City & State’s second annual State of Our City conference Feb. 23 brought together leading minds to talk about the future of New York City in three critical areas – infrastructure, city living and higher education. Almost 200 people gathered at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs for a morning of insights, questions and conversations. What follows are videos and transcript highlights from the morning’s three sessions.
SESSION 1: INFRASTRUCTURE & DEVELOPMENT
Moderator David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs; Dick Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress; Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Joe Lhota, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
David Birdsell: What I’d like to do is to begin with your broad-scope perspective on where we are with infrastructure development in New York. Do we have the right model, is it the right model that’s going to keep us competitive in an increasingly global environment, and if not, what more do we need to be doing?
Seth Pinsky: Under Mayor Bloomberg, we haven’t gutted our capital budget during what are obviously still very difficult fiscal times. The mayor’s recent capital budget called for spending $39 billion over the next five years, which is actually an increase of about $700 million over the previous budget. And we are continuing to invest. We’re investing not just in basic infrastructure but also in amenities which we know know are critical for quality of life and attracting the best and the brightest to the city, which in turn is critical for attracting business. And we’re also in some cases investing in whole new neighborhoods, areas like Willets Point, Hunters Point South. … The problem is that we’re competing with cities around the world that are not just competing with a 20th century infrastructure. They’re competing with a 21st century infrastructure. And figuring out how we don’t just maintain what we have, but improve what we have, is going to be the great challenge, I think, of the next several years.
Joe Lhota: With this amount of expansive growth that we’re seeing in the number of passenger, the future of infrastucture is not about expanding the system, but using the existing system and putting in modern technology so that in the future we can get more trains on the same tracks. … We’re going to have to put in a more modern switching system. We’re going to need to hire more workers. And I see my brothers here from the TWU. I want you to realize that if we go about this path, we’ll be able to hire more people, so that we’re going to have more trains. We’re going to drive and get more people there more frequently. To do that, as I said, we need the technology. Because right now the switching system that we have is as close to manual as possible. So to avoid any types of calamities and collisions down there, we need modern systems. That’s infrastructure that quite honestly is not that sexy. It’s not as sexy as building a new tunnel. It’s not as sexy as putting in a new line on Second Avenue. But it’s critically important to the expansion of the city.
Dick Anderson: Let’s cut to the chase. The infrastructure model would not have been designed by anybody with a rational outlook. It’s a shared responsibility, where the city, the state and the federal government share in providing the funding and the direction and the management of a very complex, $15 billion-a-year system. No one, no single institution, no single person, is responsible. No one’s in charge, in effect. … When you have this kind of a complex system, this kind of a complex model, there are a lot of discontinuities. There are a lot of issues.
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