must have a dialogue on this National Night Out that addresses this crisis's root causes.

I want to initiate the conversation to answer these issues. As a 22-year veteran of New York's Finest and an office-holder of over seven years, my experience guides me to recommend strategies addressing three areas: mental health awareness, intergovernmental coordination to curb the flow of illegal arms, and community accountability.

There is a real mental health problem for our communities, and we need to understand how it affects our perception of public safety. We shun and resent family members with illnesses because of the difficulties meeting their specialized needs. This should not be the case, as it establishes a pattern of hurt people hurting people. Without resources or a support system when abandoned by family, our mentally ill become a public risk to safety. Rather than abandoning our brothers and sisters burdened by mental illness, we should provide them with greater access to treatment so that they do not end up on our streets or in our jail cells; we need to sympathize and empathize, not ostracize and stigmatize.

Creating a culture of information sharing and collaboration between city agencies and community organizations is another logical, and overdue, step to improving our safety. Illegal handguns are flooding into our streets from southern states with looser laws. While we have made appeals to Congress for intervention, our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. We cannot accept inaction from Washington on life and death matters; however, given the current state of national politics, we have to focus in the short term on the capabilities of our own city, its agencies, and its people. The aforementioned strategy for safer public housing should be a road map for future coordinated efforts, where we might be able to create partnerships for city, state and federal authorities to halt gun trafficking and educate our youth of the dangers of carrying and distributing weapons.

Lastly, we need to hold our communities accountable for failing to provide opportunities for our young people or to raise them with a sense of urgency to find employment, pursue education, and avoid the allure of gangs. Parents can fix this by teaching children the values of civic engagement and having a sincere discussion with their children about their dreams for the future. They must also play a real role in checking on their sons' and daughters' activities and ensuring they are free from the grips of drugs and weapons.

There is no single solution for stopping crime and preventing violence in our streets. We as a community, including parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors, have to be the definition of our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We are seeing something, but right now, we are not all saying something. This is part of better police-community relations, and it speaks to our societal responsibility to each other. Once this is understood, we can see further reductions in violence and the continued evolution of Brooklyn's renaissance.

Eric Adams is Brooklyn Borough President and a former New York State Senator and member of the NYPD.


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Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio


Mayor Bill de Blasio delivering an education speech (Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor's Office)

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities"– the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America's largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

Mayor de Blasio's election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City's schools. This year's final New York City budget does take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000 per year.

However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believe that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college-ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the city's public schools. What's worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

It is clear that the City should be doing more to help members of the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

There's no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help prepare young people socially and economically to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four-year path leading a young person toward college can make or break a student's college attainment. The mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the people of New York and the nation's cities to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center, as well as national models such as College Track and partners like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.

Kevin Stump is Campus Network Leadership Director at the Roosevelt Institute

A version of this article was originally posted at Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute


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The Neoconservative Roots of the Broken Windows Theory

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A July 31 rally against police brutality at City Hall (photo: Ben Max)

After 20 years of Republican mayors, Bill de Blasio won election on a remarkably progressive platform. Unlike his four previous predecessors, de Blasio pledged to raise taxes on the rich to pay for social services that would benefit the rest of the city. De Blasio's universal pre-K and middle school initiatives are designed to provide important supports for the families and young people most in need. This effort to reduce inequality stands in sharp contrast to the fundamental politics and social theory driving "broken windows" policing. The death of Eric Garner has brought this fundamental contradiction to the fore and demands a substantive response from the mayor.

The Broken Windows theory was first laid out as a kind of hypothesis-by-analogy by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982. They presented existing behavioral research that showed that when a car is left unattended on a street it is usually left alone, but if just one window of the car is broken, the car is quickly vandalized. The lesson: failure to indicate care and maintenance will unleash people's latent destructive tendencies. Therefore, if cities want to establish or maintain crime-free neighborhoods they must take action to ensure that residents feel the pressure to conform to civilized norms of public behavior. The best way to accomplish this is through the use of police to remind people in subtle and not so subtle ways that disorderly, unruly, and anti-social behavior is unacceptable. When this doesn't happen, people's baser instincts will take hold and predatory behavior will reign in a return to a Hobbesian war of all against all.

The emergence of this theory in 1982 is tied to a larger arc of urban neoconservative thinking going back to the 1960s. Wilson's former mentor and collaborator, Edward Banfield, himself a close associate of Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, parented many of the ideas that came to make up the new conservative consensus on cities. In his seminal work of 1970, The Unheavenly City, Banfield argues that the poor are trapped in a culture of poverty that makes them largely immune to government assistance:

"Although he has more "leisure" than almost anyone, the indifference ("apathy" if one prefers) of the lower-class person is such that he seldom makes even the simplest repairs to the place that he lives in. He is not troubled by dirt or dilapidation and he does not mind the inadequacy of public facilities such as schools, parks, hospitals, and libraries; indeed, where such things exist he may destroy them by carelessness or even by vandalism."

