“Pa’lante, siempre pa’lante”
Councilmember Rodríguez presents the State of the District
Story by Erik Cuello
Photos by QPHOTONYC
Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez addressed hundreds of residents at his State of the District this past Sun., Apr. 6th, at the Columbia University Medical Center’s
William H. Black Building.
Among fellow elected officials in attendance were Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assemblymember Gabriela Rosa and Councilmember Mark Levine.
In his remarks, Councilmember Rodríguez’s focused on accomplishments made in small business development, health services, and affordable housing, and also touched on what lies ahead for Northern Manhattan.
The 2030 Year Plan for community development was presented by Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora, who was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) this week by Mayor de Blasio.
Councilmember Rodríguez, who serves as Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, highlighted future developments including ferry boat service to the Dyckman Street waterfront, an expansion of the NYC Bike Share program to Northern Manhattan, and the future of Vision Zero, the Mayor’s plan to reduce pedestrian accidents and deaths to 0 by 2024.
“We will not only see a package of new legislation to put this plan into action, but a massive physical overhaul of the streetscape in New York City, making walking our streets and sidewalks more safe and enjoyable for all.”
Councilmember Rodríguez also pledged to continue to fight for greater resources to protect and preserve the green spaces and parkland in the district.
He concluded with a call for support and unity.
“I want everyone in this community to have a stake,” he remarked. “I look forward to working with each of you to realize it.”
State of the District Full Text
Thank you Feniosky for that great presentation; let’s give him another round of applause! And, thank you to Columbia University Medical Center and Ross Frommer, for your hospitality this afternoon.
Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge and thank my staff, Seny Taveras, Carmen De La Rosa, Lesly Almanzar, Yokarina Duarte, Russell Murphy, Rita Gomez, Tony Edwards, Noquel Matos, Fior Urena, Julie Cubillete, Eduardo Hoepelman and Kiana Diaz; our interns who help out in countless ways around the office; Camilo and the great volunteers who selflessly give their time; my mother, sisters and brothers; and especially my family, my wife Christina and my two beautiful girls, Yarissa and Ysla. Thank you all for the endless support you provide me.
I also want to dedicate this speech to a dear friend who could not be here today as she is fighting a tough battle against cancer in the Bronx, Altagracia Dilone Levat. Altagracia has been a leader in bringing cultural arts uptown and most recently ran the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center that has grown so well since it opened less than a year ago with her vision. Altagracia, you are in our thoughts and prayers and we hope you pull through this struggle to continue the amazing work you have already done for our community. Thank you.
Good afternoon and welcome, thank you all for being here, it means a great deal to me. As many of you know, we hold this event every year to update you on the work completed over the past year; to share what we are doing now; and, most importantly, to share the plans going forward.
The future of Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill is bright. As we work toward filling in the details of this plan, I look forward to working with all of you to expand and refine these ideas to ensure your place in the discussion!
I’d like to thank my colleague, Senator Adriano Espaillat, for his kind words moments ago. Senator Espaillat has a promising future in our community and the country, and we will be working with him for years to come to improve Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill in countless ways.
Assembly Members Gabriela Rosa and Denny Farrell, who work tirelessly for Northern Manhattan up in Albany, and Council Member Mark Levine who has already stormed on the Council scene, hitting the ground running in his first term with a strong grasp of both policy and community relations.
A lot has changed for this community in the past year, just as it has for our city. We now have a new mayor in charge, meaning a new day for New York! Mayor de Blasio knows and understands the needs of this community and has expressed to me his commitment to improving Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill in a number of ways. In particular, working to find opportunities for the affordable housing we so desperately need; as well as improving our schools from pre-k to college, and supporting our small businesses to grow and thrive.
We also elected a brand new speaker of the City Council from Uptown! Una Latina capaz y poderosa, Melissa Mark-Viverito! Over the past few months since she began, time and time again Melissa has demonstrated a keen ability to lead our legislative body with great skill. In one of her first acts as speaker, she helped to expand paid sick leave, a major victory of the council last year, to tens of thousands of new workers who were left uncovered in the previously passed law. With her leadership, our city is now moving in a new direction; a direction that takes the plight of working New Yorkers seriously and seeks to create a place for all to live.
