Below is a transcript of a recorded interview with Eric Adams in conversation with Shaping a Better NYC steering committee members Rosalie Genevro representing The Architectural League of New York, Saundra Thomas representing Open House New York, and Beatrice Sibblies representing the Urban Design Forum.
Rosalie Genevro Welcome. I am Rosalie Genevro, Executive Director of The Architectural League of New York. Welcome to “Shaping a Better New York City: An Election Primer.”
In this defining and historic election, New York City's planning and design organizations have organized to convene a series of conversations with candidates vying to become New York City's next mayor. This election will require leaders who can center equitable design, planning, and development in their administration in order to shape a better New York.
Today, on behalf of AIA New York, the Architectural League, the Design Trust for Public Space, the Municipal Art Society, Open House New York, the Regional Plan Association, the Urban Design Forum, and the Van Alen Institute. I am so pleased to welcome Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to this forum. I'm joined today by co-moderators Beatrice Sibblies, board member of the Urban Design Forum, and Saundra Thomas, board member of Open House New York. The questions posed today have been developed by the eight organizations in this coalition. So let's begin.
There you are! Eric, deep and pervasive challenges abound as New York works to build back from the pandemic and to build a more just and equitable city. The physical environment of New York plays a very important role in determining whether the people of this city can live productive and pleasurable lives. What is your vision for the physical city — for its streets and public and private buildings and parks and waterfronts? How have you arrived at it and how will you shape it going forward? Who will you talk to, whose voices dominate, and what sources will you draw on for your ideas?
Eric Adams First, I thank you for allowing me on. I’m seeing some familiar faces. It is good to see the cross collaboration. A couple of things. Really, my vision for this city comes from my childhood. For the most part, I grew up in South Jamaica, Queens and moved from Brownsville. And the openness of the city was not a reality. And it is really a level of Shakespearean tragedy, that I like to say, that we have so many children who live in communities where they know nothing other than their public housing or their neighborhoods. We have not opened the city to all New Yorkers. In fact, the city's intimidating, it’s frightening, and people don't believe that all of the beauty that the city has to offer is for everyone. And so I want to be intentional about allowing the child from Tilden Houses to feel comfortable, to go into different parts of this city and explore this city and see some of the beautiful architectural designs that are in this city. So it can really excite their curiosity.
And I also want to make sure we have beautiful, well-developed waterfronts and esplanades where people can walk and enjoy themselves, because southern Brooklyn is our south of France — for people who can’t afford to go there. And it is an opportunity for us to have open spaces, a place where you can bike safely to and from school, a place where you can have classes throughout the entire city and not just in certain parts of the city. So I believe in an open, accessible city where every New Yorker, no matter what neighborhood they're in, they will see that welcome mat is not based on your economics or your zip code, but is based on the mere fact that you are a New Yorker here visiting or a New Yorker here living.
Rosalie Genevro How will you mobilize your administration and organize your administration to accomplish that? You've talked a lot both on your website and in the public speaking that I’ve listened online to you doing about efficiency and effectiveness in government. So how to achieve these goals of an open city and a beautiful city? How will you organize to do that?
Eric Adams Well, you know, it's fascinating. I remember when I was diagnosed with diabetes and I was able to reverse the high blood pressure, high cholesterol — I had an ulcer — and all sorts of things. The other doctor said they wanted to give me medicine for all of those chronic diseases, until I found a doctor that said, “Listen, there's one thing that's causing all of your chronic diseases, and if you change that, you're going to change your health.” And I did that, and I was able to reverse my blindness, and my diabetes, and all the other things.
That's the same thing in this city. All these conversations we are having are rooted in one thing. Our city is dysfunctional. We create our crises, and because we are creating crises through all of the various agencies that are operating in silos — we can spot check all of these different problems; we can talk about homelessness; we can talk about housing; we can talk about the lack of education — but it all comes back to one thing: our agencies are not coordinating together. We're not a mission-driven city and we're not connected to operating as a team. And so what I must do as the mayor is change that mindset — the way we changed it in the police department, which was a place that was dysfunctional at one time until we dealt with the issues of crime. We have a lot to do in policing, but for the most part, we’re no longer having two thousand homicides a year.
And so my goal is to bring my commissioners together with a real mission, and a clear mission, where we are going to open this city, and ensure that we deal with our affordability of our housing. How do we develop the various parts of this city? And how do we hold on to the history of this city? Because they all go together and they're interlocking. Yet, we are not functioning as one unit to make sure that we preserve, protect, and develop our city in a fair and equitable way. And so it is imperative to recruit the right leadership at the top — that we are going to have, what I like to call a “CompStat-style” monthly meeting of how are we moving together with the agenda that I'm going to lay out.
