Below is a transcript of a recorded interview with Kathryn Garcia in conversation with Shaping a Better NYC steering committee members Matthew Clarke representing Design Trust for Public Space, Deborah Marton representing Van Alen Institute, and Ben Prosky representing AIA New York.
Matthew Clarke Welcome, I am Matthew Clarke, the executive director of Design Trust for Public Space. 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 that can center equitable design, planning, and development in their administration in order to shape a better New York. Today, I'm very excited, on behalf of AIA New York, The Architectural League of New York, the Design Trust for Public Space, Open House New York, Regional Planning Association, the Urban Design Forum, the Van Alen Institute, and the Municipal Art Society to welcome mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia to this forum today.
I'm really also excited to be joined by co-moderators Deborah Marton, executive director of the Van Alen Institute, and Ben Prosky, executive director of AIA New York. The questions posed today have developed by all eight organizations in this coalition. Let's let's begin. And welcome, Kathryn. It's so nice to have you here today as part of this forum on behalf of all those organizations. I wanted to start very broadly and ask a general question about New York and its built environment, and that is, how will you create your vision for a better built environment for New York City? Who will you talk to? What sources will you draw on for ideas? And how will you structure your administration to achieve this vision?
Kathryn Garcia This is one of the things where in my history of working in city government, I have found design to be so critical, and I have leaned on some of the top architects in the city to ensure that we were building things that were pleasing to the eye, but also incredibly functional. So I always like to point to the Salt Shed on the West Side, which is incredibly functional and gives us what we need, but also now, sometimes, is the backdrop for advertising shoots. And Kanye West broke in one day, because he wanted to be filmed there. So I really look at when we rethink the public realm, it is about making sure that we are engaging with architects, with landscape architects, with design professionals, and with communities — that this needs to be something where we are creating real function, but also real beauty, because it makes us, it makes the city a more livable city. So if you think about even how we design a street: A street that has activity on it and is greened is a more livable city with cleaner air for all of us. When we think about doing protected bike lanes, that this keeps us safer when we are doing our exercise, or if we are a delivery person who is actually doing their job, and there is a way to make that so it is engaging that we often don't think about when we are just doing asphalt or blocky buildings.
Matthew Clarke Thank you.
Deborah Marton Thanks for that answer. I want to kind of like dig into that a little bit. You say in a number of places, throughout your policy statements, on your campaign website, that you get what you measure. So we know, one measurement that we know, is that 20 percent of health outcomes depend on access and quality of health care, but that the other 80 percent depend on like a complex mix of socioeconomic factors of the physical environment, of your access to green spaces. So whether it's clean air, stable housing, or open green spaces, can you speak about what your vision is for investment in social systems and neighborhood infrastructure, given that the measurement of the results of those kind of cross agency investments is hard to connect to the investment at the front end? So how do you make that case?
Kathryn Garcia And one of the things that we have seen in this pandemic is how much overlap there is about all of these systems. Who thought that the parks were actually infrastructure that were our offices, our classrooms, our yoga spaces, and where you went to meet your friends and socialize? We need to ensure that there are parks in every neighborhood. And if you look at the map of the city, that is not the case. And the neighborhoods that suffered the most from Covid were often the ones with the least access to open space.
In addition, we know that housing heals. If you are living in a house, or an apartment usually, that has mold or lead or doesn't work, you actually can't do your schoolwork or work from home. And your ability to actually do well in life and to thrive is hampered if you can't pay the rent and you're worried about rent or food, you are more stressed, you are not able to be successful. And so I look at all of these systems and say the built environment impacts our public health in a lot of different ways, but also impacts our ability to thrive around education. If you're going to a school building that is decrepit, you think that nobody thinks your education is important. So the walking in and the light and the air and the space that is inviting makes you think that what you're doing is important. Which is why, as many of you know, when people design office buildings, they have grandiose lobbies, because grandiose lobbies tells you that you are someplace important, and that what the work is that you're doing is important. And so I believe that there is crossover and why design is so important, whether or not you're thinking about building affordable housing, or you're thinking about how you were designing a park, or you were thinking about how to build a sanitation garage. Where you work and in the spaces that you are in, impact your physical health and the impact your mental health and your ability to succeed.
