At RPA’s 29th annual Assembly, civic and business leaders, government officials, and interested citizens gathered at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan on April 19 to discuss what it really means to “Invest in People and Places,” the theme for this year’s Assembly.
During five late morning panels, advocates, officials, industry experts and RPA staff discussed key issues facing the region, including how climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color; how to bring New York City public housing back to a state of good repair; how to promote job hubs outside Manhattan while supporting local community needs; how to use technology to improve how we get around; and how to prioritize health and community investments around anchor institutions.
On the heels of congestion pricing passing in New York State RPA SVP Kate Slevin led a robust discussion for a standing-room only crowd on Tolling for Transit. NYC DoT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Chief of Staff to the Chairman of MTA Midori Valdivia and NYS Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez discussed what it means for New York to have passed congestion pricing, while Andrew Salzberg, Head of Transportation Policy at Uber, offered insight into how the rideshare industry will be impacted. CT State Senator Alex Bergstein drew attention to the critical need for roadway tolling in Connecticut, an initiative she’s been spearheading in her state.
A dynamic group in the public housing space participated in the Fixing Our Public Housing breakout, including the Executive Director of Community Voices Heard Afua Atta-Mensah, NYCHA Interim Chair Kathryn Garcia, and THE CITY investigative reporter Greg Smith. Smith, whose past NYCHA reporting resulted in the appointment of a federal monitor to the authority, pressed Garcia hard on the agency’s shortcomings while also acknowledging its recent progress. His one-liner about NYCHA being a “bureaucracy at rest” earned hearty laughs. The panel was teed up by RPA VP Moses Gates and moderated by RXR Realty EVP Seth Pinsky.
The Building Healthy Communities panel discussed health inequities rooted in the built environment and strategies for developing cross-sector partnerships to improve health and wellbeing in communities across the region. Panelists shared their experiences in working to break down silos within and among organizations and collaborate with non-traditional partners to address the social determinants of health – the conditions within communities that impact residents’ health. This panel, moderated by the President of the International Society for Urban Health and RPA Board Member Jo Ivey Bouffard, featured Nancy Copperman, VP of Community Health for Northwell Health, Sharon Greenberger, President and CEO of YMCA of Greater New York, Charles A. Richtman, Executive Director of the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Authority, Marlo Andre Hutson, Director of the Urban Planning Ph.D. Program at Columbia University, and Vincent Tufo, CEO of Charter Oak Communities.
Marisa Lago, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission; Tim Sullivan, CEO of New Jersey Economic Development Authority; Holly Leicht, EVP of Real Estate Development and Planning at Empire State Development; Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka all spoke about the delicate balance between creating healthy development while respecting a community’s concerns. This complex dynamic was the subject the Creating Jobs, Preserving Communities panel moderated by Greater Jamaica Development Corporation President and RPA Board Member Hope Knight.
The Climate Justice for All panel moderated by NorthLight Foundation Executive Director Kate Sinding Daly examined how the impacts of climate change are related to other issues, especially health, and how those impacts disproportionally affect vulnerable communities. Ana Baptista, Chair of Environmental Policy at the Milano School, offered examples of environmental justice in action. She described a clean energy jobs act in Illinois that references “environmental justice” 30 times, and New Jersey’s first stormwater cooperative, created by the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark, which trains un- and underemployed individuals to perform stormwater upgrades in other cities around the region. Additional participants included Amy Chester, Managing Director of Rebuild by Design, the Senior Director of Climate Policy for the Mayor’s Office Dan Zarrilli, and NYS Assemblymember Nily Rozic.
By sharing their diverse expertise at RPA Assembly, the breakout panelists were able to demonstrate what it actually means to invest in people in places. They helped attendees consider the sort of investments that have been successful (or not so successful) in the past, and the sort of people- and place-based investments that will help the region thrive into the future.