Unlike Banfield, who in many ways championed the abandonment of cities, Wilson decried the decline of urban areas. Along with writers like Jim Sleeper (The Closest of Strangers) and Fred Siegel (The Future Once Happened Here), Wilson pointed a finger at the twin threats of failed liberal leadership and the moral failings of African Americans as the cause. All three of them argued that liberals had unwittingly unleashed urban chaos by undermining the formal social control mechanisms that made city living possible. By supporting the more radical demands of the later urban expressions of the Civil Rights Movement, they had so weakened the police, teachers, and other government forces of behavioral regulation, that chaos came to reign.

What was needed to stem this tide was a reassertion of social control mechanisms by empowering the police to not just fight crime but to become agents of moral authority on the streets. The new role for the police was to intervene in all of the quotidian disorders of urban life that contributed to the sense that "anything goes."

The Broken Windows theory magically reverses the well understood causal relationship between crime and poverty, arguing that poverty and social disorganization are the result of, not the cause of, crime and that the disorderly behavior of the growing "underclass" threatens to destroy the very fabric of cities.

Wilson, following Banfield, believed strongly that there were profound limits on what government could do to help the poor. Financial investment in the poor would be squandered, new services would go unused or be destroyed, and the poor would continue in their slothful and destructive ways. Since the root of the problem was either an essentially moral/cultural failure or the lack of external controls to regulate inherently destructive human urges, then the solution had to take the form of punitive social control mechanisms to restore order and neighborhood stability. This is why police are arresting people for grilling on the sidewalk, drinking on their front stoop, and, yes, selling loose cigarettes.

The result of this approach has been the mass criminalization of the poor, who in New York City are overwhelmingly people of color. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young black and Latino men are put into the criminal justice system for mouthing off in class, taking up two seats on the subway, and possessing marijuana. In some neighborhoods over 50% of young men are caught up in the criminal justice system. It is a system that drives them from school, undermines future employment prospects, and immerses them in a world of gangs and violence.

Proponents of Broken Windows policing claim that it is responsible for the city's dramatic crime drop. Even a cursory look at the facts shows this can't possibly be true. The crime drop is an international phenomena that has occurred in hundreds of cities that never used Broken Windows based policing. Even scholars who point to a special role for the police in New York, like Franklin Zimring (The City that Became Safe), argue that it was not Broken Windows based policing that made the difference. And further, if Broken Windows policing was supposed to lead to a revitalization of poor communities, why is it that poverty and inequality in New York are growing? Gentrification has improved some physical communities, but through displacement, not the advancement of the people already there.

Disorder can be a real threat to urban stability. Mass homelessness, untreated mental illness, and youth engaged in graffiti, performing on the subway, and dealing drugs on the street should be a concern, but the police are not the best, most cost-effective way to deal with these problems. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on a revolving door criminal justice system that leaves most people worse off. Eric Garner had 30 previous contacts with the police and it did nothing to improve his life situation. The mayor's top criminal justice advisors know that we need to develop alternatives, but aggressive, invasive, and expensive policing is standing in the way.

This profoundly conservative view of the Broken Windows theory seems fundamentally at odds with the program put forth by the new mayor. De Blasio's goals are optimistic about the ability of government to make a positive impact on the lives of the poor. His educational programs are designed to provide developmental and social supports to help young people lead stable and productive lives without relying on constant police vigilance. It's time for the mayor to dial back "quality of life" policing and continue to invest in the lives of young people and the communities they live in, rather than relying on mass criminalization. He can't have it both ways.

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @avitale.


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The City Must Step Up on Sandy Business Recovery

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The following entry is part of The Small Business Corner, a collaboration between Gotham Gazette and GoBizNYC:

At a recent a press conference on the City's Sandy recovery progress, Mayor Bill de Blasio noted: "Relief can't come fast enough for homeowners and small business owners who have already waited too long." We cannot agree more. Twenty-one months after the storm, so much more remains to be done. The City needs to expedite programs, provide grants—even retroactively—and implement a better approach to resiliency planning in neighborhoods ravished by Sandy.

Revamping the "Build It Back" program is essential and has been a step in the right direction. Recently, NYC Housing Recovery reached out to our organization, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, for assistance in bringing local contractors to the table to learn how they can provide services through the program. In addition, the City is improving the onerous procurement process for contractors so that they will get paid for their services in a timely fashion. This is encouraging.