Rosalie Genevro Thank you. Saundra?
Saundra Thomas Good morning. It's good to see you.
Eric Adams Yes, how are you?
Saundra Thomas Looking good. Looking good. I'm glad you mentioned your health. We know that only 20 percent of health outcomes depend on access to quality of health care. Instead, socioeconomic factors and physical environment have the largest — 80 percent — impact on our health. Whether it's clean air, stable housing, or open green spaces, which you just talked about, what is your vision for the city's investment in social systems and neighborhood infrastructure to provide equitable health outcomes for all New Yorkers?
Eric Adams Saundra, I have been on a number of forums and panels, and it is amazing to me that when I start laying out these underlying reasons that our city continues to produce these poor outcomes, people will hit Twitter and start criticizing me. And Twitter is not scholarly research. We need to learn that. People need to do what we used to do back before this. And that's read. The social determinants of health are more than the lack of access to a hospital. You can have some of the fanciest hospitals in the city. But what good is that if you walk in and you're told that you're diabetic, that you're going on dialysis, or that you're going to lose your sight? How do we deal with those social determinants of health? And that includes park space. That includes dealing with some of the pollutions and where we place some of the sites for garbage and other important parts of running the city. It includes access to healthy food. It includes so many different things. And so when we talk about health care, we have to stop thinking downstream and we need to think upstream. And when I use that terminology, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says we spend a lifetime pulling people out of the river. No one goes upstream and prevents them from falling in the first place. We have a downstream government.
And what I want to do is connect and look at all of those social determinants. And we have to stop those social determinants that are creating the health care crises that we are experiencing. And I want to focus on that. And it takes a collaborative, a concerted, intentional effort, and it goes even down into our educational system.
How do I get my young people to engage in civic involvement with their communities, dealing with the farmers markets, dealing with growing healthy food, intergenerational learning. And so it’s a real concerted effort that we must do. And right now we're not doing it. We are basically believing that health care is only having access to Brookdale Hospital or Kings County Hospital, when in fact, that is the downstream, when the crisis is already too far gone, for the most part.
Saundra Thomas So what you're talking about is when you say collaboration, bringing people together from different industries to talk about these issues from the top down, as you just described, bringing together the Greenmarket folks and bringing together educators. Is that what you're talking about?
Eric Adams Yes. Let's just look at the … What you just mentioned is just so important as we talk about those social determinants. If we just look at the Department of Education, it is in conflict with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We spend millions of dollars to fight childhood obesity, diabetes, and asthma. Yet the Department of Education, they are feeding our children 960,000 meals a day. And those meals cause what? Childhood obesity, childhood diabetes, childhood asthma. We don't allow NYCHA residents to have farmers market on their grounds. Yet, you see the highest level of asthma, highest level of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol in NYCHA developments. And so when you start to look at our policies, you see they're not moving towards the same mission, because we have not properly defined the mission and the connectivity of all of the agencies in the city to move towards that mission. Cities are made up of agencies, and if those agencies are creating crises for each other, it doesn't matter how much money you're spending. You're going to continue to have systemic and revolving poverty and crises in your city.
Saundra Thomas Thank you so much. This is going to be perfect for Beatrice's follow up question. Thank you.
Eric Adams You’re on mute. That's the term for the year.
Beatrice Sibblies Yes, on mute. Borough President, it's really great to see you, and thank you for joining us today. Using your example, really talking about a whole of government approach, I love the points that you're raising about agencies coordinating. But then there's the complementary civic infrastructure of small local organizations: The farmers markets, the community gardens, the health organizations. A lot of these organizations are nonprofits and they come into that critical breach of serving a full community. How would your administration empower that whole of government approach, not just with the agencies, but with the civic institutions that are fabric of how we experience New York?
Eric Adams That is a great question. And when you look on my document 100+ Steps Forward for NYC, you see I talk about those great nonprofit organizations that really have been traumatized by the city: How long it takes to get funding; the commitment of the actual allocations of the grant dollars, just to change in the middle of the game of how much you're actually going to receive; the lack of flexibility. I had a number of nonprofits who did not need their funding for Metro cards because the city was shut down, but they needed the funding for something else. But we were so tied up to saying, “No, you can only use it for Metro cards,” that we became too rigid to solve the ever evolving problems that we were seeing. And then the lack of coordination between our city agencies.
