12/12/2006Mayor's Speech Kicks Off Conversation with New Yorkers About the Future of Our City
On Tuesday, December 12, 2006, at an event hosted by the League of Conservation Voters at the Queens Museum of Art, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg delivered a major speech outlining sustainability challenges and goals for the City of New York through the year 2030. The speech included a video presentation and was followed by a panel discussion moderated by NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw.
The panelists were: Majora Carter, Executive Director and Founder, Sustainable South Bronx; Diana Fortuna, President, Citizens Budget Commission; Edward Ott, Executive Director, New York City, Central Labor Council AFL-CIO; Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, Research Scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University; and Robert Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association.
"Thanks Marcia. And thank you to the League of Conservation Voters for hosting us today as we look ahead to the year 2030, and to the immense challenges facing our city. Some might think that whatever happens by then won't be our problem.
"But, speaking for myself, I'm going to be 88 years old, and the kind of city we have will certainly matter to me. (What's more, my mother will be 121, and she might come for a visit some time.) And that's why we've come together today at the Queens Museum, which plays such a vital role in the cultural and civic life of Queens, and which I also want to thank for their hospitality.
"Because it's here in Flushing Meadows, in the heart of Helen Marshall's borough, that more than once, New Yorkers have looked beyond the present, to see the promise of the future. Whether it was at the 1939 World's Fair, when men and women still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, dared to imagine a dazzling "World of Tomorrow," or at the 1964 World's Fair, whose glorious panorama you just walked through, and which featured the futuristic wonders of what people were starting to call 'the global village.'
"Only five years ago, looking 25 years into the future might have seemed unimaginable. After 9/11, we weren't sure what even the next day would hold. Instead of looking ahead, many people were looking back, fearful of seeing a return to the days when New York's dangerous streets, graffitied subways, and abandoned housing were national symbols of urban decay.
"We recalled seeing our city's population plummet by nearly one million people in just ten year's time. Many of us remember that era all too well. And many of us have worked hard over the years to bring New York - and new New Yorkers - back - and then some.
"The past five years have truly rewarded our efforts. Building on the successes of our predecessors, we've driven crime down to levels last seen when the '64 World's Fair opened. Our welfare rolls are lower than they were in 1964, as well. Today, our streets are cleaner than they've been in 30 years. We've increased high school graduation rates to a 20-year high. Our bond rating is the best ever. Unemployment is at an all-time record low. New Yorkers are living longer than the average American for the first time since World War II. And the most visible symbol - and source - of New York City's comeback is that we're growing again - our population is at an all-time high.
"A generation of dedicated New Yorkers - including many in this room - have all played a role in making this happen. I want to especially acknowledge the strong leadership provided by my predecessors: Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani. As a city, we stand on their shoulders - and because we do, we are standing taller and stronger than ever. We should be proud of what we've achieved together, not just over the past five years - but over the past twenty-five.
"It would be easy to sit back now and enjoy what we've done. To let our successors worry about the future. But we must not become complacent. That's not how New York became great. And it's not how I plan to spend the last 1,115 days of my term as mayor!
"Over the first eighteen hundred days, we've already begun making the investments that will ensure the City's long-term future: A $4 billion commitment to finishing the Third Water Tunnel - double what's been spent by the last five administrations combined; $1.6 billion to build the vital Croton water filtration plant; and $13 billion for the largest school capital plan in the city's history.
"We're turning Fresh Kills, once the world's largest landfill, into the biggest new City park in more than a century. And a few days ago, we sold bonds for the Number 7 line, the first major extension of the subway system in decades, and the first in modern memory paid for by the City. But we also know that much more work needs to be done.
"Last January, I asked Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff to develop a long-term land use plan for the city. At the time, we both thought it was a project that would take just a few months. But as we worked, we discovered the sheer scale of what was ahead - the intricacy, urgency, and interdependency of the challenges we face. We realized that unless we considered the full range of challenges to our city's physical environment, the progress we'd worked so long and so hard for might be at risk. And it became clear that to secure a stronger, cleaner, and healthier city for our children and grandchildren, we had to start acting now. In short, we realized that New York needed - not a long-term plan for land use, but a long-term plan for sustainability.