Deborah Marton Thank you. And let's measure all that.
Ben Prosky Speaking of measuring, Kathryn, let's pivot and talk a little bit about agencies and some of the agencies and initiatives now. I mean, I know you know a lot about sanitation, you did incredible work there. In fact, we had the opportunity to collaborate on the Zero Waste initiative, and that was really fantastic. I want to focus on the City Planning Commission and ask what your vision for the City Planning Commission might be. Are there current DCP initiatives that you would advance? Are there others that you might reform or let go of? I mean, we think of things now like rezonings that are currently happening, waterfront plans, and so on. So, I'd like to start there with your vision for DCP, and some of their initiatives: How are they going, how you might change that?
Kathryn Garcia One of the things that I do think they are doing well is trying to regain our waterfront access, just not fast enough as we move forward. That reconnecting New Yorkers to their waterways is a real goal that we need to have. One of the things that always has frustrated me about city planning is when they start talking about big rezonings, it's always very blocky. It's always driven by FAR and not a real vision of what does this look like on the streetscape. And my personal experience with when they upzoned Park Slope, they did not actually ensure that the ground floor could really be active retail because of the very nit-picky little world that they live in about floor area and what height of ceilings. But if they had people involved who actually build things, they would have known what this was going to mean. And so I find that to be one of the challenges.
We need to see what we want in order to then put all the numbers around how they drive those sorts of rezonings. I do believe that we also need to be doing more rezonings to create opportunities to build specifically housing in areas that are transit rich and that have strong school systems so that we can do affordable housing and make it so that we are giving homes to families — not giving, but making it so there there's an opportunity for homes, for families. But it's also just an incredibly long process. It seems to me, that you could you could make it so that it's slimmed down. I find the environmental review piece incredibly problematic. I don't think it actually gives you the data that really matters. It's all about ensuring you don't get an Article 78, which, for those of you who don't know, just stops the project. So it's all about avoiding stopping the project, whether or not you're getting the real information that you need.
Ben Prosky Thank you.
Matthew Clarke Kathryn, I want to not only ask about how you would work with city agencies, but how your administration would also work with the hundreds, if not, thousands of community organizations around New York City, in a few ways. One of which, speaking about community boards in particular: If the needs arose, would you override community boards in order to ensure homeless shelters, busways, and waste infrastructure was equitably distributed across every neighborhood? And then conversely, how would you work with other community groups of all types in order to support some of the priorities of your administration?
Kathryn Garcia I mean, this is a real challenge within New York City, is that we need to think of some of these things as systems that benefit all of us, not just one community. You may be doing a rezoning that creates thousands of jobs, but those jobs are probably not going to be held just by that community board. It would be, of course, more broad. The one probable upside of Covid is that you can invite more folks in to the process who might not be able to make it to the community board meeting on a Tuesday night, you know, the day before you've got work to do.
I'm always surprised by the folks who do manage to make it to every single community board meeting. So that it's not just the community board, but you are reaching out beyond that to other stakeholders in the community. But I think that this is where, when you think about organizing city hall — and thinking about, in some ways, the radical notion of the residents are customers of the product of government — you are ensuring that your deputy mayors are incorporating community input into the process, and feedback, so that it is not as formal as it often is, and sort of very standoffish, but can be much more collaborative. And this is the type of work that I have done over my career, is to bring people together who can have very disparate opinions. But if you are working from the same set of information and with a similar goal, you can really get interesting ideas moving forward. And we don't want to miss great opportunities.
Matthew Clarke Thanks.
Deborah Marton Thanks for that answer. I'm going to shift a little bit to public private partnerships. We use them in lots of different ways in our city. For example, right now, the city and MTA are looking to expand zoning for accessibility to incentivize the use of private funding for infrastructure upgrades. Public private partnerships are not without their sort of controversies, as you know. And there's certainly been thought that sometimes the private component has, to your point about residents or customers of government, that private funders wield too much weight in decision making. And so I'm just wondering if you could speak sort of generally to your perspective on public private partnerships when it comes to infrastructure in the public realm?