As mayor, I'm going to have one czar that is going to coordinate with all of our nonprofits so we won't have duplication of services, that we will know in real time using a city app that we are going to produce to show where all our food pantries located, where should one go if they need assistance in domestic violence, or if they're dealing with mental health crises? Right now, those who are experiencing trauma and must depend on those important nonprofits, there's no centralization of where the resources are located to allow our nonprofits to reach the people who are in need. And we need to make sure that it does not become a challenge to access the funding that's needed to carry out this extremely important task that our nonprofits perform and carry out in the city. And so we believe that there should be a central coordinator in City Hall that is going to coordinate, and continue to communicate with all of our nonprofits because they are an important entity to ensure that we're filling the gap between the agencies — providing resources — and what the nonprofits are providing. It is an important partnership that is often overlooked and, I think, is also abused.
Beatrice Sibblies So as borough president, one of the key roles that you play is actually appointing members to the community boards, and there is a sense that community boards have been designed to fit into that breach of being that connector between the formal government and the civic infrastructure. As you think about your administration. How would you think about strengthening the role that community boards play in the process of community engagement, in bringing essential services, in coordinating with the small businesses, but also as a bridge? Because community boards — and I'm bridging to my second question — community boards sometimes can be a barrier of NIMBYism that says, “Not in my backyard. Please put that in someone else's backyard and let them take all our waste and trash. Thank you.” So community boards sit at this interesting intersection of being both a provider of social infrastructure and a source of inequity in the infrastructure. So kind of how would you with your borough president background, what are some of the thoughts you have on revisioning that.
Eric Adams It’s so fascinating that I have witnessed the duality of personalities when it comes down to community board members. I would see some of them joining me at a march where we talk about “Housing is a right, housing is a right.” Everyone knows that chant. And then I would see them at one of the community board meetings fighting vehemently against any new development in the area because they want their parks, they want their supermarket, they want their streets. And so we need to understand when we talk about housing, it does not mean over there. It also mean over here. And oftentimes, people don't embrace those concepts. And so what I attempted to do in the community boards, number one: I'm a big believer in term limits. I think far too many people say on community boards for too long. And you don't have to lose the institutional knowledge because moving away as a voting member does not take your right away for sitting on a committee. So you can still keep the institutional knowledge there. But many people who have been appointed, serving for 25, 30 years, they tend to believe that they no longer need to hear the voice of the community. They believe they are the voices of the community. And I just think that's not right.
Then we need to open the door to younger people. We need to have a cross-section of business people that are on the board. I think the more diverse the board is, not only among ethnicity, but among ideas, you would get a different understanding of the moral imperatives, and the social imperatives, that we are facing.
And then I think that my plan of looking at something that's rarely used in the community board, particularly around this subject of development, the 197-A plan. We rarely use it. It is an opportunity for the community board to present a real proposal on the things that they want in their communities, such as upzoning, affordable housing, bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, all of these things. This is an opportunity to have real input from the community board. I would like to empower the community board to make these decisions, to have the first crack at making these decisions so that we can use it as a blueprint on how do we develop the individual communities. But a cross section of those members will ensure we will receive a qualitative product. If you don't have that cross section, you're not going to get the product you're looking for.
Beatrice Sibblies Thank you so much.
Saundra Thomas So my next question is about something that's near and dear to my heart. The city and the MTA are looking to expand zoning for accessibility to incentivize the use of private funding for infrastructure upgrades and station access. Would you encourage more public private partnerships to address our most critical needs?
Eric Adams Yes, it is smart to do. We've had several successful initiatives here in Brooklyn throughout the city. If you want to do a new building development that's included in affordable housing, you should also include accessibility to the transit system that's located near you. I think these partnerships are smart and, of course, effective. If you want to build, you should also develop a park that's next to it, where we could have more green spaces. We all know that we don't have enough green spaces. Everyone should have access to green spaces because of what you indicated earlier, that's part of the social determinants of health.
And we saw that during Covid, if you were locked in, and couldn't go out to your neighbourhood park, it had a major impact on your mental stability. And so I think these partnerships are important. I think that we can go even further — partnerships with some of our local schools. We're having a major issue around high speed broadband and access to Wi-Fi. With the technology of using point-to-point, we won't have to wait to dig up the street to lay down fiber optic cables. We can use point-to-point and give access to the neighboring homeless shelters or schools. So I think there's some great opportunities for partnerships as we continue to expand. Those we should not take off the table: how do we encourage and incentivize our public private partnerships, as we build in, and identify, the needs of the city?
