2014-01-31 / Columnists

The New York Renaissance

Commentary On Things Present
By Pete Stubben

For a generation or two New York City has exuberantly transcended the life cycles of upstate New York, all of New England, and the entire remaining Northeastern United States.

Brooklyn is way too ‘kool’ these days; the Bronx is bloomin’, not burnin’; and Manhattan has become a travel destination for the entire world. Along the narrow walkways of Wall Street, around the gorgeous Bryant Park, up Fifth Avenue, and throughout Central Park a dozen languages are being spoken simultaneously. Forty Second Street - from end to end - bubbles with creative excitement... diplomats, commuters, visitors, scholars, authors, players and playwrights elbow each other amidst the great ‘White Way’.

The other day I passed a movie shoot on the East River and then another along the Hudson...two shoots - with lots of low-tech and high-tech workers - within ten blocks.

Silicon Alley is inventin’, changin’, disintermediatin’ world businesses by getting stuff done cheaper, quicker, greener and better. The kaleidoscopic activity of our East River and Hudson River portals of 200 years ago have been re-imagined into waterfront living, working and playing.

And all this incidental observational information is borne out in the data...the crime stats, employment numbers, NYC Firm IPO’s, hotel room occupancy, theatre listings, Beacon Theatre First Nites, the Manhattan Skyline, the Brooklyn Skyline, the Queens Skyline.

It did not have to be this way...New York and Detroit were on equal tracks of perdition/disintermediation fifty years ago. The ‘inner cities’ as they were then described were burning and rotting and emptying, as new families and old families moved to the ‘burbs.

It took visionaries to stem the rising tides, but even more important, it was not the brilliant planners nor the visionary architects who made the difference, it was troubling, difficult, unpopular decisions made by this city’s leaders: Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg. As Frost says in his ‘two roads diverged in a yellow wood’...

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the
difference.

The overriding considerations by these decision-makers did not flow from populism, ‘the street’, geopolitics, racial-politics or ‘good’ politics, it flowed from their interests in the long-term vitality of the city, their city. If municipal union demands were counter-productive, they would be resisted; if crime was closing doors at sunset, it would be vigorously attacked; if building codes were archaic and anachronistic, they would be modified, ignored or revised.

Potholes had to filled, streets cleaned, bridges reinforced, subways safe, businesses cheered, neighborhoods revitalized.

Gracie Mansion guests were problem solvers not ideologues. Gracie Mansion hosted position papers not cocktail receptions.

The city became a living experiment in crime prevention, welfare reform, food safety, small business rejuvenation, arts spectacles and pedestrian piazzas, -all amazing stuff my great-grandparents would have envisioned for New York, but my parents, no!

Today we have elected a populist, a progressive mayor who inherits a largerthan life city, booming and bursting. Never before has New York City housed and birthed so many residents, employed so many workers, hosted so many visitors, enabled so many TV, movie, video productions, nurtured so much wealth encapsulated into glass, brick and mortar towers!!! And amidst all this, attracted horrific tragedy authored by villainous radicalists from halfway around the world.

Will our new mayor address the city’s needs with the present and past in his sights, or with the vitality of the future as his vision? I am fearful the immediate needs of DC 37, Local 1199, Local 32BJ and the UFT will trump the common sense, and the dollars and cents. I am fearful the decision-makers will Not be a team, but the teamsters.

A case in point is the mayor’s first education initiative v. the NJ Governor’s educational recommendations. Our mayor and his deputies (oops, I mean the Council-Members of The City Council) have been convinced by ED Specialists at Hunter College and elsewhere (brilliant men and women with a horrible track record) that the solution to well-rounded graduates of the city’s school system requires a new level of education, Pre-K. The reasoning is that 12 years of effective schooling are not enough, but 13 are. Inquiring minds will bloom with the 13th year!

As foolish as that may sound, educational specialists and consultants are convinced it is so. And of course, the teacher unions salivate at the idea of more teachers, more early childhood specialists, more administrators and curriculum developers, in short, thousands of new hires!

Governor Cuomo expects Pre-K to cost approximately $100 million/year. Mayor de Blasio forecasts costs at $342 million/ year (how precise, no?), but The New York Times projected on January 21st ‘Pre K for NYC’ to be quadruple the Mayor’s...$1.4 BILLION/year.

On the other hand New Jersey’s Governor, also recognizing the importance of good schooling and present shortfalls, proposes more educational time per day, more hours per week, more days per school year, in short, more school time to teach. He recommends that NJ emulate the more-hours models of the Scandinavian countries, Korea and Japan. Of course, the unions are howling and adamantly opposed. ‘We are already overworked,’ NJ educators say, ‘working 6 hours a day, eight months a year.’

Which recommendation makes more sense to you, can I ask; and which proposal makes more sense to our new mayor?

The path to perdition has begun.

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