on Rebuilding New York, by Joshua Freeman
Now is the time to be bold. Horrible events have forced us to reconsider
what kind of city we want to have. They also may make available resources
for substantial investments which will shape life in the region for a generation
or more to come. Now is the time for labor to act boldly in demanding
a say, and putting forth a vision of what kind of city will best serve
Guidelines for public spending
and policy Density is good, and, to the extent possible, should be
preserved. Density makes cities productive, inventive, flexible, and attractive.
Density is a locational advantage for New York. Density has environmental
advantages. Public funds and policy should be used to restore and
maintain dense commercial activity in lower Manhattan, which provided decent
jobs (many unionized) for hundreds of thousands of people.
More generally, we should encourage development where people already live
and work, and a development pattern that minimizes the need for long commutes,
especially by car.
Rebuilding New York must be
planned through democratic processes in which working-class New Yorkers
and their unions have meaningful say. Whatever else it was, the World Trade
Center was not the result of a democratic planning process. We need
to do better this time, giving meaningful representation in the planning
process to labor and community groups. Rebuilding should not take
place under the control of a non-elected authority with power to suspend
zoning and environmental controls and use eminent domain, thereby repeating
all the mistakes of the postwar decades. Lots of good ideas for rebuilding
will be proposed, but they will come to naught if labor does not have power.
The pattern of land use in lower
Manhattan, especially in the WTC area, resulted primarily from public subsidies
and investments, not market forces. When public money and authority
are used, the public — not business — should decide how. If private
businesses want to rebuild using their own money and land, within existing
codes, they should be encouraged to do so. But if they seek public
subsidies or regulatory relief, their plans have to be measured against
the public good they will create and weighed against alternative uses of
public resources, including investments in other parts of the region.
Particular unions have interests
in the rebuilding process that will conflict, and which should be frankly
acknowledged. The building trades may have different interests than service
and manufacturing unions, private and public sector unions may have
different interests, and unions whose members mostly live in New York City
may have different interests than those that represent commuters. Acknowledging
these is the first step to finding common ground and working out compromises.
Restored and improved passenger and freight transportation. Specific projects
might include: NJ-Brooklyn rail tunnel; extending
PATH farther east than the current WTC Terminal; expanding subway services,
including expedited construction of the Second Avenue subway and
a possible spur of the 1/9 trains to Battery Park City; improved air freight
facilities, including rail links.
Because of the WTC attack, businesses
will disperse some of their facilities, no matter what the government does.
It is unrealistic to think that this can be entirely prevented, and it
would be a waste of public funds to try. It may not make sense to
restore the same amount of office space downtown as was destroyed.
Dispersion of business could
badly hurt workers and add to economic inequality, but public policy can
reduce the harm. We must not repeat the experience of the post-World
War II decades, when businesses relocated to suburbs but workers could
not go with them, because of poor public transportation and lack of affordable
housing (especially for non-whites). We need public transportation
that links urban residents to outlying jobs, as well as affordable housing
in areas to which jobs are moving. Good transportation links will
keep jobs in the metropolitan region (as we already see in Jersey City)
rather than moving away entirely. Sites in the outer boroughs and
those near New York City with good transportation links (for example along
the Hudson in Westchester) should be given priority for economic development
The New York economy became
overly dependent on the financial sector. Public resources should be used
to encourage a more balanced local economy. Finance and associated
business activities and services have helped New York prosper over the
past decade, but they are highly cyclical and brought instability to the
economy and tax revenues. Also, they have contributed to gross inequality
in income and living conditions. A more diversified economy would
better serve the region.
New York should strive to remain
a global city, not just in financial services. New York needs to
upgrade its role as a trade hub (for example by improving air freight and
rail-sea facilities), a producer of specialized goods and services, and
a world cultural and educational center.
Public resources should be used
to create not only jobs, but good jobs. Public investments, subsidies,
and regulatory relief should be linked to agreements that jobs created
provide living wages, decent benefits, and a meaningful right to choose
representation. What makes a job a good job is not what sector it
is in - manufacturing, or service, etc. - but whether or not it provides
the possibility for dignity, security, and a decent standard of living.
Agreements that provide for job creation or other public goods in return
for subsidies or regulatory relief must be enforceable and enforced (which
has not been the norm).
Government resources should
be used to create an attractive environment for living, working, and running
businesses, rather than to entice particular companies to remain in the
city. Public investment should be used to restore and upgrade
the physical infrastructure (especially the transportation system), improve
education and public health, maintain security, and build affordable housing.
Businesses will be drawn to an attractive region, with a productive workforce
and good infrastructure, without artificial incentives.
Investment in physical plant
should be linked to human capital investment. We need to invest in
vocational training, child care, education (including higher education),
and public health facilities linked to the kinds of industries we hope
Joshua Freeman is Director
of the Labor Studies program at Queens College, and author of Working-Class
Affordable housing, near jobs.
As happened after World War II, this will require multiple approaches,
from new public housing (why not?), to non-profit housing built with government
assistance, to facilitation of private construction, in both urban and
Regional centers for financial
and other business service jobs dispersing from Lower Manhattan.
Some sites should be in the city, including in areas like downtown Brooklyn
and Jamaica that already have received considerable investment, and in
other areas, like Harlem, that have not been promoted as office centers.
Other sites should be in more outlying areas with good mass transportation
connections to Manhattan and with possibilities for residential development
(for example, western Yonkers).
Investment to provide, protect,
and upgrade space and specialized districts for other key economic sectors.
These might include small-scale manufacturing, the art and entertainment
industries, medical and bio-tech research, advanced computer and telecommunications
hardware and software, and tourism.
Education (including vocational
training and higher education) and public health.
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