We should have a wish list, because that's a very important thing that you just indicated. We should have a wish list of some of the things that we need so we don't have to wait until someone comes and decides to develop and say, “OK, what are we looking for?” It’s almost like that bridal list: Here are things we need, and pick off this list so that we are moving towards a well-thought out plan. If the need is we need high speed broadband in three schools in Brownsville, the list is already there. Let’s already create the list so we could just move directly to it, because we don't have time to start from scratch with every partnership that we create.
Saundra Thomas We will definitely keep this as part of the conversation that you referenced the bridal list. I'm very impressed with that, that it’s part of what’s in your mind. It's a very good point. But let me ask you something: Have you seen, outside of New York, or just your own ideas, public private partnerships, or models that you've been impressed by, in other cities, for instance? Is there any you know?
Eric Adams Yes, there was a great project that was put in place in Chicago about, number one, the development of their waterfront area around creating benches and how to attract people to the waterfront. I also thought that the former mayor did an amazing job with some of their private institutions, their academic institutions — making colleges free for some of their struggling students. And I like some of the things that are taking place now in Boston as well. And that was part of what I did for the last two and a half years. I met with about 250 to 270 “thinkers,” I like to say, across the country. That is what helped us produce our 100+ Steps Forward for NYC document. We met with former commissioners, designers of systems, designers, educators, health care professionals. And that's where our document came from, speaking with them to find out what are we doing wrong as cities, because what New York is facing, cities are facing across America. We can no longer — we can't — run cities the way we're running them right now, if we expect to be competitive deeper into the 21st century. And these partnerships, I think we need to send out a team of young people to cross not only the country, but the globe, and find best practices and have them come back like explorers of yesteryears. We have become too isolated as a city. And it's time for us to see what are countries and states and others across the globe, what are they doing to deal with this city's problems? I think we're moving into a generation of city states where cities are going to actually start leading their entire countries. And the answers are going to come from cities and our young people by going out and exploring, they going to find some solutions that are being created across the globe.
Saundra Thomas So I guess that points to one of the points in your vision plan, which references housing, and that housing is in need of bold, aggressive measures that are even more necessary as we simultaneously fight a pandemic and an economic crisis. So when you talk about explorers, I assume you're talking about boldness. And I would say that NYCHA has been fraught with challenges. Right? So I'm curious to know what you think might be a solution that we've overlooked. Is it what you just described, going on and seeing what's happening outside of New York City and New York State?
Eric Adams Yes, it is. I was in Istanbul a couple of years ago looking at their housing, and I discovered an amazing program of removeable, and being able to adjust rooms and share space. One family in a beautiful condominium setting would alternate and share den areas, dining rooms. Because you and I both know we have one or two favorite rooms in our home, and we use the others that much. And so they have this adjustable housing living arrangement that people are able to adjust and use them as they need the space.
That's why I'm a big supporter of micro units, something that we have not embraced here that much in New York. We could do a change in zoning to allow more of these projects. They are few of them in the city and they are great projects. We need to relook at legalized basement apartments. And you think about the dysfunctionality. We can't get to Department of Buildings and the fire department to get on the same page to legalize basement apartments. I think we could retrofit many of our hotels, particularly in the outer boroughs.
Look what happened with COVID-19. All of a sudden, the hotel population decreased substantially and it was always oversaturated in outer boroughs. We used the outer boroughs’ hotels for homeless shelters. And it shouldn't. It should be for permanent housing so that people can have a permanent space. We should not be paying $4000 a month to house someone in a shelter when we can have 50 percent of that amount to house someone inside a permanent housing setting. And then NYCHA. You're going to hear all of my colleagues say the same thing: The federal government is going to come and bail us out. We've been saying that for almost 30 years now. Those bugles you hear, Saundra, it's not the cavalry, it's “Taps.” NYCHA is dying and we need to come up with a real plan. My mother used to say, “Boy, you better have a plan B.” And the plan B is something that the Regional Planning Authority told us. Let's first start out selling the air rights to NYCHA, a simple text amendment. We could get anywhere from four to eight billion dollars in selling the air rights, get on the ground right away, and fix some of the major issues that we are facing in NYCHA. And I'm a believer in infill building, with an asterisk. If you build infill, allow the older tenants who were there to move into the new apartments so they can rightsize themselves. Many people are living in three bedroom apartments, although their children have moved on. But they are afraid to downsize because they will leave the communities they grew up in and they will be sent to another borough, to another location. But if you allow them to downsize from a three bedroom to a one bedroom in a new apartments, then the money we make from that, we can renovate or even in some cases, tear down some of these buildings, you will now start to allow new families to move in. At the same time, we could preserve the green space. We can make sure that we are not taking away the right to have a healthy living environment, but we could have an infuse of money. NYCHA needs billions of dollars. We may get some of that from the current administration. But the reality is, if we don't start moving towards addressing NYCHA, we're going to continue to have a crisis on our hands.