With such monumental changes in city government, I have a resounding sense of hope for the future of both our city and this community. We have seen some major changes since last year, as well as some major improvements; and today, I will discuss the work that my office, the City Council and my partners in government have been working on, as well as the exciting new things to come.
The biggest change for me personally came with the support of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. I am proud to now chair the Committee of Transportation at the City Council. Our first priority has been to try to inspire a culture change when it comes to traffic and pedestrian safety, to limit injuries and deaths on our streets to 0 by 2024. This plan, called Vision Zero, needs the work of everyone in this city, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. I have been and will continue to work with the Department of Transportation and my colleagues at the council and we will not only see a package of new legislation to put this plan into action, but a massive physical overhaul of the streetscape in New York City; making walking our streets and sidewalks more safe and enjoyable for all.
To contribute to this plan, I have introduced legislation at the council that will:
- Direct the DOT to study heavily trafficked streets where a disproportionate number of crashes and deaths occur in our city;
- Legislation with my colleague Mark Weprin, that will increase the penalties for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians;
- A resolution calling on Albany to give the city the ability to decide its OWN speed limits on OUR streets because 30 miles per hour has proven to be too fast as speed is a leading cause of death in car crashes;
- And I, along with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a number of my colleagues at the council have held and continue to hold major town hall meetings in every borough of the city to seek feedback and input from you, the residents that will be affected by these changes.
But my goals at this committee go well beyond Vision Zero. I will promote new alternatives to existing transportation options; in addition to expanding what is already in place to underserved communities across our city. By 2030, New York is expected to gain five-hundred and fifty thousand new residents, all of whom will need transportation options. To tackle this vital challenge, I will seek out partnerships with academics and industry leaders and work to put together a think-tank for the future of NYC transportation. I want this community to be a part of this effort going forward and my office will always be open to innovative ideas.
Areas that I seek to expand, both here and across the five boroughs, will be the increased ferry service to more areas, including developing an eco-dock with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and the western edge of Dyckman Street. This can provide underserved communities with a fun and useful option and can even open up our community to others upstate, providing opportunities to bring new products like fresh produce right into Inwood via boats.
I also am looking to help stabilize and expand the great NYC Bike Share program. With recent reports of financial trouble, I have introduced legislation that will open up the books for this program so that we can determine how best to revitalize it and bring it to more communities like ours, eager to participate.
Transportation must be a service available to all New Yorkers, and accessibility is one of the primary focuses in these plans. I have had conversations with the DOT about increasing the number of Accessible Pedestrian Signals so that the visually impaired can feel safe on our streets too. This is why I support legislation sponsored by my colleague Mark Levine and our Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, that would greatly expand this program to intersections that undergo almost any modification.
I have supported legislation requiring half of the city’s taxi fleet be made accessible by 2020. This means 7,500 taxi and green cabs that will be able to pick up just about anyone, regardless of if you have a wheelchair, motor scooter or walker. And I continue to push the MTA to bring more elevators to Uptown train stations, constantly pressing for accessibility at the 168 and 181st street 1 train stations in particular. This was done recently at the Dyckman street 1 station, with a fully functional elevator and a beautiful renovation, but this work is not complete until the Uptown tracks have accessibility as well.
And, at long last, the Port Authority is set to begin construction on their new Bus Terminal at 178th Street. I have joined my Uptown colleagues in government at several meetings with the Port Authority, calling on them to provide community space in a project that will also bring thousands of square feet to new businesses. As our great communities organizations know, space is at a premium and this could have a tremendous impact. They are now on the clock as this is something we have held as a sticking point; when this project will disrupt traffic in Washington Heights for over a year, there must be concessions to our community.
Here at home, we are going through some new changes together. I now represent new sections of Northern Manhattan, something I am delighted for, as I know this is one of the most active and diverse communities in the city. I am adding a wonderful group of committed individuals who will push even harder for greater resources and access to quality services for our community.
