A GREENER, GREATER NEW YORK
I really have to thank the Governor for that very kind introduction. It’s an honor to hear one of the most impressive and independent leaders in our country call me his soulmate.
And even if we weren’t soulmates, he’s much bigger than I am, so I wouldn’t question anything he says. Mayors Koch and Dinkins, Speaker Quinn, distinguished guests, just outside this magnificent hall, is a plaque.
You might have seen it when you walked in. It is stamped with a Kenyan proverb: “The Earth was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.” I think that sentiment has particular resonance today, Earth Day. When hundreds of millions of people around the globe are making an extra effort to conserve and promote our natural resources.
And the proverb has also been the driving force behind our efforts over the past year – to create a comprehensive plan for a brighter, healthier, more economically prosperous city. A New York that we want to “return” to our children, as magnificent as it can be. And that’s what I’d like to discuss with you this afternoon.
In some ways, this plan has been 30 years in the making. Over that time, we have been working hard to rebuild and restore the city our parents left us, whose great assets we had foolishly neglected. Thanks to so many New Yorkers, including many in this room, we have succeeded in spectacular fashion. The subways, once broken down and dangerous, are now at near record ridership.
Our parks, once dumping grounds, are now cleaner and greener than they’ve been in decades. Our housing stock – once abandoned – has been renovated and revitalized. Our waterfront – once polluted – is now home to a growing network of parks and wildlife.
And did I mention record-low unemployment a record-high bond rating tourism numbers that are off the charts and above all else that New Yorkers are now living longer than the average American for the first time since World War II.
Every day, we seem to be reaching new milestones.
But none is more exciting, or more daunting, than this one: there are now 8.2 million New Yorkers – more than at any time in our history. And more are coming – probably almost a million more by 2030.
This growth will bring vibrancy, diversity, opportunity, jobs some 750,000 of them and billions of dollars in new revenue. But it will also pose challenges that – if left unmet – could be paralyzing: Infrastructure, stretched beyond its limits. Parks, bursting at their seams. Streets, choked with traffic. Trains, packed beyond capacity. Dirtier air, more polluted water. And climate change that is real and worrisome. As a coastal city, we’re on the leading edge of one of the most dramatic effects of global warming: rising sea levels and intensifying storms.
The science is there. It’s time to stop debating it and to start dealing with it. Of course, no city or country can address this issue alone. But that doesn’t mean we can walk away from the responsibility to do our part and to show others it can be done in ways that will strengthen the economy’s long-term health.
We’ve done it before. Just look at the smoking ban.
We improved public health – and the economy. And whole countries followed us. We’re not interested in preaching to others. We’re doing what’s best for our City – and when we reap the benefits, perhaps others will again follow. As we look ahead at all the challenges we face in the coming decades I’d like to suggest something rather unorthodox for government. Something unusual. I’d like to suggest that we face up to those challenges, not tomorrow, not in the future, not when it’s too late, but right now.
Let’s do it – today.
Let’s face up to the fact that our population growth is putting our City on a collision course with the environment, which itself is growing more unstable and uncertain. Let’s recognize that many of the gains we have made in the quality of our air, water, and land will be lost – if we don’t act. And let’s remember, tonight when we put our children to bed that they are the ones who will pay the heavy costs of our inaction. We cannot let that happen and this afternoon, on this beautiful Earth Day 2007, let us commit to each other that we will not let it happen.
I make this promise to you: I will not spend my last 984 days in office pretending that all is fine and leaving these challenges to the next mayor, who may well pass them off to his or her successor. And we – the residents of a city that is a beacon to the world – will not abdicate our responsibility to that world. That’s not leadership. Leadership is about recognizing challenges and seizing opportunities. And we are going to seize this opportunity – to lead the way forward and create the first environmentally sustainable 21st century city.