Saundra Thomas Thank you so much for that. Rosalie?
Rosalie Genevro Climate change. Among the many, many challenges we face, one of the biggest is climate change and its impacts on the city. So I have a pretty specific and a more general question for you. Do you support Local Law 97 and its limits on carbon emissions for buildings? There's some action at the state level now change around the arrangements for that and it's become a quite contentious thing. So what's your position on that? And then more generally, what will you do as mayor to make New York City more resilient and to mitigate carbon emissions more generally?
Eric Adams Thank you. First to answer your question. Yes, I do, and I believe we can go further. And, what I mean by that is, we are aware that we are producing clean energy upstate. Our problem is we are not getting it down to the city. And so I believe one solution should solve a multitude of problems, so if we partner with the state and create real green jobs that will allow that energy source to come down to the city, it would deal with some of our employment issues, it would deal with our environmental issue, and also deal with some of the economics that we are facing. So I believe the law is a smart law.
But let's be clear that many of these buildings have no real say-so on the dirty energy that is being produced. We're not attacking the source of the problem, and that is one of the things that we must do. We must start attacking the source of the problem as well as the end product that is produced. But I think Local Law 97 is a smart law. We need to keep it in place and I am a supporter of that.
Now, my overall theme around the climate. I produced a report called The Agrarian Economy. One solution, a multitude of problems. We must play a larger role of producing our food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. I think we need to look into vertical farming, soilless farming, hydroponics. There's real economical advantage to start producing our own food. Number one, we can start really tackling many of the food apartheid and food deserts that we have in the city. It helps with our overall health care crisis. We should start producing young minds. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that, if we get it right here in the city, we can start employing young people to have a real understanding of this new technology of growing food. We take trucks off the road and diesel fumes that is really suffocating many of our communities. And at the same time, we create a more sustainable, healthy food source in our city. Our food system was bottlenecked during COVID-19. We should have walked away with a lesson about the food we were feeding New Yorkers. Those foods were actually creating and aggravating the comorbidity that caused 90 percent of the people to be hospitalized. Over 90 percent of the people that died from Covid-19 had comorbidities. And then when you looked at the food we were feeding people, it was actually aggravating those comorbidities, instead of strengthening their immune system.
And so when we talk about our overall climate, it can't simply be how do we stop the dirty fuel that we use in our buildings. That's a downstream mindset. How do we go upstream and produce a more healthier city? And, what people don't want to talk about: our overconsumption of meat. That rainforest is being destroyed in Amazon because of chicken feed and cattle feed. We have a real problem with our overconsumption of meat. It is one of the leading contributors to the destruction of our climate and we must engage in that conversation if we really want to tackle what this planet is going to look like for the future. Bad diets, including a meat-centered diet, not only hurts our mothers, it hurts Mother Earth. And we have to start thinking of one solution to solve a multitude of problems. I'm proud to have put out that agrarian report with Cornell University and NYU School of Business. It is a solid plan of how do we turn around our environment and the environment on which we are feeding our young people in this city.
Rosalie Genevro Thank you.
Beatrice Sibblies I'd love to follow up on that, that was a that was a very detailed answer. It's great to see the level of not just thought, but interconnectedness of the way that you're looking at this. So I live in Harlem and we have a park nearby called Mount Morris Park. And so this is my question about the public procurement process. Right. As we change, as we face challenging budgets, as we're looking to your opening statement to build a better public environment for health and recreation, this challenge is a major challenge on how we procure cost-effectively and with a high quality. So to go back to my example, I believe that there has been the building of a comfort station in my park, probably for about five years. It's not finished. I can't even imagine how much it has cost and we still don't have a comfort station, and so it just really want to ask, given your logistics approach, how do we produce more public infrastructure, more cost-effectively, more time-efficiently, on a more time efficient basis, with a high design quality. New York can do so much. Why have we not been able to solve that? And how could your leadership and administration solve that?