That being said, the City needs to better coordinate with Federal and State agencies and comprehensively address the difficulties businesses have had when dealing with various layers of government.

For instance, the business recovery process needs to be streamlined so that allocated Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) funds actually get into the hands of businesses, which have struggled to recover on their own for almost two years. It is a real disgrace that of the $293 million dollars allocated for business recovery in New York City (as of April 1, 2014), only $3.5 million has been distributed to businesses. Bureaucratic bottlenecks must be resolved. In addition, an inventory needs to be done to assess how many impacted businesses did not come back or are teetering to stay afloat as well as where vacancies lie and opportunities exist.

Given that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, adjusting bureaucracy to meet the realities of small business capacity and accelerate business recovery should be a top priority for this administration. Such efforts will only make our local economy more resilient to future disasters.

The Staten Island community, through its strength, determination, and pride, has taken up the task of bringing back our neighborhood economies, one business at a time. But we can't do this on our own. We need this administration to step up with us and take a holistic approach to rebuilding and resiliency planning – not only on Staten Island, but in all of New York City.

Linda M. Baran is the President of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, the largest business organization on Staten Island. The Chamber is comprised of over 700 businesses, 80% of which are small businesses with fewer than ten employees.


To make or discuss a submission for The Small Business Corner:

Reach GoBizNYC Director Victor Wong at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Reach Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Small Business Corner is a bi-weekly column featuring the opinions and perspectives of small business owners and advocates from the GoBizNYC network on the range of issues that concern the city's small businesses.

To all New York City small business owners and advocates: we hope this new platform, The Small Business Corner, will better enable you to engage in the local policy conversation and we look to you to support us in this endeavor by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and voices. To learn more about how you can be a part of GoBizNYC and participate in this effort, visit


Desperately Needed Infrastructure Improvements Must Be Given Dedicated Funding

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A water main break in Manhattan (photo: Laura Shin)

Earlier this month, BNP Paribas plead guilty to money laundering and falsifying business records. The French Bank will pay $8.9 billion in fines, with approximately $4 billion directed to New York State and its municipalities. As politicians and civic leaders rushed to offer recommendations for directing this windfall, a consensus began to emerge: the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of New York State infrastructure.

While the recent settlement is a significant sum, even if it is wholly applied, it will not be enough to address New York's aging and outmoded infrastructure. In New York City alone, thirty-seven percent of subway signals exceed their 50-year useful life; 63 percent of cargo facilities at John F. Kennedy airport are considered "non-viable" for modern screening; 24 percent of the water that enters distribution mains never reaches customers due to leaks and other diversions; 11 percent of bridges are structurally deficient; and nearly 60 percent of NYCHA buildings do not comply with Local Law 11 standards for exterior and façade conditions.

The Center for an Urban Future estimated that $47 billion is needed over the next four to five years simply to bring the city's aging infrastructure to a state of good repair. However, based on accumulated funding gaps and shortfalls in upcoming capital plans, unmet needs will reach $34.2 billion. To address this large and growing funding gap, it's imperative that city and state policymakers identify new dedicated revenue streams and ensure that existing revenue streams are not raided, as they have too often been in the past.

Sam Schwartz's "Fair Plan," for instance, would introduce new tolls on those East River bridges carrying vehicles into the city's central business district while sharply reducing tolls on five non-Manhattan bridges. Most importantly, the dedicated revenue from Schwartz's plan would generate $1.2 billion annually for transit projects and regional highway improvements.

For an additional dedicated funding stream, New York City should follow Seattle, Philadelphia, and 500 other cities in replacing its sewer charges - currently assessed at 159% of the water rate - with a more nuanced stormwater management fee. Property owners would be charged according to the percentage of rainwater captured on their lots (before it enters the city's overburdened sewer system). This would incentivize increased water retention on private property, with customers paying a lower fee as they introduce new green elements – trees, swales, porous pavement, green roofs. This could be coupled with a credit program to help customers finance the installation of green elements, with loans repaid each month via a utility or property bill.

Finally, while the BNP Paribas fine is often described as a "one shot deal", it too could be converted into a continuous, dedicating funding source. By depositing the $4 billion into an infrastructure trust fund, it could generate $200 million a year in perpetuity, assuming a conservative 5 percent annual return (the MTA, by comparison, assumes a 7 percent annual return on its pension investments). This $200 million is hardly pittance. In New York City, it would afford 800 new units of low-income housing, the resurfacing of 1,300 lane-miles of city streets, or 34 miles of reconstructed sewers each year.