Already, we have had some great events; ongoing struggles; and one victory. Late last summer, I held a Northern Manhattan parks walk joined by Jennifer Hoppa and many engaged community advocates. We toured our parks west of Broadway and I got some great feedback and knowledge while exploring more intimately the treasures we have Uptown.
When it comes to your concerns, I continue to support the efforts to curb the LG building across the river in the Palisades, joining Senator Espaillat, Assembly Member Rosa and Council Member Levine in a letter to the New York State EDC requesting an end to all LG related business in the state for their arrogance and potentially devastating actions in New Jersey. Bronx Community Board 8 in Riverdale and Marble Hill has passed a resolution calling for a boycott of LG products and I hope that our CB12 can do the same. We must not give up, we must save the Palisades!
And in Inwood, with the determination of a small group of individuals, led by Mr. J. A. Reyonlds, we saw community concerns taken seriously in Bruce’s Garden. Through meaningful compromise, this gem of a garden will remain untouched as water access is finally brought to Isham Park.
For communities new to district 10, if we can continue to build bridges—translating your energy, experience and passion into action on key issues, we can make sweeping changes that will become a model for success citywide.
- Fighting for more resources for our local schools as we forge new partnerships to better educate our children;
- Prioritizing safer and cleaner parks and streets in our community;
- And following through on your concerns to see that your tax dollars are not only fully returned to this community–but well spent in the way of city services and productive capital improvements.
Some of these returns are already on their way. Last year, I mentioned my vision for bringing new amenities to Northern Manhattan so that our children and families don’t have to travel far for fun. I am pleased to announce that through the support of the City Council, in a $7 million dollar project, the pool at George Washington High School will be fully renovated and restored! This will give organizations like Trident Swim more space to expand their great program, giving more kids a fun and educational program to help them get into top colleges. We will work with the DOE to build other partnerships with groups such as the Y at Nagle Avenue so that our community can use this pool on the weekends.
Also, with capital money that I have allocated over the past several years, I am excited to say that another of my long term dream projects is ready to begin construction, and by 2015, Washington Heights will have its very own ice skating rink to be housed in Highbridge Park!
Many exciting things are happening at Highbridge Park; it is undergoing a real transformation that will make it a destination for many across our community. The expected completion date of the renovated pedestrian High Bridge is coming this year, and soon we will see the ice skating rink, a new skate park and a renovated water tower not very far off. This will be a true renaissance for Highbridge Park!
In keeping with improvements to our green space, I will also fulfill a promise I made to this community last year. I will allocate the capital dollars necessary to fully renovate Jacob Javitz Playground at Cabrini and Fort Washington Avenue! This is a playground that has been a major concern to local parents and has sat in need of renovation for too long and action will be taken soon!
Our waterfronts will also see some major upgrades as well. With the New York Restoration Project, our community will soon add to the hidden gem of Swindler’s Cove. Behind PS 5, at Dyckman and 9th Avenue, construction will soon begin on the dynamic one million dollar outdoor classroom and boathouse, providing valuable waterfront access as well as educational opportunities for our young people and more. NYRP has been a great partner with Northern Manhattan for years and this is just the latest step in building a more sustainable and fun community. We welcome their new Executive Director Deborah Marton, and hope to continue our great partnership for years to come!
In Inwood Hill park, the Inwood Little League’s prized Diamond 6 is undergoing a five hundred thousand dollar renovation to bring in a beautiful new baseball field, and Muscota Marsh has opened at long last, allowing residents even more water access in a beautiful location.
But with these great additions and improvements to our parks, safety becomes even more paramount. This is why I look forward to working with the City Council’s new Parks Committee Chair, Northern Manhattan’s own Mark Levine, to bring additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers Uptown. There is a severe shortage of these officers in our community, and last year’s uptick in crime in our parks cannot be repeated this summer. This is something I am committed to fighting for so that we can enjoy our parks with our families without fear or disturbance.
As our community continues to improve, a big part of that process will be ensuring support for our small businesses. With two business improvement districts currently in the works, and the expansion of the Washington Heights BID still possible, we’re moving in the right direction. NYC Small Business Services, Community League of the Heights and the Washington Heights BID have been great partners in this project and I thank them for their commitment to our community.
