It is not hyperbole to argue that no single part of the world was more fundamentally altered by the coronavirus pandemic than Manhattan. At night, Manhattan has 1.6 million people, but during the day, that number was historically nearly 4 million. And then, that daily churn of people coming into Manhattan and filling its offices, working and eating at its restaurants, and going to its theaters just stopped. Tailors, dry cleaners, halal carts and hot dog stands, cleaning staff and building security staff all lost business or jobs. The noise and churn that made Manhattan special, the heart of the greatest City in the world, went silent.
We have to bring that noise back, and we have to do so more equitably than before. As wonderful as Manhattan is and was, it was and is a deeply unequal place. Some of the wealthiest people in the world call Manhattan and its skyline dotting apartments home and just a mile away, people live in deep poverty. As Borough President, I am going to be Manhattan’s biggest cheerleader and fight tooth and nail to bring jobs and economic activity back, but I won’t forget that we need to fundamentally change the distribution of income and wealth in the City to make it truly great.
I am the only candidate in this race with a background in economic development. I was an urban planner and for years I worked for the Bryant Park Corporation. I helped to remake Herald Square and Bryant Park. I was part of the team that got Broadway Boulevard done, pedestrianizing the stretch from Times Square to Herald Square, showing the City what remaking Manhattan for pedestrians and not cars could do. I then went to work for the State and became Deputy Secretary for Economic Development. I am immensely proud of the work I did there despite everything, helping to raise the minimum wage to $15 in New York City, getting paid family leave, and increasing the percentage of minority and women owned businesses throughout the state. We brought thousands of good jobs to the State and City.
I am ready to do the same for Manhattan to help bring it out of the pandemic, to rebuild Manhattan’s economy job by job and to bring Manhattan back, with more good jobs for all. Here’s my plan.
First, we’re going to make foot traffic return, and make Manhattan safe for pedestrians. Businesses need foot traffic. Restaurants need people to walk in. Noise and bustle need to return to Manhattan streets, and nightlife needs to come back. Many have expressed concern about safety, and I truly believe the best way to make Manhattan and the subways feel safe is to get people back, walking around the City. That’s why I introduced a plan to make Manhattan streets safe for cyclists and pedestrians. I also released a plan for making Manhattan more accessible to people with disabilities that will not just make the City fair but will improve our economy. We need to make Manhattan safe, open, and accessible to all in order to bring the economy back.
Second, I will make my office a hub for connecting people in Manhattan to recovery programs. This year, the New York State Legislature and the federal government actually did their jobs and created programs that will benefit millions of New Yorkers, including people who were excluded from prior recovery programs as a result of their immigration status. There’s a lot of stimulus to get in the hands of New Yorkers, but we need to do the work to connect people to the various stimulus programs. When I was the Deputy Secretary for Economic Development and Housing for the State of New York, I oversaw the largest economic development agency in the state, which served as a one-stop shop for all of our small businesses’ needs. I’ll replicate this program in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and will make sure small businesses can get ALL of their questions answered through my team. This should be an all hands on deck effort to stimulate the economy and bring demand into Manhattan.
Third, we need people back. Offices are empty and tourists aren’t back yet. I am not going to jump the gun on declaring office work dead as so many have. Companies are still going to want to have their employees working together. The tourists will come back when restaurants and theaters reopen, I deeply believe that. But something has clearly changed with office work and we need leaders who are flexible and open to changing business environments.
We need to make the subways frequent and cheap, so that commutes are easy. Not commuting is one of the main reasons people give for preferring work from home, and so we need to invest in making commutes as easy as possible. A massive investment in making the subways work well for everybody will make working in the City more appealing, and if we need to temporarily subsidize subway ridership, we should consider it. The subway must lead and not trail the recovery.
And if offices are at 70% capacity, we’ll need to think about how to let that land be used for housing. While office to residential conversions are expensive, worse is unused land in the middle of Manhattan. As Borough President, I’ll monitor the way office use changes to see how we can attract business that will make Manhattan work for them.
Finally, we cannot talk about economic recovery without talking about housing. We need to make housing more affordable in New York City. Let’s legalize single occupancy housing and accessory dwelling units, which yes, still matter for Manhattan. Let’s expand the supply of affordable housing and fix and expand our supply of public housing. And let’s enforce the rules against Section 8 voucher discrimination so that our housing subsidies can actually be used. And finally, we must fix the ULURP process so that new market rate housing is built with all New Yorkers in mind and not just profits.
I truly believe Manhattan can come back just as it has so many times before. I love this City with all my heart and cannot wait to work on getting it back on its feet.
Lindsey Boylen is running for Manhattan Borough President and
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