Moving forward, political wrangling and posturing over court settlements – like the protracted dispute between Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Schneiderman over control of an earlier $613 million settlement with JPMorgan Chase – could be avoided if the state Legislature mandates that a fixed share of future court settlements be deposited into the infrastructure trust. This would help stabilize the state's critical infrastructure for years to come.

As the city and state consider these new funding streams, political officials should refrain from diverting or dipping into existing (and already insufficient) dedicated revenue sources - a practice that has been all-too-common in recent years. At the MTA, $30 million from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance account was transferred to the state's General Debt Service Fund in 2014. Funds from the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund have also been used to cover state budget expenses. In New York City, revenue dedicated to the water and sewage system is redirected to the city's expense budget through "rental payments." Since 2005, these rental payments have increased significantly, from $109 million to $183 million.

The city's airports have also been affected by political interference. While the airports generate significant revenues from landing fees, gate fees and other levies, $214 million at JFK was diverted to non-airport related activities between 2004 and 2010. Though federal regulations require airport operators to reinvest all airport revenue into their facilities, the Port Authority was granted an exemption. In several instances, area politicians have pushed the Port Authority to use funds generated by the airports to prevent toll and fare increases at other Port Authority-managed assets, such as the PATH train.

The protection of these dedicated revenue streams, as well as the introduction of new funding sources, should not be delayed. Without immediate, sustained, and generous investment in its core infrastructure, New York's quality of life and economic competitiveness will quickly diminish.

Adam Forman is research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City based think tank. He is the author of "Caution Ahead," a report published in March by the Center documenting New York's infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Do you have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Send it to Executive Editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Small Business Corner, with GoBizNYC

NYC from Top of the Rock

City of opportunity - and challenges

Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. They define the character of our neighborhoods and exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of both new and native New Yorkers. Often, they are where young people get their first work experience and where seniors find a job that helps them make ends meet in their retirement years.

Mayor de Blasio demonstrated his concern for small business earlier this month, when the Department of Consumer Affairs made good on his campaign commitment to reduce fines and begin to reform city inspection processes. That is a good start, but much more remains to be done.

City and state government regularly add to regulatory and legal mandates that fall most heavily on the city's more than 179,000 businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Rhetorical support for small business too often does not translate into public policies that promote their sustainability.

One reason for this disconnect is that the small business community has not fully been a part of the citywide policy conversation. GoBizNYC, a small business initiative of the Partnership for New York City, aims to change that.

GoBizNYC was launched a year ago to elevate the small business voice and, in that time, we have built a network that reaches over 25,000 small businesses across the five boroughs. Our mission is to strengthen the voice of small, immigrant, and minority-owned businesses, and to create an environment where small businesses can create more jobs and build our city's neighborhood economies.

By working collaboratively with small business groups across the city, including the Five Boro Chamber Alliance, local development corporations, merchant associations, business improvement districts, industry associations, and community-based organizations, we help support the small business community by ensuring that small business concerns are heard and thoughtfully considered by local policymakers.

As part of our effort to amplify the voice of the New York City small business community, we are collaborating with Gotham Gazette to publish the "Small Business Corner," a bi-weekly column featuring the opinions and perspectives of small business owners and advocates from the GoBizNYC network on the range of issues that concern the city's small businesses.

These op-eds will address policies that impact a small business directly, such as government efficiency and regulations, while also considering issues that affect a small business' ability to survive and thrive in New York City, such as infrastructure, public safety, education, and livability. This effort also exemplifies Gotham Gazette's commitment to bringing a wide range of voices and issues into the civic discourse through both its original reporting and its op-ed pages.

To all New York City small business owners and advocates: we hope this new platform will better enable you to engage in the local policy conversation and we look to you to support us in this endeavor by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and voices. To learn more about how you can be a part of GoBizNYC and participate in this effort, visit


Victor Wong is the Director of Business Outreach & GoBizNYC at the Partnership for New York City


Reach Victor Wong at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The New York City Green Cart Initiative: Expanding Access to Healthy Produce in Low-Income Neighborhoods

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A New York City Green Cart vendor (photo: Marc Shavitz)

When New York City launched its Green Cart Initiative in 2008, residents in low-income areas were suffering disproportionately from obesity and diet-related disease, while these same neighborhoods lacked sufficient access to retailers selling fresh fruits and vegetables. According to a 2008 study by the City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Department of Planning, approximately three million New Yorkers lived in neighborhoods with few grocery stores and high rates of diabetes and obesity.

