When the 1939 World’s Fair departed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it left something behind: a time capsule buried 50-feet below ground, designated to be opened in the year 6939. Inside are microfilm rolls and newsreel footage, as well as 124 objects in common use. One of them is quite an artifact, indeed: An asbestos shingle.
In a major speech on Tuesday at the Queens Museum of Art, located across the park from the time capsule, Mayor Bloomberg set out a plan to avoid the mistake of bequeathing something nasty to our descendants. Well, he set out a plan for coming up with a plan: an initiative called PLANYC that establishes broad policy goals and promises specific proposals in three months (after “extensive public input.”)
The ten policy goals are divided by theme. There’s OPENYC (housing for a million more people, everyone within a 10-minute walks of a park, more mass transit), MAINTAINYC (backup for water network, repairing all roads, upgrading energy system) and GREENYC (reducing greenhouse emissions, cleaner air, cleaning all contaminated land, opening 90 percent of waterways to recreation). It’s an ambitious list meant to tackle big challenges, namely the million more people NYC can expect to have in 2030, the aging infrastructure, and a host of environmental problems. It’ll take money, obviously, but the mayor notes, “Doing nothing has its costs, too—economic and environmental costs that will only escalate with the passing years.” Speaking of costs, the presentation didn’t scrimp on slickness. Bloomberg took the stage to music. His speech was broken up by three films depicting the city’s infrastructural challenges and featuring prominent wonks (and Bette Midler). And Tom Brokaw moderated a Q&A with a quintet of city thinkers during a break in the mayor’s remarks.
One striking thing about the mayor’s speech: The words “traffic” and “car” were never used. Bloomberg stepped around the question of congestion pricing, or charging cars to enter downtown—an issue placed on the radar screen last week by a business group. His broad goals including repairing roads and expanding mass transit. The reduction of greenhouse emissions by 30 percent almost certainly means some reduction in car travel, but the mayor didn’t say so. But when Brokaw raised the issue, the room broke out in applause. On stage, the contours of the looming debate over pricing emerged quickly. The business community is into it. “We need to be looking at that,” said Diane Fortuna of the Citizens Budget Commission. “I think it’s great.” But Ed Ott from the Central Labor Council, wasn’t sold. “We don’t want it to be a form of regressive taxation,” he said. “It cannot be just a burden on the working class.”