City & State’s second annual State of Our City conference Feb. 23 brought together leading minds to talk about the future of New York City in three critical areas – infrastructure, city living and higher education. Almost 200 people gathered at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs for a morning of insights, questions and conversations. What follows are videos and transcript highlights from the morning’s three sessions.
Session 1: Infrastructure & Development
Watch State of Our City 2012: Infrastructure & Development on PBS. See more from Metrofocus.
(L-R) Moderator David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs; Dick Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress; Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Joe Lhota, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
David Birdsell: What I’d like to do is to begin with your broad-scope perspective on where we are with infrastructure development in New York. Do we have the right model, is it the right model that’s going to keep us competitive in an increasingly global environment, and if not, what more do we need to be doing?
Seth Pinsky: Under Mayor Bloomberg, we haven’t gutted our capital budget during what are obviously still very difficult fiscal times. The mayor’s recent capital budget called for spending $39 billion over the next five years, which is actually an increase of about $700 million over the previous budget. And we are continuing to invest. We’re investing not just in basic infrastructure but also in amenities which we know know are critical for quality of life and attracting the best and the brightest to the city, which in turn is critical for attracting business. And we’re also in some cases investing in whole new neighborhoods, areas like Willets Point, Hunters Point South. … The problem is that we’re competing with cities around the world that are not just competing with a 20th century infrastructure. They’re competing with a 21st century infrastructure. And figuring out how we don’t just maintain what we have, but improve what we have, is going to be the great challenge, I think, of the next several years.
Joe Lhota: With this amount of expansive growth that we’re seeing in the number of passenger, the future of infrastucture is not about expanding the system, but using the existing system and putting in modern technology so that in the future we can get more trains on the same tracks. … We’re going to have to put in a more modern switching system. We’re going to need to hire more workers. And I see my brothers here from the TWU. I want you to realize that if we go about this path, we’ll be able to hire more people, so that we’re going to have more trains. We’re going to drive and get more people there more frequently. To do that, as I said, we need the technology. Because right now the switching system that we have is as close to manual as possible. So to avoid any types of calamities and collisions down there, we need modern systems. That’s infrastructure that quite honestly is not that sexy. It’s not as sexy as building a new tunnel. It’s not as sexy as putting in a new line on Second Avenue. But it’s critically important to the expansion of the city.
Dick Anderson: Let’s cut to the chase. The infrastructure model would not have been designed by anybody with a rational outlook. It’s a shared responsibility, where the city, the state and the federal government share in providing the funding and the direction and the management of a very complex, $15 billion-a-year system. No one, no single institution, no single person, is responsible. No one’s in charge, in effect. … When you have this kind of a complex system, this kind of a complex model, there are a lot of discontinuities. There are a lot of issues.
(L-R) Moderator Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future; Ronda Wist, senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Municipal Art Society; Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations; Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Jonathan Bowles: Increasing numbers of cities across the country and around the world are competing with New York for talent. And when talent is such an indicator of a city’s success, it seems like livability has become even more front and center as an important issue for New York’s future.
Marcia Bystryn: We have made such extraordinary progress on a number of fronts. What is going to be important, though, is making sure that we have funding mechanisms that will allow us to maintain those things. And I just want to throw out one thing, and that is the efforts New York City have made to reconnect people with the waterfront has been extraordinary. It’s transformed the face of this city. But there are parks like Hudson River Park, which is a fabulous park, that basically does not have the money going forward to ensure that the park doesn’t fall into the Hudson River. … It’s going to require people to take a look at a lot of the assumptions that people had when these parks were put in place. Some of them were, well, you know, we really don’t want to have any kind of commercial activity too prominent in these parks, because parks are parks are parks. Is that in fact feasible if you want the park to continue to have structural integrity? Do you have to look at new kinds of financing mechanisms like tax increment financing or park improvement districts?