Challenged by this public health crisis, Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Food Policy decided to focus on increasing access to healthy food in these specific local communities, which are sometimes referred to as "food deserts." Food deserts are areas of the city where access to fresh food outlets is limited and where consumption of fruits and vegetables is particularly low. The public policy bet was simple: increasing access would, in theory, increase consumption and, in the long-term, improve public health. The Green Cart program was implemented by the Mayor's Office of Food Policy and the City DOHMH in partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund as part of a broader citywide food access strategy.

In mid-2013, after six years in operation, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund engaged Columbia University, SIPA to independently determine if Green Carts was meeting its goals.

We focused our analysis on 1) assessing the effectiveness of Green Carts in improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income New Yorkers; 2) assessing the economic viability of Green Carts as small businesses; 3) determining whether Green Carts is changing customer behavior; and 4) examining the role of philanthropy in promoting and supporting innovative public policy. As baseline data was not available, our research team spent three months (July – September 2013) locating and interviewing (in Bengali, Spanish and English) Green Carts vendors and their customers to collect extensive primary data on vendor location and neighborhood characteristics; cart locations, vendor demographics and business practices; and customer demographics, purchasing behavior and consumption behavior. Key findings of the report indicate that the NYC Green Cart initiative has been an extraordinary success. Green Carts is achieving the following:

Increasing access to fresh produce in targeted neighborhoods. We located 166 Green Carts operating across four boroughs during peak vending season. The DOHMH has subsequently released data that it observed and inspected 329 unique permitted Green Carts operating during a twelve month period. As an added benefit, the DOHMH also recently found an increase in produce in small grocery stores and bodegas in green cart zones.

Reaching the low-income populations in neighborhoods exhibiting characteristics associated with "food deserts." Green Carts are all located in neighborhoods with high rates of diet-related diseases and high rates of poverty. According to a spatial analysis, most Green Carts are located in areas with relatively low produce store density, indicating that Green Carts is achieving its goal of reaching communities with unmet needs. Moreover, 68 percent of customers earn less than $50,000 per year, close to the federal guideline for a family of four living at 200 percent of poverty.

Changing customer behavior, with customers reporting regular visits and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. 71 percent of customers surveyed reported increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables since shopping at a Green Cart, and 63 percent of customers are "regular" shoppers (at least once a week).

Providing entrepreneurial opportunities to vendors. Green Carts is economically viable in the long-term. 80 percent of vendors consider themselves "very profitable" or "somewhat profitable." 50 percent of vendors have been vending more than two years; 75 percent of vendors believe their experience running a Green Cart will help them open a larger business.

While the NYC Green Cart initiative has achieved unprecedented success, we also identified several opportunities that we hope can enhance the program in the future and be useful to other cities adopting the model:

  • The market-based approach, allowing vendors to locate anywhere within the designated zone, does not evenly distribute vendors across the designated high-need areas. Vendors who succeed economically are choosing locations with high foot traffic, near bodegas and near bus stops. Incentives could be given to vendors to move into locations which have greater economic risk.
  • Vendors are locating close to public housing in only one borough. This suggests that there may be more opportunities to reach high-need populations through a partnership with NYCHA.
  • There is inadequate tracking of operational Green Carts and no way to identify exact vendor locations or which vendors are actually operating their carts. Improved tracking and a market analysis would help to determine the appropriate number of vendors for each targeted neighborhood.

We also found that the public-private partnership model was critical to the success of the Green Carts Initiative. The Illumination Fund's initial grant enabled the City to implement an innovative program, and as the program progressed, it provided additional supports that government was unable to fund. Certainly, there are many ways to improve the program, as our research indicates. The overall findings are, however, very clear: Green Carts has been a success for both vendors and customers in underserved low-income communities and is a model program for densely populated urban areas across the United States

Ester R. Fuchs, Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs


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Green Carts in the Food Desert: Oasis or Mirage?

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Domingo Jose, a vendor participant in WHEDco's Green Cart Training Program (WHEDco)

The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market provides approximately 60 percent of the fresh produce that New Yorkers eat every day. Yet less than two miles from Hunts Point, in the neighborhood of Crotona Park East, it is nearly impossible to find a fresh tomato.

The New York City Green Cart Program started in 2008 as an experiment to plant mobile produce carts in food deserts like Crotona Park East, neighborhoods with low access to fresh food and high risk for diet-related diseases. The program was an opportunity to improve the health of residents across the city, including in the Bronx - once again ranked as the least healthy county in the state. But the Green Carts program also had potential as a viable model for small business creation in low-income communities. With the right support, people from low-income backgrounds can start successful businesses that support families and enable financial independence. We saw great potential in the Green Carts program to accomplish these goals.

