Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Post-9/11 funds must benefit the common good
By David Dyssegaard Kallick, Op-ed, New York Newsday, April 26, 2005

David Dyssegaard Kallick is senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute and coordinator of the Labor Community Advocacy Network to Rebuild New York.

What will become of the last flexible funding that the federal government gave New York to revitalize lower Manhattan after Sept. 11?

Immediately after the attacks, the federal government allocated $2.7 billion to support the broad revitalization of New York. Most of that money went to corporate retention and resident retention grants, the intent and effect of which were to keep rents high.

But a huge chunk of money is still in limbo. Today, about $800 million is left - enough to make a huge impact by improving parks, building affordable housing, expanding job opportunities, bolstering local cultural institutions and community centers and making sure environmental health issues are addressed.

After 3 1/2 years of sophisticated and passionate input from the public, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which controls the funds, recently issued a report on its funding priorities. The LMDC, which is a public authority controlled by the governor and the mayor, came to the conclusion that what the public wants is the same thing major downtown developers want: massive commercial office development, an underground mall, a series of large-scale projects around lower Manhattan, and a rail link for suburban commuters and the JFK airport.

It is an Orwellian distortion of the idea of democratic participation for the LMDC to take the outpouring of public interest in the rebuilding process and claim that it supports a program so deeply at odds with what the city wants.

The LMDC's own neighborhood outreach sessions in the summer of 2003 gave a clear sense of the concern about inequity in the rebuilding process - a lot is being done to help high-income people, with little or no benefit to low- and moderate-income people.

People said they want to see projects that will maintain and enhance the texture, character and diversity of downtown neighborhoods. They want to expand the capacity of community institutions rather than parachuting in fancy new "destinations." They want investments that benefit local residents and workers, not just tourists and commuters. And there has been a real Jane Jacobs, "small is beautiful" aesthetic to all of the input, with support for small businesses, schools, libraries, community centers, job-training facilities and day care - not for Robert Moses-style megaprojects.

Some of the projects under serious consideration for LMDC funding have the potential to realize this vision of investment in communities. Most notable among them is the proposal promoted by the Bloomberg administration to upgrade the East River waterfront. If it's done right - by not building into the water, by ensuring good standards for wages and benefits to workers and by really including the community - this could be a wonderful contribution to downtown Manhattan.

There also has been an array of impressive proposals for projects ranging from a restaurant cooperatively owned by former Windows on the World workers to a venture to protect and enhance Chinatown apparel jobs. Some of the remaining money should be set aside for community proposals like these, which were solicited by the LMDC but still have received no answer.

On transportation, participants at the LMDC workshops talked about connectivity among the lower Manhattan neighborhoods, local bus loops and the Second Avenue Subway - not about a suburban rail link and connection to the airport. The public is right: Drawing from a pot of $800 million to start a project that costs $6 billion creates a giant sucking sound aimed at the already overstretched MTA budget.

And environmental health concerns have not gone away. Residents and workers are concerned about the inaccurate information provided by government officials, the lack of adequate testing and the narrow definition of what counts as an environmental impact due to World Trade Center dust.

Tomorrow, the LMDC is conducting a hearing for board members to hear comments from the public. In the past, participants have criticized the forums as being nothing more than an occasion for people to puff on candy cigarettes and pretend they're in the smoke-filled room making decisions. This hearing needs to be connected with a real decision-making process, not just a facade of public input. Tomorrow may be one of the last opportunities for people to say to the decision-makers once again: This is money to rebuild our communities, not to subsidize an office complex.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.,0,1690125.story

This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

Take me back to learn more