But how? There is no one answer. And there are no easy answers. When our Office of Long Term Planning began its work more than a year ago, the goal was to create a strategic land use plan. But we soon realized that you can’t formulate a land use plan without thinking about transportation and you can’t think about transportation without thinking about air quality. You can’t think about air quality without thinking about energy and you certainly can’t think about energy – or any of this – without thinking about global warming.
Every one of these issues is inter-connected. And so we broadened our horizon. We began thinking about a more comprehensive vision for addressing all of the city’s long-term physical – and that includes environmental – challenges. We knew we couldn’t do the work alone. That’s why we formed a Sustainability Advisory Board – composed of leaders from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
And over the past few months – through 11 town hall meetings more than 50 presentations meetings with more than 150 advocacy groups and an interactive website we have reached out to New Yorkers in all five boroughs to help us figure out the best ways to achieve the ten ambitious goals that we laid out in December, when we kicked off the PLAN-Y-C process. Here’s a glimpse of how they responded.
Informed by the process you just saw and with the help of our Sustainability Board we have developed strategies to turn the PLAN-Y-C goals into realities. Our strategies focus on the five key dimensions of the city’s environment: land, air, water, energy, and transportation, so that we can absorb the coming growth – while continuing to strengthen our economy, our public health, and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
That’s our vision: a city that finds creative solutions to the need for more housing and parks. That has much cleaner air – the cleanest of any large city in the nation that protects the purity of its drinking water – and opens virtually all of our rivers and creeks and coastal waters to recreation.
It is the vision of a city that produces more energy – more cleanly, more reliably, and more cheaply and that offers New Yorkers more choices to get around town, more quickly. A 21st Century City that makes the most of our wealth of natural resources so that New Yorkers can make the most of their lives. Today to achieve that vision we’re proposing 127 new initiatives. You will find them in the book that we’ll be distributing shortly. This is the result of more than a year’s worth of study and outreach. It’s not some pretty brochure. It includes in-depth analysis and carefully constructed proposals. It discusses the good and the bad. The benefits and the costs.
Those costs are significant – but, the savings we have already found in the budget will serve as our down payment. And the benefits will be far greater and long-lasting. Each of the 127 initiatives
will produce concrete improvements that New Yorkers will be able to see and feel and experience in their everyday lives. And taken together, these initiatives represent something that, while perhaps less tangible, will be no less important: the broadest scale attack on the causes of global warming and environmental degradation that any city has ever undertaken.
Now if I try to describe all of our 127 proposals in this speech, we’ll be halfway to 2030 by the time I finish, and as Ben Stiller will tell you, you don’t want to spend “A Night in the Museum.” So instead, I’ll give you an overview of PLAN-Y-C, and highlight some of its most significant proposals.
Let’s start with our most basic resource: land. As our City grows, we propose to use our land more creatively and efficiently. To accommodate nearly a million more New Yorkers, we are going to have to create hundreds of thousands of new homes – even on top of our existing affordable housing plan the largest ever undertaken by any city.
To do it – and to build those new homes at lower costs we have to make more land available for new housing, which will help ease pressure on land prices. Our plan calls for doubling the amount of land available for possible housing development. We can do it by decking over railyards and highways, and using government land more productively.
But our most important tool – and the way to achieve our goals while still fighting over-development is to re-zone areas with good access to mass transit, which are best able to absorb additional growth. That is why 95 percent of the sites that we propose for new housing development are within a short walk to mass transit. Some of these sites are brownfields that have taken too long – much too long – to clean up.
That is why we propose to speed the clean-up of all the 7,600 acres of brownfields still in our city – while also ensuring public health protections by developing new time-saving strategies new city-specific remediation guidelines, and a new city brownfields office to oversee the initiatives and encourage community involvement.
Some of our brownfields may also become open space and parkland, which bind communities together. In the past five years alone, we’ve added more than 300 acres to the biggest and best parks system in the nation. But still: nearly 2 million New Yorkers live too far from parks and playing fields. At a time when our obesity rate among children is much higher than the national average, banning trans fats is not enough. We also have to ban all desserts and sweets. Only kidding!
