Gale Brewer – State of the Borough Manhattan
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Organizes Discussion Entitled What is Urban Policy Now
I arrived at the NYU Skirball Center, located along the southern perimeter of Washington Square Park, over a half hour after Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s State of the Borough began. As I entered, a few folks exiting, told me that the urban policy discussion had just begun.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s SOTB Address 2019
Unfortunately I had missed the first part of the schedule, which included the normal formalities, which included: 1) a short speech by the hosting organization - Lynne Brown, the Senior VP of NYU; 2) a performance by Annette A. Aguilar Bean Bloco, 3) an introduction by David Chu of Community Board 1 and 4) Gale’s introductory remarks.
1. The most important was probably what the Manhattan Borough President’s Office was doing with Data. They were collecting and organizing data about the borough and putting it online in order to make it accessible and transparent. There were slides running in the background at the reception showing some of the data – one of which I’ve shown in this report.
2. She also talked about Public Transit – specifically the L train which will not be totally closed down this year – but rather only on the weekends in order to repair the tunnels damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
3. Gale also talked about efforts to get Technology into Public Schools. This included things like smart boards and computers and wifi? I understand that this is a ten year plan.
Manhattan Boro President SOTB Panelist #1 – Maya Wiley
As I sat down, Panelist Maya Wiley, Professor of Urban Policy and Management of the New School, was in the middle of delivering her remarks about key challenges and issues facing New York City. She focused on the disruptive and opportunistic challenges brought about by technology. Perhaps the focal point of Maya’s remarks was that the contracts of the cable companies serving New York City are due for renewal / renegotiation in 2020. She wanted to flag this, as groups interested in internet, video and telephone access and associated fees need to mobilize and become a part of the process NOW – or it will be too late.
More on this came out later in the discussion, which you can find below.
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Gale Brewer – State of the Borough Manhattan
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Organizes Discussion Entitled What is Urban Policy Now
Manhattan Boro President SOTB Panelist #2 – Jonathan Bowles
Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Future, focused on the importance of education and skills required to land and keep good paying jobs to enable a middle class income and lifestyle. He commended Mayor de Blasio’s efforts with education, as Universal Pre-K has had a positive impact, and the graduation rate at NYC public schools has improved. But he noted that at present 3.1 million New Yorkers do not have an Associate or College degree, which in todays world, means they will have difficulty landing and keeping a job that pays a middle class wage.
Manhattan Boro President SOTB Panelist #3 – Juan Gonzales
Juan Gonzales, former NY Daily News reporter, and co-host of DemocracyNow.org since 1996 was the third panelist. Juan was focused on affordable housing and identified two different paths to development, which he characterized as ‘growth’ versus ‘use’. The growth path maximizes the profit value of the land, while the use path maximizes the value of land measured by use by the community.
Gonzales said the growth path is where private industry grows their revenue and profits through upwardly mobile real estate real estate developments. The net effect is easily seen here in New York City, where NYC real estate developers rush in, drive up the cost of real estate and rents, and force the people who had settled in the community … to leave it. The poorer people thereby keep getting pushed outside of the city, to obtain lower rents, and are forced to give up hours of their time because of longer commutes.
The use path is where government forces private industry to design real estate developments that take into consideration the whole community – not just the wealthy.
Gonzales peppered us with some interesting factoids. He noted that contrary to the post WWII era, where the wealthy moved out of the city – in the current era the wealthy are moving back into the city and the middle and lower income folks are being pushed further out. As a point of fact, Juan told us that the population of New York City has grown by 440,000 people since 2010 – from 8.2 million to 8.6 million. To put those numbers in perspective, Gonzales said that the influx of people into New York City in the past eight years is larger the entire population of Oakland, California [425,000] or Minneapolis, Minnesota [422,000].
During this same period of time 2010 – 2018, New York City created 600,000 jobs, outpacing the population growth, which is why unemployment is down in all five boroughs. But, Gonzales noted, many of these jobs are low paying jobs. He said that unionization in the early / mid part of the 20th century is what, in part, enabled upward income mobility.
