[expand title=”Click here to read more about the event…”] TRANSIT: All agreed that transit was key to this growth, and critical in the vision of walkable cities. “Transit is the future,” said Mayor Thomas Roach, who noted that White Plains boasts a robust transit system. However, he also reflected on the stigma that surrounds public transit, at least by the older generation. The younger generation embraces it. Mayor David Martin said Metro-North is the single most critical economic issue for Stamford, Fairfield County, and the State of CT. Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling agreed, saying “People won’t invest in this area to work or live in if they can’t get from place to place.” It has to be reliable and fast. They brought up one specific improvement that needs state support – the Metro North opening to Penn Station. HOUSING: Is this just a fad? With the current high demand for housing and developments going up all over the place, the mayors responded to a question about the possibility of a housing bubble in five years. Mayor Martin noted that people are evolving over time. He thinks the suburbs are going to die and the cities are going to grow. According to New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, “It’s more a gentle rebalancing.” In response to a question about the mix of housing options in support of job growth, the mayors agreed that diversity is a strength, in human capital and in the education system. Norwalk is seeing a resurgence in its urban core – lots of density with both market rate and affordable housing. Mayor Martin mentioned that he wants Stamford to be “a place to be for all” and noted that Stamford has 1,700 housing units under construction in the South End and another 1,000 in the downtown. If we expect people with families to stay in cities, we need to address the school system. Mayor Branson stated that we “need to strike a balance” and said we should build (housing) in the right places where we can support that growth. ECONOMIC VISION: When asked about their economic vision for their cities and the industries or sectors that provide jobs there, Mayor Martin said “We want a critical mass and diversity in our economics.” With a diverse and powerful economic base concentrated in finance, he is trying to get more digital media companies to move in. Mayor Finch noted that the creative/arts class is moving into Bridgeport. Mayor Bramson agreed “the region is never going to be competitive on cost structure alone, rather on the value in exchange for that cost.” CLIMATE CHANGE: In response to the challenges and opportunities they face when it comes to the climate, Mayor Bill Finch said “Everything the city does fights climate change by bringing more people to the city.” He spoke about Bridgeport’s eco-tech park and its green 20/20 effort. “There is an expectation for green in cities” according to Mayor Roach. In response to whether he sees going green as a competitive advantage, Mayor Martin said “it’s just the cost of doing business.” Mayor Bramson summed it up by saying “The tipping point is coming. We are a long way from doing what needs to be done and (have) a short time to do it.” For continued coverage of the event in the Westchester and Fairfield Business Journal, click here![/expand]
SUMMARY: Public transportation, housing, and climate change were among the topics discussed at a recent panel discussion of the Mayors of Fairfield and Westchester counties. The mayors responded to questions from moderator Joe McGee about how their cities were reacting as the culture shifts back to urban centers; how they are addressing the economic, infrastructure, and social challenges to renew their urban communities; and what they are doing to attract and retain businesses, industry, developers, and an educated workforce. He began by asking them “What’s driving this growth, and what are the challenges?” A playful dialogue ensued, and all of their responses seemed to be variations on a theme.