We also have to allow New Yorkers more opportunities to play the sports they love and enjoy the exercise that is essential to a healthy lifestyle. How do we do it? We will create new recreation facilities across every borough. For soccer, baseball, cricket, and more. We will open 290 schoolyards as local playgrounds. We will increase the hours of use at 39 fields by installing lights. We will cover 25 asphalt fields with artificial turf that will allow for greater use. We will reclaim eight large sites that were designated as parks decades ago but never completed. And we will also begin the most ambitious “street-greening” initiative in New York’s long history. The first installment in what will become a $250 million investment in nearly a quarter-million new trees on New York City streets – as well as a new public plaza in every community.
Taken together, all these initiatives will give New Yorkers the new open space and the outstanding recreational opportunities we will need for decades to come, and they will ensure that, by 2030, virtually all New Yorkers live just a short walk away from a park.
One of the eight large parks we will be upgrading merits special mention: High Bridge Park in Washington Heights. The park is named for the High Bridge, which was completed in 1848 to carry water from the Croton Reservoir across the Bronx and into Manhattan. It is our City’s oldest bridge – but it has been closed to pedestrians for decades, a glaring symbol of a time when New York failed to preserve its historical treasures. It’s time to fix that.
And that’s why we are committing to re-open the bridge, benefiting communities on both sides of the Harlem River. The High Bridge aqueduct was part of a water supply system that remains an engineering masterpiece – now delivering over a billion gallons of pure water, every day, to more than nine million people.
About a week ago, the EPA recognized our success in keeping our reservoirs clean, saving us from building a second filtration plant that would cost several billion dollars. That’s the good news. But the system is showing its age with some parts more than a century old. And as development upstate continues our water supply system will require new investments.
That’s why we will continue our successful watershed protection program for the Catskill and Delaware systems as many have long advocated, especially Speaker Chris Quinn and Councilman Jim Gennaro, Chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee. To create more redundancy in the supply, we will evaluate new sources of water and to reduce demand, we will undertake new conservation measures.
Taken together, these steps will allow us to fix the leaks in the upstate Delaware Aqueduct. And we’ll also complete Water Tunnel Number Three, which will allow us to repair and modernize Water Tunnels One and Two – which haven’t been inspected in more than 50 years.
New York is fortunate to have not only a vast supply of fresh water, but also a wealth of rivers and creeks and coastal waters. From time immemorial, they nurtured an incredible diversity of marine life, some of it on display here in this hall – though perhaps not the giant walruses to my left. But for too long, the city polluted these waters and as our population grew, that contamination increased.
We can change that.
We can open nearly all of our City’s waterfront to recreation – if we overcome a major flaw built into our infrastructure many decades ago. Right now, 60 percent of the city’s sewer network captures both storm water run-off and sewage in the same pipes. Most days, that’s okay; our sewage treatment plants can handle it all. But sudden downpours, like last weekend – strain treatment plants past their limits and then they dump untreated sewage into our bays and rivers.
Since 1980, we’ve cut this water pollution by more than half. Now, we’ll build on that progress, by investing more than $10 billion in continued upgrades to our sewage treatment facilities and in preventing the rainwater run-off that triggers sewage overflow. That means greening our streets, expanding our bluebelts, promoting green roofs, even planting water-cleansing mollusks!
Our proposals to improve air quality are no less ambitious. Our goal is a simple one: giving New York – the nation’s largest city – the cleanest air of any major city in the nation.
Our streets are already the safest in the nation why not our air? It can be done and we’ve already made a good start. Today, our air – like our water – is far less polluted than it was just a few decades ago. But in that clearer air hangs this ominous cloud: New Yorkers still breathe more of the soot that contributes so heavily to deadly heart and lung disease than do people in all but one other major American city.