"'Sustainability'is a word that's used a lot these days. But at its heart, it simply means striving to make our city greater, not just for ourselves, but for those generations to come. Today, we have a rare opportunity to achieve that goal. Because with the city's immediate prospects as healthy as they are, and with our Administration not beholden to special interests or big campaign contributors, we now have the freedom to take on the obstacles looming in the city's future, and to begin clearing them away before they become rooted in place.
"To help us meet that challenge, we created a new Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. They're supported by a team from more than 15 City agencies. Joining them have been some of the best and the brightest: independent scientists, think tank scholars, respected academics and city planners, and innovative green builders. And because our focus has been on community-based strategic planning, not central planning, our team has also included neighborhood activists, public interest advocates, labor leaders, and others from the private and non-profit sectors. Some of our partners serve on our Sustainability Advisory Board, while others have played a more informal role. With help from all of them, we've studied every part of the city.
"We've looked at every playground - all 1,310 of them, and identified which neighborhoods will need more of them going forward. We've rated the age and efficiency of all 25 of the power plants serving the city - through 2030. We've estimated which of our nearly 250 miles of subway routes will be congested on an average day in 2030. We have, in short, tried to anticipate every physical barrier our communities will experience to maintaining - and building on - the quality of life we enjoy today. And the process has given us a new, deeper, and sobering appreciation of the magnitude of the challenges New Yorkers face.
"Through our work, we've identified three major challenges our city will face over the next 25 years: First, we will be getting bigger. By 2030, projections show that our city will add nearly one million more people, along with millions of additional tourists and three-quarters of a million new jobs. Second, our infrastructure will be getting older - more than a century old in many places. And it will be under increasing pressure. And third, as our population grows and our infrastructure ages, our environment - our air, water, and land - will be pushed to new and possibly precarious limits.
"Today, we'll share what we've learned over the past 11 months. We'll also present 10 aggressive but achievable goals that we've developed - with the help of our extraordinary team of policymakers and advisors. They're our goals for making New York a sustainable city by 2030.
"We'll also launch the next stage of this process: Developing, with extensive public input, a detailed action plan to create a sustainable future for our city. A process that we are calling 'Plan-Y-C.' Informed by that process, three months from now we'll present New Yorkers with specific proposals for reaching each of our goals, explaining in full the regulation, legislation, financing mechanisms, or other measures they will require. And then we'll reach out to our partners in every branch and at every level of government to begin turning those goals into realities.
"The engine driving New York's future is growth - growth that's evident all around us. It seems wherever you walk in our city these days, whether it's Kingsbridge Heights or Lower Manhattan, Queens West or East New York, Fort Greene or here in Flushing, there's new housing being built. Over the last two years, more permits for housing construction have been issued than at any time since the early 1970s, and we will need all of those new units, and more. Because the Department of City Planning projects that by 2010, New York will grow by another 200,000 people. And by 2030, our population will reach more than 9 million - the equivalent of adding the populations of Boston and Miami to the five boroughs. The result is a surge that is taking our population to new heights, and our city into uncharted waters.
"This growth could bring incredible benefits: Billions of dollars in new economic activity will be generated by new jobs, residents, and visitors. But growth also presents challenges: It can undermine neighborhood quality of life, which is why over the past five years we've rezoned more than 4,000 city blocks in dozens of neighborhoods, to allow for growth where there's capacity, and preserve community character when appropriate. Growth can also bid up housing prices. And with more than a third of New York City renters already paying more than half their income on rent, we can't let that pressure on family budgets grow any worse. In response, we've undertaken the largest affordable housing plan of any city in the nation, one that will create and preserve affordable housing for 500,000 New Yorkers by 2013 - that's more people than live in Atlanta, Georgia. But we know even it won't be enough.
