Five Borough Future Platform
In 2018, we at Arena Summit kept hearing from elected officials and candidates that they needed more help developing policies free of the influence of interest groups, lobbyists, and political machines. This is our answer to that demand. The Five Borough Future Platform is our articulation of policies most likely to improve the lives of all New Yorkers. Our audience for this platform includes aspiring civic leaders, candidates, and other concerned citizens of every stripe.
This is a high-level vision. Over the next few months, we will release white papers with more detailed policy guidance (the first of which are available here). This guidance will serve as a roadmap for leaders who want to make New York a more livable and equitable city.
Our vision is guided by two gateway principles:
New York needs an energetic and ethical government at all levels. That includes key reforms to make state and city government more transparent—as well as changes to our campaign finance and voting systems to lower the barriers to entry for elected office. Beyond that, we need a competent and focused Mayor and City Council who will put in the time and effort to ensure that our city government delivers results for the people of New York.
The New York State Legislature, routinely ranked among the most corrupt state governments in the country, holds ever-increasing power over the city’s future. New York City has been stripped of many of the regulatory, taxation, or enforcement powers that other major U.S. cities take for granted. We’ve lost control over decisions affecting everything from the core functions of our transit and public housing systems to more pedestrian concerns like whether we have speed cameras on our streets or plastic bags in our grocery stores. Our legislators in Albany must fight to restore as much of that power to the city.
These two gateway issues guide our vision for a better future for New Yorkers across a range of other policy issues. We will release a detailed white paper in each area over the course of the next few months.
At a time of record fiscal surplus and unchecked private sector development, our transit system is in a state of crisis. Delays are up, ridership is down, and already-unambitious infrastructure upgrades have moved at an anemic pace. New York’s transit needs dramatic transformation. That starts with wresting more control over transit decisions and revenue sources from Albany and translating that control into service improvement, bold innovation, and expansion of infrastructure. In the meantime, city and state officials from New York City must use the power they have to improve the competence, transparency, and reliability of those in charge of our transportation systems.
New York City is failing in its most important mission: to ensure every child, no matter their lot in life, has access to a vibrant and high performing public school. Parents are left to jockey for seats in an ever-expanding constellation of selective admissions and geographically restricted schools. But these debates obscure deep structural problems within our system that set kids off on nearly-inescapable and alarmingly unequal educational paths as early as kindergarten. New York City must set a clear and urgent plan to uncouple school access from real estate value, scale back selective admissions criteria for K-8 schools,, and prioritize resources to schools with open admissions policies and that serve New York’s most vulnerable students. Beyond that, New York City must reimagine the ecosystem of support to teachers. This should start with ending the current meager, accountability-driven teacher coaching practices—and making observation, feedback, and training more frequent, predictable, and actionable. Finally, New York should do what every progressive city has flirted with but few have accomplished: build affordable housing for public educators.
New York should conduct an overhaul of its drug laws, starting with the legalization of recreational marijuana, which is supported by a majority of New Yorkers. It would not only create a new multibillion-dollar industry but would be a small but meaningful step forward in rolling back mass incarceration. Legalization should include retroactive steps to help undo some historic wrongs, such as sealing of prior marijuana convictions. It should also include thoughtful business regulations to ensure the communities who’ve been most affected by the drug war play a meaningful entrepreneurial roles in this new industry.
Our city faces grave consequences from climate change as rising sea levels threaten to wipe out entire neighborhoods. Accordingly, our city has an obligation to both play its part to decrease emissions and to prepare for the likely effects of climate change. On the latter point, we must accelerate measures to ensure New York’s most vulnerable are protected in the likely event of major sea level increases. That includes moving more quickly to fortify NYCHA infrastructure, invest in public hospital flood resiliency, and dramatically improve seawall and other flood prevention measures in vulnerable areas, especially those historically decimated during storms like Hurricane Sandy.
Housing and Land Use
New York is becoming increasingly unaffordable even as the population of the city decreases. And as new luxury condos seem to grow unchecked, we are failing in our basic obligation to ensure residents of NYCHA buildings have safe and reliable places to raise their families. At the state level, we must push the legislature to give us greater control over our housing destiny, including the ability to raise taxes on non-residents who use New York City’s housing market as a place to park (and sometimes hide) their money. The state must also repeal the Urstadt Act—giving the city the ability to better regulate landlords. At the city level, we need more energy and attention from our mayor, who has yet to urgently and competently address the crisis in NYCHA.
Commercial Real Estate
New York was once the capital of diverse industries and small businesses, but over the past decade, much of the open signage on storefronts has become for rent posters. A commercial crisis on this scale usually comes with times of economic downturn, but this one comes during a period of booming development and tourism. Many of our iconic neighborhoods have up to 20% storefront vacancies and are losing their character and sustainable economies because of flaws in the tax code and regulations governing lease renewal. The State must authorize the enactment of zoning laws and ordinances to better incentivize locally-owned businesses. The City must also initiate comprehensive strategic policy planning among City agencies to clear legal and regulatory hurdles for a new generation of small and medium-sized manufacturing industries.
We are the beneficiaries of centuries of investments in parks, museums, zoos, and other public institutions that make New York the greatest city on earth. But these institutions are unevenly distributed and often inconvenient or out of reach of our city’s most vulnerable. We need a dramatic expansion of parks and recreational facilities, the bulk of which should be dedicated to communities that have been overlooked. We also need more ambitious urban redesign—finding creative ways to transform our streets into more walkable, bikeable, and livable spaces.