From City Hall to City Networks: Catalyzing the Inclusive Recovery of New York City
By Bruce Katz, Colin Higgins, Karyn Bruggeman and Brian Reyes
December 1, 2021
The election of New York City’s 110th mayor this November could coincide with one of the most economically transformative periods of federal investment since the New Deal or the Great Society. By an accident of history, Eric Adams could become mayor at a time when he’ll have considerable potential to profoundly shape the future of New York.
The New York City of today reflects federal investments of the past. The city’s next mayor won’t be the first to deploy large-scale federal investments and reshape the city for the next generation. Mayors Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Wagner, and Michael Bloomberg all led New York through periods of vast transformation and recovery made possible be federal spending. Mayor LaGuardia led New York through the New Deal and made signature public works investments in hospitals, parks, piers, and housing that remain in use today. In the decades after World War II, Mayor Wagner and the city’s unelected infrastructure czar, Robert Moses, remade New York around a utilitarian version of car-led progress and urban renewal that ultimately devastated whole portions of the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg took full advantage of $20 billion in federal and that flowed to the city post-9/11 to remake lower Manhattan, $6 billion in aid from the American Rescue and Recovery Act to address the Great Recession, and $14 billion in federal relief to recover from Hurricane Sandy. The Amazon HQ2 proposal, despite falling through, demonstrated New York’s ability to showcase its competitiveness through cross-sector collaboration.
But these efforts pale in comparison to the tremendous needs of the post-pandemic period. President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda is cast and ambitious, regardless of the price tag of any final package of bills and demands much of local fund recipients. The federal government invests from afar; cities design, deliver and execute on the ground. New York’s next mayor must be prepared to confront income inequality, climate change, policing and racial injustice, homelessness, and lay out a vision for the city’s post-pandemic future. Eric Adams will be instrumental in bringing order out of chaos, and applying federal funds to these local priorities, if a new wave of federal investments arrive. Disparate sources of funds could transform neighborhoods and strengthen communities, but only if coordinated spatially, sector ally and by community. A mayor’s job is to make sure disparate funds actually add up to measurable changes – new training and job opportunities to grow small business, new transit options, and community revitalization where it’s needed most. Adams will not confront this alone. This coordination will be a challenge for communities and mayors across the country.