But a recent report by Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs reveals that the program has not lived up to its full potential. Created by the Mayor's Office of Food Policy (under the Bloomberg administration), the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, with critical support from the Deutsche Bank Foundation and Karp Resources, Green Carts is an innovative program that succeeds in delivering fresh produce to its target low-income population. Yet over the five years of the program's operation, of the 1,000 Green Carts permits created, only 492 permits are active, and the Columbia team could identify only 166 Green Carts that are still operational day. Those carts that are still in business tend to cluster near shopping districts and transit stops with high foot traffic, often far from where low-income residents live, and especially far from public housing developments. Those numbers are no surprise to those who saw the program's problems in real time.

At WHEDco, we spent significant time working side-by-side to help vendors, from permit application to site selection to operation. We saw the program from the vendor's perspective, and found the permitting process to be unnecessarily complicated. A Bronx resident would need to make at least six trips to Manhattan to complete food safety courses and file permit applications. The timing of the application process was unclear to WHEDco and other community-based organizations providing technical assistance to vendors, making it difficult to advise our clients. When vendors couldn't find storage for their carts in our neighborhood, WHEDco built a storage facility in the parking lot of our Intervale Green building to safely store four Green Carts, a process that required filing new building plans and an additional grant from Deutsche Bank. We conducted micro-market studies to help Green Cart operators in our neighborhoods identify locations that lacked fresh food. But many other operators received little guidance on where to set up shop, leading to the "clusters" the Columbia team found.

We still believe in the potential of the Green Carts program as a means to promote health and small business creation at the hyperlocal level. If it continues, the program should leverage the support of community-based organizations that can connect potential vendors and local business leaders, though new funding sources must be identified to support CBOs in this work. The Health Department's District Public Health Offices should be able to process permit applications locally, saving low-income vendors valuable time. And the Green Carts program should stick to its original intention and incentivize vendors to locate close to where people live, making it as easy as possible for Bronx residents to eat healthy while supporting local entrepreneurs.

Nancy Biberman is the Founder and President of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco)
WHEDco on Facebook


Is The VA Ready For The Onslaught Of Returning Veterans?

obama vet handshake

(photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

In early May, the National Commander of the American Legion called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and other Under Secretaries in his agency to resign. It was the first time since 1941 that the veterans organization called for such a measure. The American Legion Commander cited poor oversight and failed leadership in the VA when explaining his position. He listed a number of recent high-profile scandals, which have "infected" the VA system as reasons for his public request.

In mid-May, the VA undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel resigned the day after testifying about the scandals on Capitol Hill. Some say the resignation was more like an early retirement, as he had planned to go later in 2014. By Memorial Day, Secretary Shinseki was also history, and a number of other changes and management staff shuffles have taken place since that time. While WWI veterans may never have received their bonuses, VA personnel certainly did while the VA number-fudging continued over time.

The list of VA problems is long and is not new to veteran advocates who continue to urge the government to do better. Advocate and VA watchdog Jim Strickland enumerates the current allegations at the Phoenix, AZ VA hospital and the VA clinic in Ft. Collins, CO, as well as problems at VA medical facilities in Fayetteville, Virginia, Brockton, MA and Dallas, TX. Government inquiries and reports on the VA are also listed on his website as they become available.

There have been other recent accounts of the long-standing backlogs of VA claims, which have been reduced by 44% to "just" 344,000 on March 31, resulting in "only" an average wait of 119 days to receive a decision on a claim, provided that all the "T"s are crossed and the "I"s dotted. Veterans and their Service Officers will tell you that they consider the claims of reduced processing times to be bogus.

With these current, unacceptable problems, we must ask: is the VA ready for the coming onslaught of newly discharged veterans?

According to the VA, the agency is currently involved with administering services for:
* 8.9M veterans enrolled in the health care system.
* 4.3M vets and survivors receiving compensation and pensions.
* 2M veterans with active home loans, with 950 applications approved daily.
* 1.6M veterans and dependents receiving education and training benefits under the new post-9/11 GI Bill.
* 120,000 who receive final honors or burial in one of the VA's 131 cemeteries.

According to the budget proposed in February by the Obama Administration, the Army is expected to soon shrink to pre-WWII levels. There are also calls to retire hundreds of aircraft and warships. National Guard units are also expected to be downsized.

Like the post-draft Vietnam Era drawdown, advocates worry that soldiers will be discharged to the streets just short of vesting for military pensions. In New York State alone, 44,027 newly discharged veterans are expected to return within the next five years. If trends hold, upwards of half this number can be expected to return to the City of New York.