And because of exposure to sooty diesel exhaust and smoke-belching power plants that are concentrated in low-income communities, many of their residents bear the brunt of this public health menace. In parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem, children are hospitalized for asthma at nearly four times the national average. Four times!
We cannot turn a blind eye to this outrage. All our children deserve a healthy start in life. Many people call that environmental justice; I simply call it the right thing to do. And that’s why, to
day, I’m directing the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to mount an unprecedented campaign of monitoring and pinpointing local air quality across the city. It will map our progress in the most ambitious attack on deadly air pollution our city has ever mounted: eliminating roughly 40 percent of locally produced soot by the year 2030.
To begin, we’ll require the use of higher grades of fuel oil to heat homes, schools, and places of business. These measures, combined with better energy efficiency, will take more than 3,000 tons of soot out of our air every year. We’ll also undertake the aggressive greening of our city that I just described which will include planting one million trees across the five boroughs. Trees not only help beautify communities, they also remove soot from the air.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve never been accused of being a tree-hugger before but facts are facts. And the fact is – people like trees in their neighborhoods, and they’re good for our health. So why wouldn’t we plant more of them? Lastly, we can’t attack air pollution without significantly cutting transportation emissions of pollutants both on and off the road. We’ll do that with, for example, investments and incentives to replace and refuel heavy-duty diesel trucks operating in our city.
We’ll also modernize and clean up our diesel-fueled school bus fleet. We will propose measures to reduce auto-idling for taxis and black cars and eliminating the City sales tax on hybrid vehicles. In addition, we will work to cut off-road transportation pollution, including from construction equipment from our ferries, including the Staten Island Ferry and from planes and vehicles at regional airports, by working with the Port Authority and airlines to reduce wasted fuel.
Now, we can’t talk about reducing air pollution without talking about congestion. So as long as we’re at the Museum of Natural History let’s talk about the elephant in the room: congestion pricing. There’s no escaping the costs of the congestion on our streets – in all five boroughs. The costs are hidden – but they’re real. Our child asthma rates are way above the national average. Congestion isn’t the only cause, but we can’t pretend it’s not a significant factor – it is.
Congestion also leads to higher costs for consumers and businesses – because deliveries cost more than they would and people who cannot use mass transit decide not to come into the city. Who wants to sit in traffic for hours? Congestion wastes fuel – which fuels global warming. And, of course it wastes time. Time we could be spending with family. Or working. Or going to a park.
As the city continues to grow, the costs of congestion – to our health, to our environment, and to our economy – are only going to get worse. The question is not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay. With an increased asthma rate? With more greenhouse gases? Wasted time? Lost business? And higher prices? Or, do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit?
I’ve thought about this question a lot. And I understand the hesitation about charging a fee. I was a skeptic myself. But I looked at the facts, and that’s what I’m asking New Yorkers to do. And the fact is in cities like London and Singapore, fees succeeded in reducing congestion and improving air quality. Many people are already paying to drive into Manhattan – there are tolls on most bridges and the four tunnels. But to avoid those tolls, many people drive through neighborhood streets. That not only clogs the streets, it increases air pollution – and asthma rates.
And why should commuters from the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn – and from the northern, eastern, and western suburbs – all pay different tolls? By charging a flat fee, we can eliminate these disparities – because tolls would be deductible. This means that commuters using E-Z pass at the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Triborough Bridge and the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels would all pay the same amount and so would commuters taking the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Queensborough bridges.
They’re all going to the same place: why shouldn’t they all be treated equally?
In setting the fee, there’s no magic number, but it has to be high enough to encourage more people to switch to mass transit and low enough not to break the bank – for businesses and for those who have to drive. Based on thorough analysis and the experience of other cities, we believe that an $8 charge would achieve these goals. There are many different ways that this system could work in New York.
As a test run, we will seek state authority for a three year pilot project, and we are very optimistic that, in working with state officials, we will secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for it.
