by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio came to the Great Hall of Cooper Union’s landmark Foundation Building on Thursday, 04.10.14, to deliver a speech that catalogued some of the specific initiatives of his first 100 days in office, and which anticipated the path that his administration will pursue. Particular areas of focus of his speech were education, affordable housing, pedestrian safety, and equal opportunity. The broader theme was a description of the attributes of a progressive city. New York, the mayor asserted, has been a model for other cities across the nation and can be so again. What follows are excerpts transcribed in place that may be of particular interest to architects and others in the design community. In the superb setting of the Great Hall, with its history and volumetric quality, it was hard not to be impressed, as well, by the speechwriting skill and oratory of our new mayor. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Robert Kennedy, and James Russell Lowell (“fate loves the fearless”), Mayor de Blasio’s central theme – “the Progressive City” – in many ways resonated with Lowell’s new world Voyage to Vinland, from which the famous line was taken:
Strong from self-helping;
Eyes for the present
Bring them as eagles’,
Blind to the Past.
They shall make over
Creed, law, and custom…
Fate loves the fearless;
Fools, when their roof-tree
Falls think it doomsday;
Firm stands the sky.
Over the ruin
See I the promise.
(from Voyage to Vinland; started 1851, completed 1869)
Mayor de Blasio’s remarks:
“I would like to thank all of the friends who are with us today as we mark this special occasion. We have a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for. I want to thank everyone here at Cooper Union, this extraordinary treasure. This stage is renowned for over a century and a half as a place where people come together to think and to dream. An extraordinary education is offered here. Curious minds have come here over the generations, people seeking truth. It is the perfect setting to discuss all that our city is capable of. Abraham Lincoln said right here on this stage, ‘Let us have faith that right makes might.’
“Some didn’t know what to make of us, not just of me, but all of us who got us here. This Administration is a product of movement politics, a movement of people who share a vision, people who believe in our city’s progressive vision. In the last 100 days we’ve been inspired by many New Yorkers who all share a vision of a progressive city, a city that honors our proud tradition of inclusion and opportunity. We believe that we are at our best when everyone gets a shot at fulfilling their dreams.
“Now people are starting to see, based on a measurement not of poll numbers, but of actions. We believe in grassroots action and we judge success on results, on making a difference in the lives of people in all five boroughs.”
Some of the specifics of Mayor de Blasio’s “First 100 Days” speech, about education and affordable housing, continue:
“Throughout our history New York has been the global center of opportunity and progress, commerce and culture, a place where drive creativity and, above all, hard work have been rewarded. Now we have to fight to keep it that way. But now even the basics have become a struggle. We need a better future for our children. Now people are struggling to achieve that. The best and the brightest are born in every neighborhood, in every zip code. In a just society all can reach their potential. But we are not there now.
“In a progressive city there is equal educational opportunity for every child – every child. When we embarked on this journey our goal was to create something universal, reaching across the spectrum, reaching everyone. Our children feel it the most. They know when they are being invested in. So we acted on that vision and in these last weeks we have secured the most state funding for pre-K in the history of New York State, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean everyone in this room. Tens of thousands more children will have pre-K.
“Let me remind the cynics of the research. Pre-Kindergarten is one of the best things we can do to launch kids on a successful career. Kids with pre-K are better equipped to begin school and are more likely to be employed later in life. I was reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a pre-K class to PS 239 in Ridgewood, Queens. One four-year-old boy in the class, one who had been quite shy, raised his hand from the back of the room, to say, proudly, ‘metamorphosis.’ If that is what pre-K does, I want to offer pre-K. And on top of that, thousands of students will have access to free after-school programs, so they will be safe, so their parents can go to work with a little less worry.
“There is a lot to do in a progressive city. In regard to affordable housing, 400,000-500,000 New Yorkers will be housed in 200,000 new housing units, with new jobs created, and workers building the housing getting some of the units. Affordable housing needs to reach across the entire spectrum, from folks with the least to those in the working class and the middle class.
“The public must get its fair share. We looked at that at the Domino site, where, as a result of tough but fair negotiations, we have achieved 110,000 square feet of additional affordable housing. At Domino, 32% of the units will be affordable. We looked at the Hudson Yards development. Sixteen hundred jobs in that development were not slated to get living wages. Now, based on tough but fair negotiations, those 1,600 jobs will be at a living wage.
“We’ve made our beginning these last 100 days. And Plato wrote that the beginning is the most important part of any work because that is the time that the character is being born. What we have done so far will guide all of our efforts in the months and years ahead. Our goal and mission is to reach every child. We are not going to fix what is broken with half measures and small steps
“Why do we engage in the political process? Robert F. Kennedy said: ’Everything that makes our lives worthwhile – family, work, and education – all of this depends on the decisions of government.’ We must answer, we must respond, we have an obligation to see clearly and do something to make peoples’ lives better. We believe in the kind of politics that empowers people.
“In these 100 days we’ve advanced that vision, that prosperity can be shared broadly. It will not surprise you that we’ve received some resistance. Our responsibility is to look that squarely in the face and continue our work, to deepen our work. The real power, the real power, resides with the people. Grassroots politics tells us that the people are almost always ahead of their leaders. That’s what we believe in – the grassroots, the peoples’ voice. That is what gives me a renewed sense of purpose each day.
“The poet, James Russell Lowell, wrote that ‘fate loves the fearless.’ Seizing the big opportunities for change requires heart. New Yorkers can achieve that. We will act. Now more than ever we need your help. Keep leading the way. Keep showing the leaders the path, keeping the momentum of these 100 days rolling. Keep up your energy, your focus, your drive. I have no doubt that we’ll build a progressive city in our beloved New York!”