Kathryn Garcia Certainly. And so, you know, I believe that public private partnerships can be very effective. If you think about it, the BIDs are all literally public private partnerships. The difference is you've got to ensure that the public still has control over what we want from that partnership, that everyone is still benefiting from that public private partnership. And so beyond what I spoke about in terms of the BIDs, the Business Improvement Districts, is also with NYCHA. Public private partnerships will allow us to bring the capital into those buildings to do the upgrades we need to do. We honestly don't have enough either federal or city capital to actually reach 40 or 60 billion dollars. Every time I talk to NYCHA, it seems like they are a couple more billion dollars in need there. But if we are able to do it in a public private partnership, it can be very successful and start now. I mean, if you don't start now, you are making a decision to condemn, in my mind. So I think there are lots of opportunities to work together in a public private partnership. And I also think that the private sector wants to be part of the solution to many of our challenges, and to be at the table helping to bring their creativity and their knowledge base to make it so that we're more effective. And this can even happen in things like technology beyond the public realm, that we can do public private partnerships there as well.
Deborah Marton For those listening to this conversation who aren't, maybe you could explain a bit about, for example, the NYCHA public private partnership. If you're balancing all interests to make sure that everyone comes out with what they need, that NYCHA residents get the elevators fixed, et cetera, the roof fixed. What does the private investor in these upgrades get? How would that work for those who are not familiar with that, the way those public private partnerships work?
Kathryn Garcia The way that one of the programs works, there's another one that will need state approval. But the one that is currently approved, and was designed by the federal government under Obama, is that you convert the funding stream from one portion of the federal code — from Section 9 to Section 8. Tis allows you to bond or to raise capital off the future rent stream to do the upgrades. And so you're not allowed to do that with Section 9 money. You are allowed to do that with Section 8 money. So then you bring the private sector in to raise the capital to do that construction in those buildings, the tenants still have all of their same rights, you know, their same right to the lease, the same 30 percent of income, the same succession rights, the same amount of money that has to be provided to their tenant association. But they get brand new apartments, like literally brand new apartments. The private sector obviously is then in the business of having raised the money of receiving back the ongoing funding stream from rental payments.
Deborah Marton And how would that kind of partnership work, for example, in places where there's not an easily calculable funding stream like rent, in infrastructure investment?
Kathryn Garcia In infrastructure investment, it is often in some ways similar in that they raise a portion of the capital. And then the classic is the toll road. There's a portion of that revenue stream that is then carved out.
Deborah Marton Thank you.
Ben Prosky Alright, thank you. I want to pivot to climate action, really, just a really important thing. We've seen it impact our city, climate change, sustainability issues. AIA, nationally, has actually made climate action a priority for all architects to focus on — inland, coastal, everywhere. And as you know, this city passed one of the most aggressive climate acts around, the Climate Mobilization Act, which is also known as Local Law 97. And it's really in its nascent stage, and it needs support. So I'd like to ask, first of all, do you support carbon emission limits on buildings, and furthermore, how would your administration enforce Local Law 97's provisions?
Kathryn Garcia Absolutely. I do support Local Law 97. There needs to be aggressive action on climate change. It's here. It's actually not in the future. If you look at what happened in California when California was on fire last year, and then Texas froze. So it's not always heat that impacts us. And just last summer in Queens, in eastern Queens, a tropical storm took down trees and they had no power for more than a week. And so we need to be designing for all the possibilities of climate change, not just storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. And architects and engineers need to be at the forefront of that because how we put our buildings together is a question of whether or not we are more or less resilient. We need to continue to decarbonize our economy and lean hard on hydro and wind and solar, and they should be incorporated into every building. And so I do support Local Law 97. We need to be supportive of building owners who are going to struggle to meet those and provide them with low cost capital to make the conversion. But as we think about moving to much more energy efficient heat pumps, we've got to have the electrical power here, and that is going to be critical, which is why I've called for a renewable Rikers so that we also have the batteries available so that when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, we're still OK, as we move forward.
So I believe in a real vision. And if you went off and built buildings that didn't take any of that into account, it would be very hard for us to achieve these goals. The only thing I would say is that I do think that there may need to be some carve out for certain retail, particularly grocery stores, because they are high energy users. But they are also how we ensure that we have fresh food in many neighborhoods around the city.
