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BY DANIEL SQUADRON | I’ve long believed that progress only happens when citizens and communities are an active part of making government work. That’s certainly true when it comes to the real progress we’ve seen over the last year, both here in Lower Manhattan and across our city and state.
Even as a member of the Senate Minority, I was able to make progress in Albany because of community partnerships. My benefit corporations bill, sponsored by Speaker Silver in the Assembly, created a new type of business in New York that can pursue both profit and social or environmental good while unlocking billions in new investment. The idea was borne from a conversation with a constituent in Battery Park City — and it became law because of the tireless efforts of local community and business leaders who worked with us to get it done.
While the state budget we just passed certainly isn’t perfect, it includes funding for critical social services programs for which we’ve long fought. From Nurse-Family Partnership and after-school programs, to homelessness prevention and settlement houses (including six in Lower Manhattan), strong community partnerships made this funding a reality.
I’m also pushing to crack down on repeat domestic violence offenders, effectively track guns through a tool called micro-stamping, end the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients, and bring desperately needed reforms to our campaign finance system. But I need the help of my constituents; these key bills won’t become reality unless citizens and communities are part of making it happen.
Real change happens not just through the bills we pass in Albany, but also through the day-to-day improvements being made in our community. And as Lower Manhattan continues its extraordinary redevelopment, there’s a lot to celebrate.
From the East River Esplanade and Hudson River Park, to Governor’s Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, we’re making huge strides toward a Harbor Park — a central park for the center of our city. Senator Schumer and I recently announced over $15 million in Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funds to redevelop Pier 42, creating a “continuous green ribbon” around Lower Manhattan. This is huge community-driven progress that we once feared wouldn’t happen. Now, the community will continue to drive the planning process. I hope you’ll join us at one of the next meetings!
In September, I convened the Delancey Street Safety Working Group to bring together elected officials, the community, and city agencies following far too many tragedies. Because we worked together, Delancey will be dramatically safer within months as the Department of Transportation implements a number of improvements this June: shorter crosswalks, revised traffic signals, and improved traffic flow.
We also saw the power of collaboration between community and government this month in Chinatown. Road-curb ponding is the type of issue government might miss if the community didn’t raise its voice. But the community did, and only six months after I released my report on ponding’s detrimental effect on the economy and quality of life, the D.O.T. has turned it into real action by resurfacing a number of roads and filling ponds throughout Chinatown.
And I’m continuing to work with Speaker Silver, Councilmember Chin, and the community to better regulate intercity buses, an issue that was first raised in our community but, in the last year, has shown to profoundly impact the safety of passengers across the country. Our bill to create a permit system will improve safety and quality of life in our community and provide the City with the information necessary to identify problems before they lead to tragedies.
With progress also come challenges, including school overcrowding and wait lists. We won an important victory when the city Department of Education heeded our calls and added new seats to the future school at Peck Slip. But our work must continue to provide our ever-growing community with the options, and the reformed zoning, necessary to prevent overcrowding and best serve our kids.
With all the progress at the W.T.C. site, the Performing Arts Center continues to be the community’s priority. We took an important step forward with the appointment of a board and first staff member, but we must ensure that the P.A.C. gets the support it needs to become a reality — and that the community’s voice is heard loudly and clearly throughout the process.
And as the W.T.C. site rises, it’s vital that it’s woven into the fabric of Lower Manhattan and that we ensure not just security, but also real access through and around the site.
Finally, Battery Park City residents have long fought for local representation on the Battery Park City Authority. The recent appointment of a local resident is something we can be proud of, but that’s not enough. That’s why I continue to engage the community in a conversation about how best to ensure a strong local voice in the long-term.
We can never be sure what progress will be made in the coming year, but one thing is certain – any steps forward can’t happen alone. The greatest progress is made when individuals, communities, and government all work hand-in-hand toward shared goals.
Daniel Squadron is the Senator for New York State’s 25th District.