These brave men and women will be in need of services and benefits, and will be filing claims in an already overwhelmed VA administrative system. They will be seeking health care in an already overwhelmed VA medical system. They will also be seeking housing, education and most importantly, jobs, in a most challenging economic climate.

Former Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey said it best in a recent NY Post editorial: "Veterans' demand for medical care exceeds the VA's capacity. Again and again, VA bureaucrats have responded to that problem by lying, gaming the electronic-monitoring system and making false promises to the public."

The looming question as to whether the VA is up to the task, and whether the President and the Congress are ready to meet the challenge is one that I shudder to consider.

Lee Covino is a US Army veteran. He became an advocate for veterans affairs as a peer counselor while attending the College of Staten Island on the GI Bill from 1973-1977. From 1980-1984, he worked as an intervention counselor for the VA's Vietnam Veterans Outreach Center in Brooklyn and Staten Island. In 1990, he was appointed to the Borough President's Cabinet, where he served as the Veterans Affairs Advisor and Director of Contracts & Procurement until his retirement in 2014. In May 2002, Covino was appointed to the City's Veterans Advisory Board by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was re-appointed to the board by the mayor in 2007 and in 2012.


Community Schools Will Succeed If Parents Are Engaged

Gonzalez and Farina at a school

The author, left, and Chancellor Fariña make a school visit

Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced he is ready to move on his pledge to open 100 community schools by the end of his first term by utilizing a $52 million grant to create 42 new community schools in high-needs neighborhoods.

Community schools hold the power to tackle the tale of two cities in our school system—where deep educational disparities have meant 80% of students graduating college-ready in Tribeca and only 8% in Mott Haven. The innovative model will turn schools into community hubs that bring together social-emotional, medical, adult education, recreational, and job training services, and, along with a positive school climate, can address the needs of students, families and the entire community.

As a parent of two sons, I've experienced the best of times, and the worst of times, through two very different New York City public schools. Based on my experience, I believe parent engagement is the key to making the mayor's community schools initiative succeed. In turn, the community schools initiative can serve as the guiding vision to support all public schools to succeed.

The worst of times was at PS 73 in the South Bronx, a school left to struggle and which my sons no longer attend. Under the Bloomberg administration, the school stood at risk of closing for poor performance, while being underfunded and neglected. Students, parents, teachers and staff were kept on the edge of their seats, with repeated threats of phase-out and closure. In the end, they never closed the school. But, they also never provided any additional resources or supports, and the majority of parents were shut out from any meaningful role in school improvement.

The year my sons graduated from PS 73, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity commitment, which had promised us billions of added classroom dollars for struggling schools across the state, was put on hold for a third year. I was forced to accept budget cuts, instead of high quality education for my two sons.

Why should parents have to accept that their children receive an unequal education? I didn't, and no parent should.

Now in the best of times, my sons attend the New Settlement Community School, with the community schools model that Mayor de Blasio is going to expand. The school has everything: a clinic if they have a cavity or any other health needs; strong academics; swimming, ballet, and music programs; parent workshops regarding school involvement and nutrition; and so much more—all under one roof.

My sons now get up early in the morning to play basketball in a full, well-maintained court and stay after-school for reinforcements in math and reading. I have never seen either of them more focused or motivated. The community school makes both of my sons' education complete.

The key to the success of this school, which should be applied to each of the mayor's 100 community schools, is strong parent engagement from the beginning in both design and evaluation. Unlike at PS 73, parents at New Settlement are treated as full partners. The doors are open, there is mutual trust among teachers, administrators, and parents, and constant outreach is made to parents to get us involved.

In the mayor's initiative, each school will receive a full-time resource coordinator. They will recruit partnerships and resources for the school, working with the principal and school community to create a well-designed and effective community school. I strongly believe that this is a job for people with passion—for individuals who truly believe transforming education is possible.

The engagement of parents must be a large part of measuring the success of these resource coordinators. They must meet parents where they are, and reach out especially to parents who aren't involved in the school through home visits, phone calls, community meetings, whatever it takes. They should listen to parents' ideas, their anxieties and their vision. Parents should be offered clear pathways to become leaders in the school and the community.

My optimism for real improvements in our education system is now revived. The community schools model transformed the education of my two sons, and now our mayor and chancellor are committed to expand this model and move the public school system in a direction that is focused on educating the whole child.

Jose Gonzalez is a parent leader with United Parents of Highbridge and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. His two sons attend the New Settlement Community School in the South Bronx.