Ben Prosky I want to follow up a bit on that, because I actually really see the question of climate action, and what our city is going to do about it, as an equity question. Design and architects can get pitted into a difficult spot in this equity question, and the upgrades of buildings. So there are the new buildings, and we can do those correctly. That, we know how to do. What's really going to move the needle here in New York City is the retrofitting of so many buildings. So many buildings that are owned by small landlords or bigger landlords who have the power to skirt around and everything. And so I'm just wondering a little more, since we seem to both believe this, is how can we make this more equitable? How can we take into account, not the glamorous new buildings that we can make carbon neutral and so on, but the places where all kinds of New Yorkers live? How do we combat this idea that if we make upgrades to have energy efficient heating, cooling, so and so forth, that means people are going to be displaced?
Kathryn Garcia So you are anticipating that if we make the upgrades, that the rent will go up and therefore people will be pushed out?
Ben Prosky People make that argument to us. And I what I want to see is that these enhancements that are going to benefit all of the citizens of New York, our world essentially, are not only things that people at certain income levels can afford, but actually that sustainability is equitable for everybody in New York, and how the city can actually make sure that this initiative doesn't fail because of that.
Kathryn Garcia Now that there are two real levers that the city needs to be using. One is the access to low cost capital for conversions, and the second is the property tax. And those are the two ways that we can ensure that we are not causing gentrification through climate change, and that the neighborhoods that probably need to see this the most, where they have the most air pollution, are actually the beneficiaries of these changes.
Ben Prosky Great, great.
Matthew Clarke Kathryn, speaking of access, one of the impacts of the pandemic has been a new way to look at the public realm. And speaking of carbon, we've given away much of it to our public realm, to automobiles. And that perspective has started to shift a little bit in the past year. We've seen open streets, open restaurants, open culture, really transform our city today, but also transform how we might envision it in the future. And so I want to ask, do you support continuing these programs in some form or the other? How would you do that? And maybe most importantly, how would you and your administration govern and shape that work? We've heard a lot about agencies that have different purview over this work. How do they work together? How do they create a consistent framework through a role in your administration, through the mayor's office or forcing that through a single agency? How would you approach that work in the long term?
Kathryn Garcia Certainly. And so I think that one of the most amazing things during the pandemic was open restaurants and open culture, and that the city was able to do it pretty quickly. For a government that often takes way too long to make big change showed that it can be done. And so I'm very supportive of rethinking the public realm, both for restaurants and retail and culture and expanding the spaces that we make available to them, but also greening that open space so that there are bike lanes that are protected, so that there are more street trees, so that we are creating rain gardens to absorb stormwater and letting nature do the work for us rather than having to treat it at the end of the line.
I think that we can recast the public realm in a way that balances all of the needs that we have, both for the enjoyment and for recreation and for improving our environmental health. One of the things that I've seen is that when you go up to 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, which has very little open space, and their open streets program has ended up being almost a promenade for their residents. And you see little kids on roller skates and people with carriages. And so I think this is the way that we need to really continuously be able to iterate. But to talk about the agency problem, that is a city hall management problem. If agencies are not getting along, and sort of stalling everything by everyone saying it's either “Not my problem” or “Oh, I have way more oversight” — you've got to manage that from City Hall. And it clearly can be done and streamlined. And I have put forward that I would have a one city permit so that it is not the public that is having to go agency by agency and figure this out, that we are making it easier for people who do business, or want to put on a show, to get access to our public spaces.
Deborah Marton I think the one city permit is such an interesting idea and an exciting one, thinking about not just what the city we want to live in, what the assets are like, what it looks like, but how it actually works and how we can cut across those kind of agency barriers. And I want to give one example and ask how a one city permit might change something like this. I'm going to use the example of just like, a tree pit bioswale, which is a really simple thing. It's a tree pit that takes stormwater out of the combined sewer system and uses that water to irrigate the tree. The jurisdiction of that tree pit bioswale is in the public right of way, so it's Department of Transportation. But the Parks Department is charged with managing street trees, so it's also their jurisdiction. It's Department of Environmental Protection, who basically funds those in the public right of way. And it's also Sanitation, as you know well, who cares for, or doesn't care for, depending on where it is, the trash that ends up inevitably in those tree pit bioswales. And also they need to be maintained to continue functioning. So in a situation like that, where that's just a tiny example of how things work, or don't work, in the public realm. What's your vision for how and who — how it would work to cut through things like that so that we're not left with projects that can get funded by a bond, let's say, but then can't be properly maintained to do what we set out to have them do?