Eric Adams Oh, you just hit a sore spot for me. We have become accustomed to dysfunctionality, and I remember when I started my policing days and everyone had a “no radio” sign in their car, everyone had a Benzi Box where you carry your radio out, or club you put over your steering wheel. We built industries around the dysfunctionality of public safety. And again, Beatrice, let me tell you, we don't believe our city can run. We act like we do and we complain about it. But in reality, as taxpayers, we pay our taxes. And we just say, “Just do the best you can.” And I want to say to New Yorkers, that is just not true. And how do we look at the just the pure dysfunctionality? How does it cost $5 million to build a bathroom? And then when you dig into it, you realize that there are layers and layers of designs, layers and layers of just how do we hold up the process and not how do we move the process forward.
I will move over to my conservancies. Why are they able to build that bathroom? Why are they able to run their parks without having the overhead costs? Why are they able to do it at such a faster pace? I had a meeting last week with Central Park Conservancy. That is a model that we should be duplicating across this entire city.
Prospect Park Alliance and others.
You see in the affluent communities, they have these great partnerships that they have created and they have realized and figured out how to move these projects through at a faster pace. You don't see that in other parts of the city. So I'm going to scale up what my conservancies have been doing and we're going to start moving those projects away from our Parks department and having a different method of doing so. You should not have to wait five years of this dysfunctionality to get a bathroom built. That is not how we're going to function as a city. And no one is bringing in the Parks team at what I call a “CompStat-style” meeting, to ask where are we with this project? What is taking so long? Where is the bottleneck so we can rectify? We don't have that system of how do I inspect to make sure I'm getting, receiving, what the taxpayer dollars are expecting. My mother used to say, “If you don't inspect what you expect, then it’s all suspect.” And that's how our city is. There's no quality assurance policy in this city to make sure taxpayers are receiving their money. And I'm going to ensure that we have. This should not be happening year after year after year. Park after park. It’s over and over again. And it’s rooted in our mindset in this city that we are going to continue to do things that we've always done because we've always done them that way. We can't do that anymore in cities across America.
Rosalie Genevro I have a very related question. I think that maybe after your answer there, it might feel like a softball question. Leadership, or responsibility for the public realm in New York City, is managed by many different agencies that often don't seem to talk to each other. Parks, the Department of City Planning, Environmental Protection, Transportation. At least one of the organizations in our consortium has called for the creation of a new public realm director or czar or deputy mayor. How do you feel about that proposal? Is that something that could be good for the city?
Eric Adams Yes, and I believe the director is dead on. We need a maestro. We need someone to coordinate the symphony of organizations. Here's what happened in the police department. And I refer back to it a lot because it was a learning experience for me. We used to have during the mid 80s, a gun that was used in a robbery, used in an assault, and used in a shooting. The robbery unit would close the case without communicating with the other units because they saw themselves as: We have the victory, and later for the team; I can lift myself up. Bill Bratton then instituted the mindset: No, your victory is tied to the other team members. And in fact, if you're the only one that was successful, then you lost. And so we changed the mindset where the individualization became how do we build a team. So right now we have HPD is allocating units of housing, but they're not speaking to HRA to find out the type of units that we need. And they're not speaking with DOB to find out what is preventing the architectural drawings from being approved and what's the hold up process. And then I speak with the Department of Parks. You may have a tree in front of the location that you may have to replace somewhere else, but it would take a year to do it because no one is talking to each other. And there's no coordination because each individual agency, they believe that their individual success is important. I'm not doing that. I'm bringing everyone into the room. And I'm saying to my DOB commissioner, “Don't tell me how many citations you created. Tell me how many units of housing you helped HPD. And HPD, don't just give me the number of houses you created. Tell me how you solved the problems of what HRA told us that needed to be solved.
When you have everyone in the room together and this CompStat-style setting, you are changing the paradigm of our city from an individual sport to a team sport. We win together and we have to do everything that's possible to make sure that the team New York wins together. That is not how we think right now. We exist in our silos. We are in conflict with each other and we create crises for each agency every day. And that is when you talk about the tale of two cities. We are the author of that tale every day.
Rosalie Genevro I've got a quick follow up question on that, and then we're going to go to Saundra. What qualities are you going to look for in the people to lead your agencies, who are going to help you build that team? Where are you going to look for them?