Yet today, I want to issue a call for real community sustainability in Northern Manhattan. I want more of our local residents to be the driving force behind economic empowerment, which means we should be the ones taking ownership of our community. The more local business owners we have, the more control local residents will have in determining the future of Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill. I will look to support what I call a “Community Sustainability Fund,” with investments from local businesses, credit unions and individuals, designed to partner with developers to give the community a stake in new projects and a solid return on investment. I hope to partner with our City and State Comptroller Scott Stringer and Tom DiNapoli, our Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and NYC Economic Development Corporation in this project to make it real and substantial. As new developers—and we have a few sitting with us here today—look to build new buildings, and housing, we should have a seat at that table, determining what stores to bring in and what steps to take in preserving what makes our community so rich in culture and diversity. But we should also look to the future to make our neighborhoods more attractive to industries such as technology, science and engineering. Bringing these businesses into new development projects will ensure higher quality jobs than the oversaturated retail businesses often used to fill these storefronts.
Small businesses continue to be the largest employer of New Yorkers and we owe them a great deal. To keep existing businesses from being priced out when it comes time for their lease renewal, I will be co-sponsoring legislation with Council Member Margaret Chin, designed to mediate in this process. It will look to ensure our small business owners are not faced with punishing rates that force them to close or move away every time a lease ends.
A big part of keeping quality businesses in our community is supporting those that are great partners, as well as those that come up with innovative ideas. Two that I would like to highlight are Dichter Pharmacy on 207th St. and Broadway, owned by Manny Ramirez (not the baseball player), who has opened space right in his store for community groups to use. He has invited Inwood’s growing Jewish population to hold services, led by Rabbi Hershel Hartz, and is a model for community and business partnership. I would also like to highlight 3D Heights on 172nd and Broadway, owned by Jerry Castanos, who has brought cutting edge technology to Washington Heights. We must recruit businesses like this so we can establish a hub of technologically driven entrepreneurs.
My vision is to create a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or, STEM, oriented business incubator, like others opening up across the city. Here, young minds will create and develop new ideas, to translate into new technologies and businesses. I will support this initiative, with the commitment that they will stay in this community and continue to create lasting and good paying jobs for our residents. I will work with CLOTH to expand their technology center on 165th Street and Amsterdam, as well as encouraging other groups and schools across the district to create something new and lasting to benefit all.
I have also had conversations with Dr. Norbert Sander of the Armory Track and Field Center about this idea and he is committed to making it a reality at the Armory. Soon, young companies dedicated to sports science and technology will have great partners and a home to grow their business. Again, technology is the future of our city and Northern Manhattan should establish itself as a place of opportunity for these new businesses and startups.
But to create and fill these new businesses, we will need a highly skilled and trained workforce that can only be realized through education. Over the past 4 years I chaired the Committee of Higher Education at the council. During this time, I made college readiness my focus. While I no longer chair this committee, I remain a dedicated member and I will not waiver on my commitment to our city’s students when it comes to best preparing them for college. With the partnership of intuitions such as Columbia University, NYU, Pace and CUNY, we will hold a college readiness summit to address the glaring issues our city continues to face in preparing students for college.
As I mentioned last year, as well as many times before, this starts with early childhood education. You can imagine my joy when our mayor made this the central focus of his administration from the outset and, come September, these efforts will pay off with thousands of new seats for Universal Pre-K in New York City. I am happy to say that through the support of Mayor de Blasio, in the first round of new seats, Northern Manhattan was made a priority, with 5 schools selected to carry new full day Pre-K. Through this great initiative, our kids will start on the right track and have the tools needed to propel them through college, with after school programs for all middle schoolers as well. I believe that as this program takes hold, we will see college readiness rates rise across the city, with more students than ever graduating prepared for their own bright futures.
A part of this plan also includes the countless community based educational organizations that help our students every day. Time out of the classroom can make a tremendous difference during a child’s educational journey. If they are working with one of our great partners here in Washington Heights, Inwood or Marble Hill, they will have a leg up in the classroom as well. But the goal is to reach those students who are not yet engaged, because we cannot continue to squander the potential of thousands of young men and women, particularly those of color, that fill the ranks of what are known as “disconnected youth.” Realizing this potential is the work of all of us and it is why I support programs such as NMIC, Literacy Inc., the Science Schools Initiative, Creative Arts Workshop, and many more for their tremendous work with our community’s young people!