"Population growth also increases the need for more of the parks and playgrounds that families depend on, even as the competition for land becomes more intense. We have added 300 acres of parkland over the past five years, yet more than 100 neighborhoods still do not have enough playgrounds for the children who live there.
"Our growing population also presents transportation challenges. Strong leadership and major investments over the past 25 years have made our subways cleaner and safer today than they've been in decades. But, as a result, ridership has soared - making some commutes more of an 'up close and personal' experience than we'd like.
"In short, growth is a challenge that can produce great benefits, but only if we prepare for it and guide it - so that our city stays as open and welcoming as ever. Our population is expected to reach undreamed-of levels. This poses enormous new challenges, and to meet them, we've set these three goals:
"Our growing New York will always be the most diverse city on earth. It will remain a magnet for artists, entrepreneurs, and ambitious immigrants from every corner of the globe. But despite our dramatically varying backgrounds and ambitions, we'll share so many common experiences as New Yorkers. For starters, we will all go about our days confident in and, in most cases, taking for granted, the systems that underpin this exceptional city.
"For example, think about what you did to get here this morning. Maybe your alarm went off; you turned on the lamp; you ran some water to brush your teeth; picked up the paper, which had been delivered by truck; for breakfast you made some toast; took a phone call (from a Deputy Mayor, telling you not to mess up a big speech you were going to give in Queens); made yourself some hot coffee; then hopped on the subway to get here.
"In other words, you relied on the City's infrastructure - without ever giving it a single thought. Its millions of components must work seamlessly, every second, day after day, year after year, for all of us to survive. And, for the most part, they do.
"That's a testament to the genius of visionaries like Thomas Edison, to the skill and muscle of sandhogs who blasted subway and water tunnels through 400 million-year-old bedrock, and to all those who engineered and built our brilliant city. But even their amazing achievements can't outlast the ravages of time. We're a city that runs on electricity, yet some of our power grid dates from the 1920s, and our power plants rely heavily on outmoded, heavily-polluting technology.
"Our subway system and highway networks are extensive, and heavily-used, yet nearly 3,000 miles of our roads, bridges, and tunnels, and the majority of our subway stations are in need of repair. And even though we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our sewer infrastructure over the past 15 years, at the current pace a full upgrade will take another 500 years. (And hopeful as I am for a long and happy life, even I don't expect to see that day!)
"By 2030, virtually every major infrastructure system in our city will be more than a century old, and pushed to its limits. It doesn't have to come to that if we act. Once, infrastructure solutions were pioneered in New York. Now, it's time for us to rise to the challenge again, with a new commitment to upgrading and maintaining New York's infrastructure.
"Achieving sustainability for our growing city means protecting its foundation - our infrastructure. And to do that, we've set these three goals:
"In addition to a surging population and a straining infrastructure, we also face the challenge of preserving and 'greening' an increasingly embattled urban environment. The good news is: We've already taken major steps in the right direction.
"Exhibit A is our Solid Waste Management Plan, which - thanks to the active support of the League of Conservation Voters - Speaker Quinn and the City Council passed earlier this year. It was the most dramatic environmental victory New Yorkers have achieved in decades, one that will increase recycling, and also completely end our Sanitation Department's use of heavily polluting, diesel-burning long-haul trucks.
"Nor is that an isolated achievement. In the past five years, City agencies have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 350,000 tons a year. We've made far-sighted investments that will protect the purity of the water we drink. And not far from here, we're turning the site of the old Elmhurst gas tanks into a beautiful new park - just one example of how we're reclaiming former industrial sites for open space and housing.
"But the demands of our growing population require us to do far more to protect our environment. Despite the gains we have made over the past two decades our aging sewer network still discharges two billion gallons of sewage into our waterways every year. Even though we have cleaned hundreds of acres of brownfields across the city, there is still much more contaminated land waiting to be reclaimed for new jobs, housing, and parks.