Gonzales referenced a book written in the 1960’s wherein [not 100% sure of this] that the Johnson Administration estimated that the United States would have to build 2.5 million housing units each year just to keep up with the population growth. I didn’t get the name of the book, but I believe the same author also opined that private industry would never build low income or middle income housing without the government forcing / partnering with private industry to do it. Gonzales went on to note that today nobody talks about low income or middle income housing – it’s all affordable housing which is a term that doesn’t necessarily mean what it says. Juan said that federal, state and municipal governments must collaborate to address the housing shortage problem as it’s been around for decades.
Manhattan Boro President SOTB Panelist #4 – JoAnn Yoo
The fourth panelist, JoAnn Yoo, is the Executive Director of the Asian American Federation. She noted that the wealth gap is one of the primary issues facing New York City and America. Wealth is about having a say in the community, and the American middle class has been disappearing. She lamented, saying that’s why the arrival of Amazon was so appealing.
She said what is ‘affordable housing’ if you only make $15,000 per year? People with this income [Editor’s Note: the new minimum wage will raise to annual income to $30,000] cannot pay $1,500 for a studio apartment in the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn.
She referenced Maya’s comment that technology access must be available to all. She said that while high school graduation rates for adult Asian Americans is high, the children of these Asians, are one of the lowest performing groups [this seems at odds with other reports we’ve seen – I’ll try to do a bit of research later on to resolve what appears a discrepancy].
JoAnn Yoo went on listing the great issues facing New York City and America – which she had described as resulting from inequitable wealth distribution.
She said that many of the earlier immigrants did well by opening and operating independent, family-run businesses in neighborhoods that weren’t desirable and sometimes unsafe. But with the rising rents and advent of the internet, the small business model is failing and these families are struggling to figure out what to do.
She noted that the racial mix in the nation is changing, but that the rule of law is still biased on skin color.
Manhattan State of the Borough – Panelist Opening Remarks & Discussion
Following the opening remarks by each of the panelists, a discussion ensued, moderated by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Bowles said that there’s a $30 billion shortfall in NYCHA funding due to years of neglect. This can only be addressed by cooperation by all levels of government including municipal, state and federal. Jonathan went on to say that non-profit organizations are underappreciated and undervalued by communities and that they are the people who are keeping things manageable by their efforts – BUT that they are currently hurting.
Using NYC Social, Demographic & Economic Data to Help Solve our Problems
There was some talk about using data to help solve our problems. The movie Moneyball was cited as the creative use of data in sports, to solve the problem of putting together a winning team on a limited budget. Data was also cited as being used by companies like Amazon and Netflix to enhance profitability by better understanding their customers. Government can use data to help in the social services sector.
NYC Cable Contracts up for Renewal in 2020
Maya said that the city cable contracts are up for renewal in 2020. She noted that Verizon uses the public right of way for their cables and pays a small fee to the government for that use, which also gives them a highly profitable monopoly. She went on to tell us that cable companies only pay the city a 5% franchise fee on video, which is only a small part of the services conducted over the cable system which is now broadband. She recommended that the city go for a franchise fee for all services rendered over that infrastructure. And since contracts are only renewed every 15 years, this is a rare chance to make adjustments / changes.
Regulating new Technologies Lags Behind in Mitigating the Collateral Damage of Innovation
She went on to say that technology improvements aren’t always beneficial to society [Editor’s Note: at least not in the beginning before they are properly regulated] and she went on to say that the shared economy, lead by notables like Uber and Airbnb, are both good examples about how the social side effects [aka collateral damage] of technology turned out badly for the existing regulated participants in the economy [yellow cab drivers] and residents [Airbnb caused higher rents as apartments were used as unregulated hotels]. She noted that Mayor de Blasio has righted some of the wrongs by putting the brakes on the unregulated expansion on these technology-driven operations.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told us that the city employs 300,000 people, many of whom she believed to be older than the population in general, like herself. She opined that this may negatively impact the speed of response by the city to changes in technology.
Maya said that broadband is a key component of most technological advancements these days [both Uber and Airbnb are internet driven businesses, as is Amazon, Netflix and on]. She said that the internet is an example of a successful public / private development.