Kathryn Garcia So in that case, because I actually view that as a piece of water infrastructure, DEP should pay for it, DEP should operate and maintain it. They can let the other agencies know, but we're done. You don't get to stop it. You don't get to not take care of it, that they would be responsible for that particular piece because it is functioning as a piece of infrastructure.
Deborah Marton So, in essence, what I'm hearing you say is you would wrap that, let's say maintenance and operations piece, into the capital piece. So those things are connected within the agencies.
Kathryn Garcia Well, because if it's not operated and maintained, it won't do the function for which you floated the bond.
Deborah Marton Agreed, except that hasn't been our history. So how would that be, how could that be done? Would that just sort of be a mayoral initiative to merge the capital with the maintenance as a budget item?
Kathryn Garcia All you have to do is say, “You will be responsible and these things will be funded.” It's not even that hard. You just have to say, “How many people are you going to need to maintain?” and, “OK, we will fund those people to maintain it. How many are you going to do? OK, that's your capital dollars.” Like, when we do a catch basin, which is in the public realm, we don't say who is responsible for which piece of it. We know. When we build a new one, they have the people to continuously maintain it. I view bio swales as exactly the same.
Deborah Marton So in many ways you feel like the structures that we have — planning doing what it does regarding zoning and thinking about that, at that level, and then all the agencies that are involved in the construction and maintenance of the public realm — that structure as it is, can work if it's managed in a different way? That’s what I'm hearing.
Kathryn Garcia It can work if it's managed in a different way. But that is where you actually have to manage it.
Deborah Marton Thank you.
Ben Prosky I am going to hop in here with an infrastructure question and also negotiating beyond city hall, beyond our city, right? We're not exactly completely a city state. We have the State, we have the federal government. And oftentimes they're involved in some of our most essential pieces of infrastructure that we would love to have more agency over and fixing. But they're involved. So I want to ask a little bit about your approach to working with the State and some of the structures in place, regardless of administrations, and the federal government. I think of two things specifically. I'd like to start with your views on the MTA, and how we as the city can get some of the really essential things that we need to get this system improved, while working with, or maybe reforming, or suggesting the ways in which the MTA is run. And then I'd like to pivot to the BQE and ask a little bit about that, because that one involves the State and the federal government, yet it was foisted on the city to fix. But we're kind of in this funny game of cat and mouse about it. But it's in crisis. But, Kathryn, I'd love to hear a bit about how you would deal with these various levels. And let's start with the MTA.
Kathryn Garcia Certainly. And I understand that we are not the all-powerful New York City, if we could be so lucky. But we are not.
Ben Prosky It’s hard for those of us who grew up in New York.
Kathryn Garcia It's hard for us who grew up in New York. And I love, you know, there's different definitions of upstate. For me, it's like above the Bronx line is upstate. We need to actually have strategies for talking to the State. There is no strategy right now. And it's not just the governor's office or the agencies. It's also the senators and the assembly members. And going forward and having them all be on the same team about what we need to see from the MTA, and ensuring that we're getting the funding specifically for buses and subways that we deserve because we know that it is not equitably distributed. And New York City residents end up also paying in many different little ways for the MTA beyond just our taxes or our fares: transfers on property, surcharges on taxi bills. There's a lot of little pieces that we end up paying — our sales tax — that we don't actually even end up understanding we're doing. We should have more say on the board than we do now. But we also need to make sure that we are collectively advocating for the things, particularly that we don't see — the signals, the backbone of the subway system going forward. I mean, that is that is the biggest critical piece. We also have a lot of power when we're talking about the streets, which we do own and can manage, not only in public realm, but thinking about doing more bus-only lanes and select bus service, but really making it so that they are separate, so that you don't end up with double parked cars in the lanes that we’re supposed to not be sharing, going forward. So I think there are ways that the city can use its power to help the MTA and that the MTA needs to be responsive to the city, because nobody cares who's in charge. They just want it to run. And it's like, if you need the photo-op, fine. Do I get the signals? I'll tell you have my picture taken with signals.