Cars traveling south of 86th Street would be charged $8 but those who travel only within the zone would pay half price. Most New Yorkers would not be affected at all – and not just because the vast majority don’t drive to work. We believe a fee should apply only weekdays – from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. If you drive into Manhattan during the other twelve hours, or on a weekend, there would be no charge. And if you live below 86th Street, rest assured: you’re not going to pay for the great privilege of moving your car across the street in the morning.
In addition, even during the 6 A.M. to 6 P.M time period, there would be no charge for using the FDR or the West Side Highway so that people in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx could still use the highways free of charge whether they’re heading to Yankee Stadium or the Holland Tunnel. Even those who take taxis wouldn’t be affected – because taxis will be exempt. In analyzing congestion pricing, we studied commuting patterns across the city, and we arrived at an astounding finding: of the New Yorkers who work in Manhattan, only five percent commute by car. Five percent!
That’s why we estimate that city drivers will pay only a little more than half of these congestion pricing fees. Drivers from outside the city will pay the balance.
We know that convincing this five percent will be particularly hard – because, right now, many feel they don’t have good mass transit options. It’s not that transit doesn’t exist – in fact, in every neighborhood in all five boroughs, the majority of Manhattan-bound commuters do indeed take a subway, bus, or commuter train. But we know that service to many areas is not what it should be. That’s why, before implementing congestion pricing we’ll implement a range of mass transit improvements to our least-served neighborhoods. This means that if you’re among the five percent of residents who commute to Manhattan by car you’ll benefit either from better bus service or faster commutes and fewer headaches.
And the other 95 percent of New Yorkers will benefit not only from less congestion on roads in all five boroughs and cleaner air and faster buses but also – with the revenue generated from congestion pricing – from new investments in mass transit. And that’s something we definitely need.
It’s not just the roads that are clogged increasingly, New Yorkers are being slowed by packed trains. Let me illustrate the congestion that is overcrowding subway routes and key commuter lines. Today, 11 of the 26 subway routes experience peak-period congestion, and three are already at capacity – the routes in red. (I’ve been in that red a few times myself.) Conditions are bad enough now. But if we don’t act – by 2030, the situation will be intolerable. You just have to look at all the red on this chart. By 2030, we expect that nearly every subway route – 23 of 26 – will be heavily congested.
But it doesn’t have to be this way if we increase the speed at which trains travel, which
will help reduce crowding – while also improving their reliability if we expand rapid bus service to areas of the city – particularly in Queens – that are poorly served by the subway if we build the 2nd Avenue Subway – not just from 96th Street to 63rd St, but all the way from Harlem to the Battery. If we expand ferry service to our growing waterfront communities and if we build a rail link to connect Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn, Jamaica, JFK, and Long Island where a light rail system could help many city residents and Long Islanders get to work more easily.
I know, If. If. If. If.
For decades, these and other major transportation projects – such as super express subway service to Queens – have been on the drawing boards spoken of in dream-like terms by planners and residents alike. If we could only build this, if we could only build that. The reason they haven’t been built, of course, or why our subway hasn’t been brought up to a state of good repair, is money. In fact, we have identified 18 critical transportation projects that, collectively, face a $31 billion funding gap.
Well, we can continue to talk about filling that gap and I think we all know how that will turn out or, we can work with the State, and together, we can fill it. The consequences are clear. It’s our choice. And we are choosing action.
In the weeks ahead, we will begin by asking our partners in Albany to create a “Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation” – or “SMART” – Financing Authority. The SMART Authority will be authorized to raise funds and issue revenue bonds and it will award matching grants to transportation agencies – the MTA, the Port Authority, and the City’s Department of Transportation – for key mass transit projects.
SMART funds will come from three sources: first, the City is prepared to make an unprecedented commitment of more than $200 million a year to the SMART fund. Second, we’ll ask the Legislature to match our commitment, just as it did with our school capital plan. And the third source of funding will be from congestion pricing.