Striking the Right Deal with Corporations vs Striking 'A' Deal with Corporations
In Detroit, Michigan, the state negotiates the cable franchise for the city. But New York City negotiates its own cable contract. She said, that as such, the city shouldn’t be a ‘beggar’ in the franchise contract renewal negotiations [and the time to get involved in these negotiations is now].
She said that Amazon was an important deal – but that it was important to get the deal right. The Amazon negotiations were done in private [implication = not good], what kind of jobs, the 25,000 jobs claimed, would be was unclear. Also unclear was whether the residents in the nearby Queensbridge Housing Projects [3,125 public housing units] would get jobs, and whether other New York City residents and CUNY graduates would get the jobs. She said that we as a city, need to assess the assets we offer prospective employers, in order to better negotiate with them.
Someone [could still be Maya] said that when new projects come along [like Uber / Airbnb / Amazon / cable contract renewals] we need to engage the public in the conversation, to find out what the people in the community want, and to give people time to react and provide their input.
She said that at the moment, the City Technology Officer post has been deleted. And the government departmental silos can make it challenging / burdensome to negotiate deals across those silos / departments.
2020 Census: Trump Federalists' Intimidation?
Someone [I think it was Maya] said that never, in the nation’s 200 plus years, has a citizenship question been included on the census. It was noted that 30% of the denizens of NYC don’t have internet access at home and therefore are reliant on public wifi and the public libraries for it. The city needs to mobilize to make sure it gets its fair share of resources. It was noted that ‘ethnic’ is a term for non-whites used by a white-centric culture. Something about being diverse still means being fringe.
Democracy Now anchorman Juan Gonzales said that people continue moving into the cities. Executive Director of Center for an Urban Future, Jonathan Bowles, added that over 100,000 New York City residents have moved out of poverty in the past three years according to the Mayor’s Office. Unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the 1990’s.
Professor Maya Wiley of the New School said look at the ten communities that are doing the least well. Tear down the silos and work together to build these up. She said that the major social problems are generally infrastructure problems.
JoAnn Yoo, Exective Director of the Asian American Federation, said that the work nonprofits do needs to be valued more. She noted that Asians represent the fastest growing ethnic group [up 16%] and yet they receive a far smaller percentage of the Minority and Women Based Business Enterprise [MWBE] contracts.
That was it for the panel discussion. There were two subsequent speakers – Susan Shear of IC Disabilities and Ouzo who is the CEO of the new African Center on the Upper East Side.
Institute for Crippled & Disabled
Susan Shear of the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled [ICD] said that 77% of people with disabilities are not working. She told us that people began to pay attention to the disabled following WWI when many soldiers returned to America with disabilities, having risked their lives for the country. Out of that event and out of concern for these [mostly] men, the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled came into being.
After the war, these men were encouraged to go into jobs like illustration, film camera operators and graphic artists. Today, she said the disabled, which includes a significant number of women too, are being encouraged to go into the world of cyber security for which 100,000 new jobs are expected to be created in the coming years [no specificity on time period].
She said disabilities include deafness, spinal cord injuries, autism and learning disabilities. And that anyone, anywhere, at any point in their life could join the ranks of the people with disabilities. She recalled going for an interview after she had contracted multiple sclerosis [MS] and by the time she sat down, she could see the interviewer was trying to figure out how to get rid of her without running into legal problems.
She ended by telling us that folks with disabilities have a saying about public policy directed toward them – “nothing about us, without us”.
New African Center on the Upper East Side in Manhattan NYC
The new CEO of the Africa Center, Uzodinma Iweala told us a bit about himself and the Africa Center. The Africa Center is on 5th Avenue at 110th Street on the Upper East Side. Uzo is a Nigerian immigrant who graduated from Harvard College and graduated from Columbia University with a Medical degree.
The Africa Center has opened, but the full 70,000 square feet won’t be completed until a later date. But that said the Taranga African Café has opened and offers tastes of African cuisine. There’s also an art installation on exhibit and they have started with periodic programming that includes book readings and musical performances such as one done recently by an orchestra.
After the event, we were all invited upstairs for coffee and cookies. As you can see, it was an informative session, well worth the once a year investment in attendance.
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