As recently reported, a new cutting-edge thinking tank called the 5Boro Institute was recently formed by civic and business leaders including former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch. The group has close ties to Mayor Adams, and its purpose is to promote new and actionable ideas to improve the city by advancing responsible, equitable and creative solutions to New York’s most challenging problems. More specifically, the 5Boro foundation will focus on three key areas: expanding childcare options, finding solutions to deal with the mentally ill and best practices to help retain teachers in the New York City system.
You may ask what all this has to do with our limited business of leasing office space. The answer is everything. A functioning city is a successful city which is attractive to business, employees, residents, commuters and tourists. As a result, sound investments in the city’s social infrastructure are a no-brainer as they are a down payment on our future.
All of these items are extremely important to NYC’s quality of life, and also touch on other areas which have been the downside of the post-pandemic era such as crime and the shortage of affordable housing. Whatever your political persuasion, everyone can agree the crime has gotten worse after the pandemic in all major cities. New York is not the worst, but there has recently been a spree of widely publicized crimes on public transit and elsewhere. Many of these crimes appear to involve the mentally ill and homeless, such as multiple random attacks on street corners on people who are not known by the victim. Others involve disputes on subways and buses that are sometimes targeted attacks and sometimes arise out of nowhere. I was particularly affected that at the same time tens of thousands of fans that were taking the 4 train to frolic at the Yankee playoff games, there were two recent murders in the Bronx subways right near the Stadium at the 174th and 149th Street stations.
Mayor Adams rightfully just declared a state of emergency for the migrant crisis, but this also needs to be combined with urgency in dealing with the mentally ill who figure prominently in the post-Covid spike in crime. As another example, the homeless are ubiquitous on the city’s streets and are the new untouchable caste as in India. For example, I recently saw a person with open sores sprawled out on the sidewalk at 59th Street and Third Avenue, with pedestrians strolling by as if he weren’t there. This may be the ultimate result of the policy deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill going back 50 years, but more funding is needed to find them permanent homes as the shelter system does not work.
Accordingly, anything that can be done to get the mentally ill and homeless off the streets is a twofer as those people are being helped while at the same time reducing crime and social dysfunction. Equally important, any progress would be a boon to business that is suffering with a roughly 50% employee attendance rate in the city’s offices – and that is an improvement over the past 2 1/2 years.
Further, I am hard-pressed to see what could possibly be wrong with increasing the availability of desperately needed childcare. As a corollary, if pre-K is not going to be expanded, this would provide childcare for children up to 5 five years old in spaces that are currently vacant, while helping parents if they want to rejoin the work force. Once again, this is a twofer or even threefer, if that is a word. I will leave it to the experts to design the childcare so that it is properly supervised and sufficiently high-quality as well as affordable (or even free). Of course, it is an added benefit that all of the empty retail space would be full of cheerful screaming children which can only enhance the civic experience for all.
Finally, developing ideas to help retain teachers (and expanding the gifted and talented program as well as suggested by the Schools Chancellor) are another no-brainer. Everyone knows how expensive housing is in New York City so let’s look at subsidies and tax credits for teachers which will be cheaper than building new housing. Of course, this begs the question that if the city is so terrible, why do are so many people willing to pay so much to live here? But I digress. Anything we can do to help our educators is a wonderful thing.
The bottom line is in the last few months the city has been doing better. The neighborhoods are vibrant with remote workers at home, the cultural attractions and ballparks are well-attended, ridership on public transit is up and the civic mood is significantly improved. Things are not nearly as bad as in the 70’s and 80’s and we’re not bankrupt either. However, until we get the crime and homelessness under control, New York’s detractors that have a political agenda will continue to have a field day. Accordingly, the best way to deal with that problem is to deal with the city’s problems.
Mayor Adams has had a bit of a sluggish start, and it’s time to get moving and fast. The 5Boro Institute is a fresh new concept whose time has come. Let’s hope they can play a constructive role in finding solutions. There’s no time to waste.