Eric Adams The last two and a half years, as I shared with you, I met with over 250 — I think we’re up to 270 now — thinkers, leaders. The field has been just extremely impressive. I don't think there's a former deputy mayor that we have not sat down with; former commissioners, current commissioners, staffers, educators, health care professionals, all different fields. And out of the meetings, we conclude with saying, give us some thinkers and some potential people you believe can hold these important positions. I already know who my police commission is going to be. I know who my first deputy mayor is going to be. I know who my school chancellor is going to be. And several of my important agencies, I know who they are. The team is just about built and we're going to be able to hit the ground running. And here's my orders that I'm going to give with all of my commissioners. Number one: You're going to clearly define your mission. Every resident of this city should be able to look at an agency and know what its mission is.
Number two: That mission must be tied to the overall mission of the city. Number three: You're going to make sure that there are no actions in your agency that you are doing that is creating a crisis or conflict for another agency. What does that look like? Do you know that a mother who has a child that's dyslexic, she must sue the city first to get services. And if she's affluent, or if she's Eric Adams, I know how to navigate the city, but if she's from Brevoort projects and just believes her child can't learn, that child is going to go from sitting in a classroom, going to the street selling drugs, picking up a gun and end up on Rikers Island. That's why 30 percent of the children on Rikers Island are dyslexic because we have failed them at the beginning by not giving them the resources. And so, as the mayor, my chancellor is going to know, we are not going to deny these mothers and children the ability to be part of a good future, because if you don't educate, you incarcerate. So right now, of the number of people we have assembled together, they must have the skills that we rarely look at. We look at academic achievements — no! I'm looking for people who have good communication skills, people who are critical thinkers, people who know how to motivate and work in groups. I'm going to tap into my private industries to have some of the best trainers of teaching motivational skills. New York City employees are broken. They're living through vicarious trauma, and no one seems to care. Broken people are trying to help broken people. And we look at these employees every day. Because remember, no one calls the police to invite them to a birthday party. They call them when the party was disrupted. And so that's your whole life, your whole life is seeing broken children, your whole life is seeing broken people, your whole life is EMS, a response to crises — that vicarious trauma plays on you. And no one is looking at how do we become a trauma identifier so that we can lift up our employees, so they can help the people of the city of New York. And if commissioners don't have those skills, then they're not going to have the right people to deal with the trauma that New Yorkers are facing. So those are my leaders. Yes, I want you to be academically smart, but I want you to be emotionally intelligent. And that is more important to me than anything at all.
Saundra Thomas Thank you. This may be the last question, we'll see how you do. The federal recovery effort promises to deliver significant funding for the city, and a lot of the things that you have in mind. How would you define, or how do you, define really the city's most important infrastructure needs?
Eric Adams Of course, housing is crucial. We have a housing crisis, but before we spend one penny of the federal dollars, we need to have a real plan. We had a $20 billion increase in our budget. And what do we have to show for it? Did we deal with homelessness? Did we deal with education? 65 percent of Black children don't meet proficiency every year. We have a $27 billion budget. NYCHA is still in disrepair. We are still having graffiti everywhere. So I'm not one of those who merely say, “Let's just turn up with $6.6 billion and go back to where we started from.” No, we need to have a real plan of how we're going to use those billions of dollars.
And I think it's imperative that we have to have a real housing plan. I think that we should leverage those $6 billion dollars, utilizing our capital dollars to build out a real green bond capital program to deal with everything from shoring up our waterfront to attracting new industries to the city. We should be the center for life sciences, the center of biotech, the center of self-driving cars, drone development, technology. I believe that we need to repurpose the open office spaces to turn them into affordable units. It’s a great opportunity to do so. We need to build out our retail spaces to turn it into child care. We’re losing money with the federal government, because we're not filling our childcare spots and there's nothing more destructive to our families than the inability to have child care, where women can go to work and be part of upward mobility in their environments. And so I think that the goal is to really start looking at spaces for child care, spaces for new employment and start-ups. But affordable housing, that is where I believe is a big focus; affordable for low and middle income New Yorkers because we have devastated middle income New Yorkers. That teacher and accountant is hurting as much as a person who's a fast food restaurant employee. And we need to lift both those pockets of New Yorkers up together.
Saundra Thomas Thank you so much.