At A Hearing On Veterans Affairs, Missed Opportunities

mova hearing

MOVA Commissioner Terrance Holliday & his deputy at Monday's hearing (Mario Figueroa of United War Veterans)

On Monday, the New York City Council Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich, held an oversight hearing on the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) and its role in serving New York City's roughly 200,000 veterans.

Since Mayor de Blasio was elected in November, there have been renewed discussions in the veterans community regarding MOVA, its resources, and its direction. Beside awaiting the mayor's decision on an appointment to head MOVA, the community has been lobbying the administration to allocate $250,000 dollars in the new budget to continue MOVA's benefit counselor initiative. The City Council also asked the mayor for additional funding toward mental health, employment, and legal assistance services for veterans.

So the lead-up to the first oversight hearing of MOVA in a number of years was filled with anticipation and concern. Would this be a hearing about MOVA's role in helping veterans or a popularity hearing from those who want Mr. Terrance Holliday to stay as MOVA commissioner? It turned out to be both.

At the packed hearing, Commissioner Holliday gave fairly standard testimony by addressing all the good things MOVA does. He spoke on how MOVA provides "advocacy, referral and short-term case management services to veterans." He talked about MOVA's coordination of the city's Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) and the establishment of a Women's Advisory Committee. He talked about the Indigent Burial Program, the City's Agency Liaisons; the office's veterans clothing initiative and the office's coordination of City Services.

Despite the commissioner's presence, this hearing was no different from others. The commissioner concluded his remarks and Council Member Andrew Cohen started asking a few questions. His question regarding the veteran liaisons at city agencies and their periodic training should warrant a future hearing - no one followed up by asking what the liaisons were trained in, who trained them, or even how they could verify the training actually took place.

However, it was when Council Member Paul Vallone asked the commissioner for his thoughts on his budget that everyone really leaned in. The community has known for many years that MOVA is underfunded. Every director or commissioner I have known has had to deal with the problem of underfunding. So when the Commissioner was asked if he was comfortable with his budget and what the Council could do to help, he incredibly stated that he has not needed money to get things done and that he obtains needed resources from other city agencies.

This comment came back to hurt him on a couple of occasions. When Council Member Vallone asked if MOVA has offices in the outer boroughs, the commissioner stated he only has an office of four individuals, at which point Council Member Vallone brought him back to his point of the office needing more money.

This happened again when the discussion turned to the benefit counselors and Council Member Vallone asked what the plan was when the Robin Hood funding that supports the counselors ends. The commissioner's response was: "I'm still thinking about it, still trying to figure it out, how to work it out."

Again, Council Member Vallone brought him back to the office needing money.

And as if to drive home the point, the Council Member asked for the current budget breakdown between salaries and services. The commissioner's response was that just about the entire budget goes to salary.

What the committee members and everyone in the room wanted to hear the commissioner say was that he wants and needs more money – not that he has to ask other agencies for help or that he would take money if it was given to him. How can MOVA provide more services and better assist veterans without better funding?

The commissioner's continued reiteration of getting it done without additional funding, but then talking about expanding services was conflicting and is detrimental to how MOVA can better help veterans. Sadly, this was then compounded by the commissioner leaving the hearing after he finished his testimony.

The remainder of the hearing consisted of several panels made of up people who gave testimony on how MOVA can better address the needs of veterans; why the city needs to fund the benefit counselors program; or that the commissioner is doing a great job. This last one was apparent as Council Member Ulrich asked all who testified to rate MOVA's performance on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best) and several individuals rated it a 10. This rating was more out of fondness for the commissioner and wanting to see him stay on than the role MOVA serves in helping veterans.

If the commissioner had stayed, he would have seen that the majority of those who testified agreed that MOVA's current mission as defined in the City Charter is too broad and too vague and everyone who testified agreed that MOVA needs more money.

The United States has been at war for over a decade and while veterans are shown respect by our local elected officials, we're still trying to find a seat at the political table. Testimony from Coco Culhane of the Veterans Advocacy Project said it best: "The Mayor's budget proposal, which offered a paltry few extra dollars to MOVA, sent a message about the priority of veteran's issues for this administration."

Veterans need help with housing, education, jobs, health care, and, most of all, knowledge of the array of programs that are available to them. MOVA still has the potential to do great things, but it is underfunded. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Ulrich and Vallone represent a change in direction - and they showed that with their budget commitments to veterans services. As the son of a veteran, Mayor de Blasio needs to get onboard though. MOVA is, after all, the "Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs." I know we can do better.

Joe Bello served 11 years in the US Navy/Naval Reserve and has been a veteran's advocate in New York City for almost two decades. He is the founder of NY MetroVets.

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