City’s rebound depends on growing and building, Doctoroff says – Crain’s New York Business

In the wake of 9/11, Daniel Doctoroff, then deputy mayor of economic development, contemplated the same issue we face today: Are cities still necessary? With the redevelopment of the World Trade Center, the High Line and Hudson Yards, among other projects, the answer was a resounding yes. Join Crain’s from 4 to 5 p.m. March 3, when we talk to Doctoroff, now CEO of innovation company Sidewalk Labs, about how New York can come back again.

To attend this virtual event, register here.

Dan Doctoroff has seen New York City in its most desperate times. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s deputy mayor of economic development and recovery, he helped the city rebound after 9/11 and then the Great Recession years later. He also sees a way out of the current pandemic-imposed budget crisis and a way forward for the city through smart approaches to health care and development

You are a student of financial crises in New York City. What is different about this crisis?

It is less a financial crisis than it is a budgetary crisis leading to a quality-of-life crisis. It’s an acceleration of stuff that was happening before Covid. I believe very strongly that cities have to grow. Growth is really important because when you grow, you have the money to actually invest in improving the quality of life, which helps to attract more people. Obviously you have to invest that money wisely. You have to be able to accommodate the growth, and in some cases we have not done that in the city, and that is provoking sort of a lack of trust in growth itself. The way in which we’ve grown has undermined people’s trust, and therefore there are all of these restrictions on growth. That’s the essential paradox that New York faces, and we face it at a time when we actually really need to grow because the budget issues are significant. And so we have to find our way out of that paradox.

Some city planners have advocated for deregulating rezoning, but there is also a backlash currently happening toward development. Where do you stand on the issue?

If you say the greatest imperative is that we’ve got to grow, and then you say for very good reasons people don’t trust growth, how do you actually convince people that the growth is actually going to be fair? That is the way we’ve got to think.

Because prices have been rising, people without means are getting pushed farther and farther away from centers of opportunity. When it takes somebody an hour and a half to take two buses and the subway to get to their job, that is a huge liability, and it builds resentment. There are a bunch of things you can do. We tried really hard in the Bloomberg administration to disperse the centers of opportunity, which is why we focused on Jamaica and Long Island City and Brooklyn and Harlem and the South Bronx. The growth in jobs actually did occur very disproportionately in those places, compared to Midtown and downtown.

You are the head of innovation company Sidewalk Labs. What are some of the ways you are bridging the equality gap?

We’ve seen in Covid just how incredibly disproportionate the impacts have been on Black and brown communities. In particular, our health care system in the city is a patchwork for people who can’t afford it. There are all sorts of new approaches to thinking about health care.

We created one at Sidewalk Labs, a company called Cityblock. It’s pioneering a new approach to urban health care, particularly for the poorest and the sickest. It’s based on the underlying philosophy that the social determinants of health are just as important as medical care in terms of improving people’s health care. Do they have access to food? Do they have stability in terms of their housing? Can they get to doctor appointments? A lot of research suggests all these things are really important. We came up with a new care model that involves focusing on the social determinants of health: doing it virtually, doing it in people’s homes, doing it in clinics, connecting all these different providers with a really powerful kind of data model that brings everything together.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently during your tenure as deputy mayor?

We were not ahead of the curve from a housing perspective. That was by far the biggest issue when I look back. We understood the problem, but we just didn’t do enough. We announced a 65,000-unit housing program at the end of 2002. We upped it to 165,000 units in 2006, but in retrospect, it was way too little. We should have dramatically increased the available land for housing. One of the reasons we are in a debt dilemma is basically because the supply of housing has been outstripped by demand.