Mayor Eric Adams wants to remake New York the “city of yes”.
The mayor made his point in a speech to the Association for a Better New York last week, laying out a litany of government-imposed obstacles that are holding back growth where we need it most. It’s time, he argued, for the government to step down, stop saying no and start saying yes to more housing, more jobs and more innovation.
It was apple pie for business and civic leaders alike. But behind the anti-bureaucratic message, there was something much more revolutionary – and much more difficult to achieve.
Because Adams didn’t just ask his own administration to get “yes” more often. He also challenges New Yorkers to say “yes.”
Speaking about the need to build more homes and open more businesses, he urged New Yorkers to say, “Yes in my backyard, yes in my neighborhood, yes in my borough.” This is a very large order.
But if we can get New York City government and New Yorkers to embrace this vision — the city of yes — we can work to solve some of the biggest affordability and equity challenges facing our city. is confronted.
We can pull ourselves out of a housing crisis fueled by a shortage of all types of housing, especially affordable apartments and homeownership opportunities. We can strengthen our response to a climate crisis that threatens to deepen inequalities. We can reduce a stubborn unemployment rate that is double the national average.
These are real crises. We need to take action, fix outdated rules, creatively solve problems, and collectively overcome the inertia and obstruction that have plagued our public discourse. How?
On the government side, Adams targets a slew of outdated rules in dire need of reform. Zoning rules that would prevent a small bakery from expanding into the neighboring storefront, thus blocking new jobs. Fire regulations blocking new rooftop solar panels, preventing us from tackling climate change. Unnecessary parking requirements that prevent a landlord from adding an otherwise legal apartment inside the house, costing a family a home in the midst of a housing crisis.
We will need zoning and policy changes – some of them controversial – to pave the way.
And this is where we come in as New Yorkers and need to change our own collective mindset. The solutions depend on communities, government and builders working in good faith with each other to improve our city and provide more opportunity.
The fear of change is natural. After all, no one relishes the notion of a construction site on their block. But when “no” becomes a default for us as individuals and communities, we compound systemic problems even further.
Just last week, the city lost 900 new apartments in an underused section of 145th Street in Harlem, half of which was in dire need of affordable housing, due to fierce opposition to development. Common-sense rezonings to add more affordable homes in SoHo and Gowanus last year were met with outsize protest.
This has all become surprisingly normal – but it doesn’t work.
ABNY was founded during the city’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s. We also had big problems at the time, and collective inertia made it impossible to solve them. ABNY represents a broad coalition of civic and business groups, from leading educational institutions like the City University of New York to major employers like our hospital systems and financial services companies.
And as we expand our network to even more sectors and actors that reflect the city’s diversity, we stand ready to be a partner in the vision the mayor has just laid out – to identify the arcane rules and practices that the government can correct and rally our fellow New Yorkers around equitable growth that solves our greatest challenges.
“Yes” can have nuances. This may be subject to conditions. It may be the result of communities tenaciously fighting for their own interests and vision. But as New Yorkers, we must commit to getting to “yes” and not starting from “no” when it comes to housing, jobs, and growth.
We know there is a way to work together. In 2020, ABNY helped mobilize a massive coalition of community organizations, civic leaders and everyday New Yorkers who pushed skeptics to say “Yes” to the census, resulting in the largest and most accurate tally of the city’s history – and unlocking billions more in federal funding.
We want to help make New York a city of yes that can navigate a more equitable, inclusive, and affordable future for all New Yorkers.
Steven Rubenstein is president of the Association for a Better New York. Melva M. Miller is its CEO.
New York Post