Ben Prosky So, I'll follow up with the BQE question. I was asked to serve on a panel to help recommend what to do with this hot potato issue, that it's really come to crisis, right. And it's not just the stretch of the triple cantilever at Brooklyn Heights. We came to this conclusion that it's really this whole front-to-end. I mean, there are issues of inequity about it, of asthma that's caused by it, of neighborhoods that have been torn apart. And it's such an opportunity for our city if we could start to do something about this and not just repair it piecemeal. Yet, of course, State DOT and highway — federal — are involved. And oftentimes, as we were trying to come up with things, these were roadblocks. I'm just curious, A, about your view on the BQE and how you might handle it, and then, B, how we might negotiate some of these tricky jurisdictions.
Kathryn Garcia Yes, because I mean, I think our decision right now is collectively to allow it to just fall down, which impacts not only that particular neighborhood, but it spills over into all the neighborhoods that connect Staten Island to Queens. And if you ask people in Staten Island, they would say that even now it impacts them. And they're very happy to have the two-way tolling on the Verrazzano but New Jersey — into the heart of the city. And so it is a big connector. We need to make sure that we drive the conversation about what we want and bring the State and the feds along with us, but not lose the challenges. A lot of the money is going to come from the feds. In that, I mean, the same is true at Gateway. A lot of the money is going to come from the feds and we need to make sure we are advocating and actually working more closely with our congressional delegation. There's not a lot of times where you get to have the majority leader in the Senate and we should be leveraging those political connections to make sure we are getting the funding we need because none of our projects are a bridge to nowhere. They are all absolute important connectors, I would say, not only for the city's economy, the regional economy, and in some ways the national economy.
When folks last year, during a darker federal time were saying, New York City can basically be left to its own devices during the height of Covid, and all of the financial challenges we were facing, I was like, “Folks, you know, we usually write you a check for almost 30 billion dollars.” If you just sort of let us off to sea, you're not going to get your golden egg every year that you are accustomed to you. Do you actually enjoy our money, even if you don't particularly seem to like our city? But I believe that there needs to be a much broader conversation about the BQE beyond just Brooklyn Heights, that it has to be really bringing in all of the communities that are going to get impacted. But we need to make sure that we are doing like smart design and smart renovation to ensure that we still have a connector. I know that if we say we're going to have no highway there, that all of those tractor trailers will be on Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue coming through on streets where you have little kids walking around.
Ben Prosky I think that's a really good point that you raised with Gateway and with the BQE. These are arteries that the economies above us, below us, far out from New York City depend on these. And that's really a case — whether they really care about us or not — that's the case we have to make. But thank you for your response.
Kathryn Garcia We actually are connected to the rest of the country.
Matthew Clarke Speaking of the feds in that relationship, I want to ask a little bit about housing, which is something you up the the top of your campaign priorities. I want to ask in particular, given your knowledge of and history with NYCHA, how as a mayor you would work with that agency, push that agency on things like the Blueprint for Change? You voice support for things like the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. What would be your role in pushing NYCHA through to address some of the outstanding needs? And then more generally, how would you approach housing in New York City? It is a top mayoral priority for every administration. Also, one of the most challenging aspects of that job. How would you work and balance the community groups, the different sectors, that have a voice and a stake in this conversation?
Kathryn Garcia NYCHA is the centerpiece of affordable housing in New York City. And I'm sure you will talk to other candidates. You can choose a city — which one of us chooses Miami or Atlanta, but that is the size of NYCHA. It is in terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible shape. It needs robust investment. As I said earlier, I believe in the Blueprint. I believe in RAD. I believe that this gives us a funding stream to make these repairs and make these rehabilitations today, and to reenvision what we can do with NYCHA and ensuring that it is a Green New Deal for NYCHA that can't be done, through anything else, unless the federal government just showers us in money. They haven't showered us in money since, like the Carter administration for NYCHA. So ensuring that we make this transition.