Our neighborhood high schools also play a major role in this effort. This is why I am pleased to announce the creation of a new High School designed in the P-TECH model praised by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last year. Through partnerships with CUNY, Columbia Presbyterian and Microsoft, this new school will give students the opportunity and necessary support to graduate in 6 years with an associate’s degree, ready to continue their education or enter the workforce with a quality education in hand. This exciting school will provide even greater options for our community, preparing students for work in new fields, through skills taught by professionals with firsthand experience.
As we work toward improving our community’s high schools, I want to continue to stress the need for a greater focus on STEM programs across the district. In addition to the 6 year high school, I want to expand these opportunities at George Washington High School Campus, Gregorio Luperon High School, WHEELS and the Community Health Academy of the Heights as well. If we can connect students’ personal interests in science and technology with an educational component, there is boundless potential for their future.
Technology driven jobs will account for a major portion of our city’s workforce over the next 20 years and we must look to provide these tools early on. This is why I am once again planning to allocate capital dollars to every school that applied this year, with PS 48, PS 115, PS 528 and Dos Puentes in particular, in line for new tech and science labs to acquaint students with the horizon-broadening abilities of cutting edge technology in the classroom.
When discussing funding, I am looking to join a forward thinking group of my colleagues that have prioritized community participation in their decisions. That is why, as I announced during my campaign, I will soon use the participatory budgeting model, giving you, the community, the power to make decisions about where to direct City Council capital dollars. This is part of my ultimate goal of empowering this community.
But as we seek to empower communities through the budget process, we can also do this with legislation. In what can be called “Participatory Legislating,” I want to create a new and inclusive system for developing legislation to bring to the floor of the Council. Later this year, I will hold a series of public forums designed to give you the opportunity to turn your ideas into legislation to introduce at City Hall. I will allocate discretionary funding to this project to bring professional policy analysts to our community to work with you and my staff to craft legislation around issues you care about in New York City. I want to be sure that your ideas and voices are heard within our city government, so that each of you feels connected and empowered.
For my own part, I am working on legislation that will hopefully help to curb a number of issues that our community faces. I have introduced a bill that would make all acts of motorcycle exhibitionism illegal. This includes wheelies, burnouts and tests of speed, all of which are dangerous and have no place on our streets. The NYPD will be a major partner in this effort–and I work with Captain Pichardo of the 33rd Precinct as well as the new commander of the 34th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Chris Morello, takes this issue seriously–but we must have the laws in place to ensure our quality of life is upheld.
Another area I have sought to improve upon in our city, which you may have seen this past week, is Alternate Side Parking. I know from personal experience how aggravating it is to need to wake up early on alternate side parking days, drive around for 2 hours and find a spot again. This is why I have introduced a bill that would allow drivers to park immediately after the street cleaner has passed, meaning less double parked cars, less cars with exhaust leaking into the atmosphere and less time spent driving aimlessly in search of parking. These are the types of common sense approaches we must take to legislation and I want all of you to be a part of this process moving forward.
Another area we must continue to improve around is our community health. This is key if we are to build a sustainable and productive future in Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill. Our community is luckily to have a number of distinguished individuals living here, one of whom will be key in building an educational campaign around improving health and preventing disease. 2 months ago, Mayor de Blasio named as his health commissioner one of our neighbors, Mary Bassett. Now, I look forward to working with her, the Departments of Health and Education, Columbia Presbyterian, Corinthian Medical IPA and the many great health focused community based organizations Uptown to make strides in reversing trends of obesity, diabetes and many other issues that we struggle with.
While we have seen progress in a number of areas, one that leaves much to be desired is affordable housing. Last year I mentioned the dire need for this crucial resource, as the latest census found 18,000 people left our community, much of which can be attributable to rising rents and cost of living.