Cas Holloway: From an operational perspective, the big question I ask every day is, why do people want to live here? Because it’s clean and it’s safe and we have good schools and we have great parks, and the city runs and it’s going to be properly funded so that it stays that way and gets better. If that becomes untrue, you know, it’s a big country. People can live here. They can live somewhere else. So what does that suggest? I think these issues that some people may think are too far removed from them, like Tier VI pension and what about defined contribution versus defined benefit, these are the questions that are going to determine what the long-term resource obligations of this city are. So I would just, I guess, suggest everybody should get involved and get educated and form a point of view, because the time is now to deal with it.
Ronda Wist: We are worried that this could become a luxury city. And that would make it not enticing to young people and entrepreneurs to come in. We are looking at arts and culture, because just as having a monoculture in terms of housing is not a good idea, it’s not a great idea to have a city with only large cultural institutions. And one of the things we asked in our survey which was interesting was, do you like the cultural advantages of New York City? Yes. But do you feel that they’re available in your neighborhood? And again, the answer is very different borough by borough. And of course it would be very different neighborhood by neighborhood.
Session 3: Higher Education
(L-R) Moderator Andrew Hawkins, managing editor of City & State; David Scobey, executive dean of the New School for Public Engagement; Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer at the city Department of Education; John Mogulescu, senior university dean for academic affairs and dean of the school of professional studies at the City University of New York.
Andrew Hawkins: [President Barack Obama] said that he wants to increase the amount of money that goes toward Pell Grants, but the cost of living for students is obviously, clearly going up in the city of New York. I’m wondering what’s being done to address this issue. Do you guys see it approaching some sort of crisis level, or do you think the issue of affordability is still manageable?
David Scobey: We are all not near a crisis, but at a crisis—in the middle of a crisis—in the financing of higher education, partly because higher education’s costs have grown for complicated reasons. And that’s as true for the New School as for CUNY and Columbia, in large fact because of the decline of public support for student access to higher education, which as access has grown dramatically and the mission—the stuff that higher education institutions are meant to do—has expanded, public investment in higher education at the state and federal level has declined. … That has exposed something that all of us have colluded in in higher education, which is to displace the costs of paying for the work that we do—it’s good work—onto our students and student debt. … The economic crisis has exposed the underbelly of how much we have relied on growing student debt in the last 10 years. And that’s completely untenable.
John Mogulescu: It’s really important that that [Roosevelt Island engineering campus] project link up to the public school system in this city, particularly when it comes to the possibilities of creating a pipeline for kids of color to go into the sciences and technology. … One of the things I do at CUNY is oversee workforce development for the university. And my struggle has been a bit different. Because when you look at the labor market data in this city, the huge number of jobs are low-wage work. And I have found, and we are very involved with trying to figure out, well, how do you get people who are doing the low-wage work all over this city out of poverty? And I must say, it’s really hard to even think intellectually how that would work in this city.
Josh Thomases: The old way of thinking about public partnership was, how many kids did we see? So the New York Aquarium would say, we saw 10,000 kids. The Museum of Natural History would say—I’m getting the numbers wrong—we saw 400,000 kids. And what we’ve come to understand is that with the kind of resources that this city has, that that’s the wrong way of thinking about it. The way of thinking about it is changing kids’ lives. … There are 400,000 high school students. In this city, it should be easy to find internships—real-life work experiences—for 400,000 kids. That should not be hard. Between our government sector, our not-for-profit sector and our for-profit sector, you should be able to find 400,000. You should certainly be able to find 100,000. We don’t have more than ten or 15,000 at this point. So one of the things I would call on folks in this room to do is to think about the work you do, the offices you’re in and the people who you know, and ask the question of, what would it take to organize to have a couple students be on an internship on a regular basis?
Tags: affordability, Andrew Hawkins, Baruch College, Cas Holloway, Center for an Urban Future, City & State, city living, City University, David Birdsell, David Scobey, Department of Education, development, Dick Anderson, Economic Development Corporation, Infrastructure, joe lhota, John Mogulescu, Jonathan Bowles, Josh Thomases, livability, Marcia Bystryn, MTA, Municipal Art Society, New School, New York Building Congress, New York League of Conservation Voters, parks, pensions, Ronda Wist, Seth Pinsky, State of Our City, student debt, student loan, tuition
Trackback from your site.