The benefits of these investments couldn’t be more clear. And you can see it on this chart, as red turns to green, the sign of a healthy and growing city, once again on the move.
Our transportation network is not the only key infrastructure that is growing more strained. As we experienced all too clearly last summer, our aging energy network is just not up to the job of supporting a great 21st century city. And as we grow, and if summers continue to get warmer, the strain will increase, resulting in more breakdowns, more polluted air, and rising energy bills. In fact, if we do nothing, the city’s total energy bill will increase by $3 billion by 2015.
We can’t afford to wait, and we can’t afford to continue to be held hostage to heat waves. That’s why we are proposing ways to provide cleaner, more reliable power and ways to use it more efficiently. To do it, we will both expand our sources of clean energy and keep our demand constant even as we grow, a feat that no city has ever accomplished. To increase supply, we will build new clean burning power plants through guaranteed contracts, promote upgrades of existing plants, and create a market for renewable energy.
To stabilize demand, we will target our largest energy consumers through incentives that promote building retrofits and purchase of the most energy-efficient major appliances and we will also support new mandates – such as a proposal to require all new construction in our city to be 20 percent more energy efficient than our current energy code requires.
In addition, we will ask the State Legislature to help us take an unprecedented step: changing the City Charter to require a funding level, equal to 10 percent of our energy bill, for retrofitting city buildings to improve their efficiency, which will make this the largest single energy conservation effort ever undertaken. And it will help us meet our ambitious goal of reducing city government’s energy consumption by 30 percent over the next ten years, and we’ll challenge the private sector to do the same!
To help us achieve all of these energy goals, we need to give the people of New York City something we’ve never had: a voice in determining our own energy future. That’s why today we are proposing that the State establish a “New York City Energy Planning Board” representing the City, the State, and even Con Edison. This will allow New Yorkers to hold a single entity accountable for implementing a sound energy policy that examines both supply and demand.
Of course, there are going to be upfront costs in making our energy systems more efficient, but as an example of how those costs pay off in the long run, I just had an idea! This is a CFL. A compact fluorescent lamp. This 26-watt bulb uses only a fraction of the electricity that a standard 100-watt bulb does – and produces just as much light.
This is just one way in which all New Yorkers can help reduce demand for electricity – and improve our air quality. Now, a CFL costs more than an incandescent bulb does. But it lasts about eight times longer. So, for each CFL in your home, you can save up to $100 in lower electricity bills and fewer replacement bulbs.
I’ve already started to replace the bulbs in my house, and our City Hall. None of us can afford to waste money! This kind of approach – spend an extra dollar today, save two tomorrow – defines our entire energy plan. In the next few years, we might pay about two to three dollars a month more for energy. By the end of the fourth year, though, we’ll have recouped that money in savings from lower utility rates and reduced power usage and the savings will start adding up. By spending an average of about $30 every year between now and 2015, each household will be able to save an average of $240 every year after that.
By making these investments in more efficient and reliable energy, not only will our wallets benefit in the long run, so will our lungs. Our plan for cleaner power, combined with conservation, will take seven million tons of carbon dioxide – and millions of tons of dangerous pollutants – out of our air every year. That will improve the quality of life – and lengthen the years of life – for millions of New Yorkers and it will help us reach our goal of achieving the cleanest air of any large city. Each of the individual initiatives I’ve just described will not only strengthen our economic foundation and improve our quality of life, collectively, they will also form a frontal assault on the biggest challenge of all: global climate change.
Our strategy to tackle climate change is the sum of everything you’ve heard today, from reducing traffic congestion to building cleaner, more efficient power plants to improving the efficiency of buildings. And even though our population is continuing to grow, under this plan, by 2030 we will shrink our city’s “carbon footprint” by 30 percent, the most dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases ever achieved by any American city.