When it comes to creating new units, we remain at a loss compared to other communities around the city. Under previous administrations, our community was almost entirely left out from major affordable housing projects. Yet, I have great hope for what we can accomplish under mayor de Blasio’s leadership.
We have numerous places where this housing can be developed. I want to echo my call from last year for the development of the 207th street rail yard, in what could be a major undertaking, providing benefits to the entire community. I will also announce today that I stand behind a rezoning of the Sherman Creek area so that we can take full advantage of underutilized property in Northern Manhattan. This includes a number of lots owned by ConEd. Following the major blackout in 2003, ConEd pledged to work with the city to develop this land for affordable housing. It’s time for them to come to the table. I want our residents to feel secure in their homes for generations to come if they so choose, which means holding developers accountable for including a substantial number of affordable housing units in every project that crosses my desk.
I have had conversations with several developers in recent months to discuss projects that could have major positive impacts on the future of our community. I made my position clear to each of them that while this is a wonderful place to invest, they will be required to not only build substantial affordable housing with each project, but must take into account this community’s needs for public space and quality small businesses that hire locally rather than redundant chain stores with low paying menial jobs. Part of this will include the community partnership I mentioned earlier.
I have met with a several interested developers to discuss some of their plans for space that they currently own but would need a rezoning. As such, their projects must go through the Council Committee on Land Use, on which I presently sit, giving me and thereby you, a greater say in these proposed projects.
But at the same time, I want those who are considering investing here to know they will find a partner in me if they take a community based approach to their projects.
If we can work to keep Northern Manhattan and Marble Hill affordable, while delivering the services, amenities and quality jobs that make communities strong, we will have a place that we can all be proud of.
I want everyone in this community to have a stake in this goal and I look forward to working with each of you to realize it. We stand on the cusp of something great, here at the top of the most famous island in the world, and we must seize this bright future so that we may be here to see the gains we’ve made. We will create a place that embraces all who choose to live here, yet one that will remain a place where longtime residents feel comfortable too.
I invite you all to join me in this effort. It is one that will challenge us at times, but in the end, the gains we make will long outlast the struggles we faced.
Thank you all y pa’lante, siempre pa’lante!
Concejal Rodríguez presenta el Estado del Distrito
Historia por Erik Cuello
Fotografías por QPHOTONYC
El Concejal Ydanis Rodríguez se dirigió a cientos de residentes en su discurso del Estado del Distrito, el pasado domingo 6 de abril en el Centro Médico de la Universidad de Columbia, Edificio William H. Black.
Entre los oficiales electos que asistieron estuvieron el congresista Charles Rangel, el senador estatal Adriano Espaillat, la asambleísta Gabriela Rosa y el concejal Mark Levine.
En su discurso, el Concejal Rodríguez se centro en los logros realizados en el desarrollo de pequeñas empresas, los servicios de salud, y la vivienda asequible y también se refirió a lo que se avecina para el Norte de Manhattan.
El Plan 2030 para el desarrollo comunitario fue presentado por el Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora, quien fue nombrado comisionado del Departamento de Diseño y Construcción de la ciudad de Nueva York (DDCpor sus siglas en inglés) esta semana por el alcalde de Blasio.
El Concejal Rodríguez, quien se desempeña como Presidente del Comité de Transporte del Concejo Municipal, destacó los acontecimientos futuros, incluyendo el servicio de ferry por la línea de la costa en la Calle Dyckman, una expansión del programa NYC Bike Share al norte de Manhattan y el futuro de Vision Zero, el plan del Alcalde para reducir los accidentes peatonales y las muertes a 0 en 2024.
“No sólo vamos a ver un paquete de nuevas leyes para poner este plan en acción, sino una revisión física masiva del paisaje urbano en la ciudad de Nueva York, por lo que caminar por nuestras calles y aceras sea más seguro y agradable para todos.”
El Concejal Rodríguez también se comprometió a seguir luchando por mayores recursos para proteger y preservar los espacios verdes y zonas verdes en el distrito.
Concluyó con un llamado de apoyo y unidad.
“Quiero que todos en esta comunidad participen”, remarcó. “Espero con interés trabajar con cada uno de ustedes para lograrlo.”