Beatrice Sibblies So, Saundra, if I could just take another lens on that question on infrastructure, Mr. Borough President. As I always say, I live in Harlem — give me five minutes, I say, I live in Harlem. The key is always transportation, transportation, transportation to any economic being of a neighborhood. And Harlem, fortunately, has some of the best public infrastructure bones. But there has been so little significant, recent investment. I think the current status of the Metro North Station is a travesty. I think it's great that the most recent plans by the governor mentioned rebuilding the midtown transportation infrastructure again, when the outer borough infrastructure has never been invested. We have a young man in Harlem who has gotten designated to put a ferry on our far west side, but there's no funding for that. We have waterfront. We have all these potential infrastructure strengths. But somehow there is no equity in that infrastructure spending. So even if we build it for the right price, even if we get the $6.6 billion, which communities will get that investment and how will we ensure equity in that process?
Eric Adams That is so, so important and transparency is crucial. We do not have a transparent city. The designer of Boston’s CityScore, I had a meeting with him, and we're going to have a CityScore 2.0 here in New York. We need to see every dollar that comes into this city, where’s it going, and then we need to rate it. You should be able to go on “My City,” a New York City app, and be able to look and see how much that we distribute in education, to which community, how much we distribute in transportation, how much we distribute in the Department of Sanitation. Remember what I said at the beginning? Cities are made up of agencies. You control your community based on the disbursement of resources and dollars through your agencies. And that equation, that algorithm should be based on the needs of that community. And that's how you equalize our tax dollars. And right now, we have no idea how much money in real time is being placed in those communities who have higher needs. We have become a Manhattan business district centric city and we have ignored the outer boroughs and that must change. Because the people who work in the Manhattan center live in the outer boroughs and they must get there, they must get there in a timely manner, in a safe manner. We need to expand our rapid bus lines. We need to explore the potentiality of our ferry system. There's so much more we can do, but we must do it in an equitable fashion. And right now, we are not doing it. And to be honest, we have never done that. And we're going to turn that around.
Beatrice Sibblies Thank you, sir.
Rosalie Genevro So we're about five minutes out in terms of the time we have left as we close today. Are there any final words or ideas that you'd like to share with us as a parting message?
Eric Adams Yes, I want New Yorkers to believe again. I have been here before. This is deja vu for me, to be a young computer programmer and sit in a room and design the first system that dealt with using technology to fight crime in this city. People laughed at the thought that we could live in a city without 2000 homicides a year. But we believed. Jack Maple, who's no longer with us, he had us design a system. And I knew at that moment that that was a pivotal moment for New York. If every agency in this city would have transformed itself to a real time governance model, we would be living in a different city right now. Instead, we stayed in the 50s, in the 60s, and we are afraid of technology. I'm going to change that as the mayor. We're going to be a city that other cities are going to look towards on how to run a city in the 21st century. We want to have QR codes on NYCHA buildings so you can see all the repairs that are needed. We're going to create a “My City” app. Instead of asking people to sign up for benefits, they are going to be automatically signed up for WIC, SCRIE, DRIE, and SNAP and other programs so their language barriers and intimidation of walking into government agencies won't prevent them from getting the resources. We're going to stop sending $25 billion a year back to the federal government because we're not accessing the money that we have on the table. But we're going to be a safer city. New York would never turn around if we continue to see the increase in gun violence that we are witnessing in the city. We’re going to reinstitute the street crime unit, the anticrime unit, and we're going to zero in on gun violence so our cities are safe, and make sure that we don't treat people in any level of disgrace that we've witnessed before. And we not going to sit down with the gang members who are really generating a lot of the crime in our city, to show them a different pathway out of this level of violence.
And lastly, we want to attract businesses. It’s too expensive, it’s too bureaucratic, and it's too difficult to do business in the City of New York. You come across the Empire State Building, and the sign would say, “Welcome to the Empire State.” Now we’ve become a place where we destroy empires. I'm going to make this a place where we build empires again, and we're going to lead the entire globe on technology, on thinkers, on science, and become a place where start-ups want to come here and try out their ideas. And we can't leave anyone behind this time. Our young people, they must be part of the success of this borough. Pre Covid, they were left behind. Post Covid, they must be part of the prosperity of this city. And that's what I'm going to do. And to your listeners, I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years, and I stood on the street corners, and I protected the children and families of the city. And I love the city. And my son will not grow up in a city that I grew up in, filled with crime, uncertainty, and a lack of coordination. We won't go backwards. Thank you for allowing me to come on.
Rosalie Genevro Thank you. We really appreciate your time. Thank you. Thank you.