Even the city’s growth – which will fuel our economy – will itself land a major blow against climate change. Counter-intuitive though it may be, by absorbing nearly a million more residents by 2030 into one of the world’s most efficient places to live, we will prevent more than 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere each year. That’s the equivalent of eliminating nearly twice the total greenhouse gases produced by the entire City of San Francisco every single year.
Climate change is a national challenge, and meeting it requires strong and united national leadership. The fact is, the emerging consensus among scientists is that, to avoid serious harm, we must reduce our emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050. That means we can’t – and we won’t – wait for Washington. The time to act is now.
Our plan raises the bar – and cha
llenges others to follow, not just in America, but across the globe. Let’s hear from one of our friends across the pond.
Thank you, Prime Minister. My British soulmate. I want to thank the kids from PS 215 in Brooklyn for the wonderful PlaNYC-inspired artwork you see around us today. And I want to thank Museum President Ellen Futter for giving us the use of this spectacular Milstein Hall of Ocean Life today. Under her leadership, this institution is doing its part – having taken enough energy-saving steps in the past two years to decrease its heating bill by 30 percent. One more reason it was important to come here today.
And it is an important day, though it is only the beginning. In the weeks and months to come, the dialogue about PlaNYC will continue across our city and with our partners in the City Council and in Albany.
But let me conclude, not by gazing at the future, but by asking you to put yourself back in time. It’s the early 1850s. Plans are being drawn up for an enormous Central Park, at a time when much of Manhattan was open fields and forest. Some propose a much smaller park. Where do you stand?
Skip forward to the 1890s. Plans are drawn up for a subway system that goes all the way into Northern Manhattan. Some say it will cost too much. And who needs a subway in the countryside? What do you say?
Now on to 1931, the middle of the Great Depression. Plans are drawn up for a new midtown mega-project. As Gershwin wrote, “They all laughed at Rockefeller Center …” Are you laughing, too?
Our great water supply system, our arterial highway network, our bridges and tunnels, our parks, all of them were built by a city of people who were looking forward. That has been our heritage. Time and again, New Yorkers have taken the big steps that require political courage and a belief that the future can and should be better than the present.
Today, around the country, there is a lot of talk that this generation of young people will be the first in American history not to enjoy a better future than their parents. I don’t believe that. And I don’t think most New Yorkers do, either. But the fact is, it’s an open question. And in large part, the answer will depend on whether the decisions we make today are as bold as the ones our parents and grandparents made.
As you read the book that we will be distributing shortly, and as you think about the strategies I’ve just outlined, consider this one fact: New York is the most modern and technologically advanced city in the world. But in all the key elements of our city’s life, we are using 20th century operating systems – and sometimes 19th century systems.
We have the greatest concentration of creativity and commitment here in New York. I believe it’s time we start putting them to use to create the 21st Century city that our children will need and that will make our neighborhoods – and our planet – healthier and more livable. The initiatives I’ve outlined today challenge us to think beyond the next fiscal year and the next election. Long-term investments don’t usually make for great politics, which is why they aren’t usually made. But they do make cities great and they have made our city the best in the world. We need to invest in a better New York – and the moment couldn’t be better.
Our City has come back from the abyss of the 1970s – and from the attacks of 9/11, and we have come back stronger than ever. Our economy is humming, our fiscal house is in order, and the near-term horizon looks bright. If we don’t act now, when? And if we don’t act, who will? There will always be people and pressure groups who say: “Wait. Do another study” or, “Don’t do anything unless it’s perfect.” But you know, and I know – and the history of New York proves – that this is a recipe for failure.
This is our opportunity: to look forward and to step forward. This is our opportunity to make the type of history that future generations will recognize and that future mayors will invoke on Earth Day. I’m ready to do my part. And in listening to New Yorkers discuss these issues, I know I’m in good company. Together, as the Kenyan proverb suggests, we can “return” this city to our children. And it will be stronger, healthier, cleaner, greener, and greater than ever.