Editor’s note: City & State is a tenant in an RXR Realty building in lower Manhattan.
Scott Rechler, like many New York real estate developers, has looked beyond the coronavirus pandemic to a future focused on rebuilding. To encourage policymaking that will help New York forge ahead after COVID-19, Scott Rechler, the chair and CEO of RXR Realty and chair of the Regional Plan Association, is kicking off a video series in partnership with the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Entitled “Recalibrate Reality: The Future of New York with Scott Rechler,” the series is aiming to produce 50 videos over the next year, each about 30 to 40 minutes long, with politicians and civic leaders on how to address the city’s future.
Rechler’s first interview on Thursday will be with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Interviews with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Ritchie Torres, National September 11 Memorial & Museum President and CEO Alice Greenwald and MTA Chair and CEO Pat Foye, among others, will follow in the coming weeks.
City & State caught up with Rechler, who also used to be a member of the MTA board and on the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for an interview about why he was doing the video series and what his hopes are for the city’s recovery.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do a yearlong video series with the goal of shooting 50 interviews?
The whole point of the series that we’re doing is that we’re going to come back to something new. How do we recalibrate for that new reality? Let’s use it as an opportunity to take a step back and say we had a lot of great things, but we also had equity issues, affordability issues, congestion issues, quality-of-life issues and sustainability issues. How do we try to manage all that and rebuild in a better way?
So the goal is to have almost a year’s worth of interviews and have a kaleidoscope of perspectives that in totality give people an understanding of the issues that were before and that need to be addressed on the other side, policy approaches, business practices and ways of civic engagement that help us.
New York has had to rebuild before, after 9/11 and more recently after Superstorm Sandy, but never on the scale that’s coming after COVID-19. Describe how you see the impact to the city and region and what’s needed to recover.
Everyone likes to say, and it’s true to some degree, that New York has been in these situations before, right? Where everyone has the obituary already written. But we have proven that we can build back better and stronger than we were before the incident that took us to whatever that circumstance was. But you know, I don’t think that’s something that you can just rely on to naturally happen. It requires leadership and requires engagement, and it requires vision as to where you’re going. I think this time around the impact is more ubiquitous than ever before, right? I mean, it’s really hit the whole New York region, New York state. No one was spared in this incident.
So what do you hope will come out of your video series to address this unprecedented situation?
To dig into some of the complexities around these conversations, because what I found is there’s been a sort of a void in good discourse about them, and there’s been a lot of headline tweets capturing people’s attention. So a 30 to 40 minute window can get deep on a certain topic and get perspectives from people. When you’re done listening to it, you get a better feel for what some of those challenges are and with some potential bold new ways to approach them, or new ways that we have to recalibrate.
Where did you come up with the idea of doing video interviews to fill this void?
If you look back to the 1970s, real estate developer Lew Rudin of Rudin Management, who was the father of current CEO Bill Rudin and a legend of the time, would have these weekly breakfasts where they did something similar and they would go through these issues and have different domain expertise – different people from different ways of life sharing their views. So this in some way is inspired by that, but it will take a virtual approach to be able to dig deeper, really get some insights and feedback and share perspectives that people otherwise may not necessarily get.
What are your expectations once the series is completed a year from now?
To deal with the rapid change and disruption and dislocation that COVID brought. I think that’s going to require a whole new approach to dealing with the people that have been displaced, the companies that have gone out of business, to help bring them back. There’s so much that has to happen, which you need to be intentional about. It’s not going to be economic cycles. Going to work policies of the past aren’t going to be productive and constructive. The ways that people work and live have changed. So if there’s going to be some remote work, that means our communities, our downtowns in urban environments that have commercial settings, are going to need to readapt to know something that’s not a five-day workweek. Our transit systems are going to have to readapt and resize for whatever that new level of demand is going to be in that arena as you go forward.
Almost everything within our communities needs to be reimagined, including health care. We all think it’s become clear that we had woefully underinvested in our health care historically, and we also probably underutilized some of the potential for health care that COVID has highlighted. Think about the telecare and virtual care capacity that exists today, that didn’t exist before. We very rarely need to go to doctors offices or hospitals because we’re taken care of in our office buildings, where we live or in the store next door where they can do virtual care and get your prescription.
You grew up in Nassau County’s Port Washington, lived on Long Island and now reside in lower Manhattan. How have you personally reacted to the pandemic?
For me, like a lot of New Yorkers, I take tremendous pride in our city. You know, when people come from out of town, you love to walk them through the city to show them your favorite restaurants, the best place to get bagels, the best pickles. We all have those stories.
When I came back to the office for the first time, I walked down the street and there was this boarded-up restaurant, a famous steakhouse with a sign that said it was established in 1967. It was totally boarded up. You say to yourself, “Jeez, it’s heart-wrenching right?” Because this is the essence of what New York is, and here you’re seeing this business closed, at no fault of its own. That’s the most challenging about COVID, right? That so many people’s lives have been turned upside down, not because they were taking undue risk or they did something they shouldn’t have done. It was like a natural disaster that consumed our country and our city and state. So, it’s heartbreaking.
Now the good news is I walked by that restaurant the other day and the boards were down. You could see they were gearing up to reopen, which gives me hope along the way. So I’m a believer that New York comes back better and stronger. Hope is the bridge to the other side.