"Our air is cleaner now than it was for much of the 20th Century, yet we have one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the country, and its effects are most severe for young children in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Meanwhile, we've all noticed that the weather seems to be getting more unpredictable, and summers seem to be getting hotter. And longer. Well, that's not just a perception; it's a reality.
"It's called global warming but the impact can be local. We're a coastal city, and the increase of greenhouse gases in our air is not only lifting temperatures, it may also be contributing to our rising sea level. That means that when major storms hit in the future, the resulting flooding could be worse than anything we've seen.
"We know the cost of failing to prepare. It can devastate a great city in just hours, which is why we have created a comprehensive Coastal Storm Plan. But to reduce the threat of dangerous storms, it's also essential that we do our part to dramatically cut greenhouse gases. To ensure the health of future generations, and to establish New York as a leader in meeting some of the greatest challenges of our time, we must do more to green our city.
"If anyone can innovate when it comes to the environment (or anything else), New York can. And in that spirit, we've set these four environmental goals:
"Clearly, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. I'm not going to pretend that fulfilling these goals will be easy. We know that some of the solutions will be difficult, and some will cost money. But in a very real sense, the predicament of our future is also our hope. The very same population growth that intensifies the challenges we face also offers us the resources for meeting them, and the means needed to help achieve sustainability.
"Doing nothing has its costs, too - economic and environmental costs that will only escalate with the passing years. Refusing to saddle our children with those high costs is what fiscal responsibility is all about. It's why the discipline we've shown and the investments we've made for the past five years have given us a strong foundation to face our future. To address the challenges before us, we'll seek the cooperation of policymakers at every level of government including the Governor-elect and our regional partners. And the really creative solutions to our problems are especially likely to come from the private sector, or from non-profit organizations, or from community leaders who are determined to make a difference. We want to hear all of those voices. And we need to.
"That's why we are going to conduct a major public outreach effort over the next few months, to solicit ideas, get feedback, and build toward consensus. Today, we are launching that citywide conversation. In fact, the first discussion will take place right here on this stage. We have assembled an impressive panel of experts representing a broad spectrum of disciplines and opinions. And now it's my pleasure to introduce the moderator for this discussion, a long-time resident of our City who loves it as much as his native South Dakota and who believes in its power to innovate and inspire. Please welcome a great New Yorker - and a good friend - Tom Brokaw.
"To help us generate those ideas, we're now going to go to the real experts - you. New Yorkers in all five boroughs. We'll also encourage our neighbors in the region to participate, too. Go to our website, look for meetings we'll be holding in every borough, and bring us your ideas. Next week, the city's daily newspapers will include a brochure that summarizes the challenges we've considered today. I want to thank them for helping us start what I hope will be many conversations, on subway platforms, at neighborhood gatherings, and at dinner tables all over town.
"We're only at the beginning of this process. And if it looks today like we have a steep hill to climb, we do. But the willingness to dream big - and then act on those dreams - is how New Yorkers created the greatest city in the world. Whether it was designing a street grid for one million people at a time when our population was only 100,000 & or unveiling plans for a central park, even though the heart of the city was still a mile to the south & or building one of the world's largest subway systems, when much of our city was still farmland and fields.
"Previous generations imagined how New York would change, and they delivered. Now it's our turn. It was exactly 44 years ago this week that President John F. Kennedy stood just a few steps from where we are today and helped launch construction of the U.S. Pavilion for the 1964 World's Fair. That Pavilion was called "Challenge to Greatness," and asked Americans not to remain content with victories from the past, but to face the hazards and embrace the hopes of the future.
"Today, our future presents us with new challenges. And meeting them requires greatness from all of us, too: greatness of spirit, of purpose, and of vision. Now it is up to us to look ahead, as earlier generations did, and to begin planning for a better, stronger, and more sustainable future for our children, and for theirs.
"It is our city. It is our future. It is our choice. Thank you."