The other very practical, political piece of this, as most of the country has moved in this direction, when they reauthorize your operating money every year, they underfund traditional public housing and they fully fund the Section 8. And so as fewer and fewer House members and senators have anybody who lives in traditional public housing, there are fewer advocates. And we want to be where the money is going forward. So we have to put NYCHA at the center, and NYCHA has to be brought into the family of agencies. They often sit outside. Like, do they need their driveway repaved? They call a contractor. Why aren't you calling DOT? You need help with refuse service. You're not calling me. You actually outsource part of that to somebody else. So thinking through how do we bring them in, and how do we make them part of the family of agencies is critical. But also they've got to be a part of how are we going to house the homeless when they have apartment vacancies.
And the next piece of that is what are we going to do about building? We need to build affordable, deeply affordable, housing. And I have said that I would build deeply affordable housing in transit rich areas. The other piece of that is we have to make building easier. We have to fix the buildings department and all of the processes we just talked about, about going through ULURP that make it take so long and make it so much more expensive than it would be if we were just an easier place to get things done. So, we've been since, I was born in a shortage of housing, and I think even over the last ten years or so, we had added 500,000 residents and only 100,000 units of housing. I do also believe they're going to be creative ways to do some conversions around office space or hotels that people decide are not necessary. That could increase the volume of housing that we have in the city. But I believe that housing is foundational for families to be able to do everything else they need to do, to be able to get an education, to hold a job, to stay healthy.
Deborah Marton In addition to the investment that you're planning in the housing, many of NYCHA developments sit in neighborhoods that we know there hasn't been an equitable distribution of investment in the communities, in the public realm of those where the NYCHA housing sits. To your earlier observation, if you walk into a luxury office building and there is a very grand lobby and that tells you something about who you are, in a way, as a human being. So, too, do the neighborhoods where kids grow up, and they're surrounded by dysfunction and trash. So, I'm wondering how can you make sure — what would be your strategy — for making sure that both the housing and the kind of environmental contexts, both from a public health perspective, but in all ways, benefits from a more equitable distribution of investment across the city?
Kathryn Garcia We have to make sure we are looking at everything through an equity lens. But when I think about it, there are two pieces. One is, NYCHA actually has quite a bit of green space. It's all unusable or there are 18 playgrounds and there's not a single kid at any single one of them because everyone in that development is now over the age of 60. So you've created no spaces for the people who actually live there to be able to enjoy it. And most of their grounds are fenced off and kept away from the people who live there. We need to reimagine what that looks like because it could have a ton of different uses, whether or not you want to think about Green City Force and the farms that they've done at five of the NYCHA sites, or you want to think about installing more stormwater infrastructure or doing geothermal or just creating meditative spaces within these. Reimagining how those campuses look should be the first step and then spreading out from there, ensuring we have green corridors and green boulevards in those neighborhoods that are interconnected you to the green spaces that are there, and thinking about how we are going to do more green spaces in those communities, because that is really critically important.
Deborah Marton And what would be the mechanism to connect those outside of the jurisdiction — would it be planning?
Kathryn Garcia No, no, no, no. It would have to be done through DOT and landscape architects.
Deborah Marton Thank you.
Matthew Clarke This has been a great conversation, and I want to give you a chance on this kind of final question to talk about your candidacy vis-a-vis the built environment. It's been clear that you understand and connect how the built environment shapes the lives of New Yorkers. I want to talk about, and just ask you any final comments on that, words you would like to convey about how and why you're the right candidate to lead and address all of the rich and fascinating points we've been talking about today.
Kathryn Garcia Thank you so much for having me. I'm running for mayor because I really do have a vision of where we can take this city, and I've done it before — creating interesting partnerships to promote different aspects of my roles. And I know that the built environment is fundamental to how we as New Yorkers experience the city, whether or not we are having a joyous day and stopping in a cafe or feeling that it is dark and we are almost undercover. But I know that the message resonates. If you look at what happened recently with the polls, 50 percent of the electorate is undecided and most of them have not met me yet, which means that I have a lot of opportunity, because 80 percent want someone with government experience who will get stuff done for them, who can create the vision, but also can ensure that it actually happens. Part of our electorate may be a little cynical about being promised things that don't happen, but I have the track record that shows that I can actually make the city more livable and make the city a more exciting place to live.
Matthew Clarke Wonderful. Kathryn, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate the time. Thank you to my co-moderators, Deborah and Ben, and thank you all for tuning in and watching today. Make sure you check out all the candidate interviews on Shaping a Better New York City. It's great to have you all here today and go vote very soon.