A Hopeful New Year?

by Maarten de Kadt,                                       

Did we drop off the fiscal cliff? Did the president, just having just won an election, appease his opponents too much to arrive at a compromise with the still recalcitrant Republican Party? We come into the New Year full of opportunities and dangers. But it is also a hopeful time if the spirit of two conferences I recently attended is any indication.

What’s our vision for New York City? That was the focus of a December 1st conference entitled “Urban Uprising: Reimagining the City.” A week later another conference, “New York: Progressive Capital?”, asked almost the same question. Both conferences were full of grand ideas. Both conferences offered lists of areas in which to work. Both complained about the “silo” mentality held by activists and activist groups. Both conferences tried to see the commonalities each silo group faces.

That there is a plethora of silos is both good and bad news. The good news is that in New York City, as well as other places in the country, a lot is happening. Community-based organizations are working on an impressively large set of issues. The bad news is that funding for these important activities is declining and each group is so focused on its own issue that they are unable to take the time to step back to see how their specific issue is related to the others.

Both conferences agreed one of the primary issues facing our city and nation is jobs. The jobs report remains unsatisfactory. Too many people are still without work and therefore without income. The official November unemployment rate dropped to 7.7%, but a more relevant (also official) statistic is that covering the unemployed, underemployed and the workers who simply stopped applying for jobs: 14.4% – double the more widely cited statistic.

As Super Storm Sandy showed us the infrastructure is out dated and should be rebuilt. That is an expensive proposition that would put many people to work. Flood control needs to be improved in our cities. Electricity production needs to be decentralized and its distribution system needs upgrading and protection. Transportation systems need improvement and protection. And this is a short list.

The participants in the conferences I mentioned above agreed the quality of life in our city needs to be improved with more jobs and less income disparity. Eight years ago at his inauguration, one of our politicians announced that the ticket to living in New York City should not be a million dollar purchase of housing. Now that same politician is saying it should not be a two and one half million dollar sum of money. What happened to affordable housing and rent regulations?

The general direction for our city was well stated at each conference. Missing were the specific suggestions. If you argue for no cars in the city then you must also describe the desired transportation system. If you argue for decentralized power production then you must also design the regulations that will cause developers to install decentralized systems in new projects and retrofit them on existing structures. The same goes for storm water retention and its diversion from the sewage system (not to mention protection from storm surges).

As Bob Herbert, the former New York Times columnist, explained during his key note address to the second conference, there is a vacuum of progressive positive leadership. If the ‘fiscal cliff’ has been successfully overcome, then maybe the President is beginning to fill that vacuum on the national level. There is a local vacuum too. We must identify and elect progressive leadership during this year’s election cycle to help us fulfill the progressive vision for our city.

What is the new vision for the city? Many have such a vision even though its particularities need greater specification. Getting there would create many jobs. Those jobs should be paid for through the increased taxation and spending. And as money flows toward government spending, maybe it should be placed in a state bank so that the interest earned on that money can also be used for infrastructure reconstruction rather than going to the profits of the rapacious private banks.

A hopeful New Year will be one in which we learn to work together on the many issues that need attention to form a complex, diverse, more egalitarian, safe, livable city.

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