Cities have always been the world’s nerve centers of commerce, culture, and communication. And New York is Exhibit A. We’re also a city whose people have a long and proud tradition of striving to create what Robert Kennedy once called “communities of security, achievement, and dignity.”
That’s precisely the goal of the Center for New York City Affairs: Improving the way government works with low-income communities by identifying fixable problems and practicable solutions, in areas ranging from education to immigration to child welfare.
Urban Matters is our newest outlet for ideas and insights on such issues – derived from work on the streets of New York, and from cities around the world.
Unpaid Bills, Unmet Needs: Why Workers Need Fair Work Schedules
By Harold Stolper
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers work in stores and restaurants across the five boroughs. Not only do these jobs typically pay low wages; many workers also don’t know from week to week—or even from day to day—when and for how many hours they’re expected to be on the job. The resulting unpredictability in incomes and schedules can make it difficult to arrange child care, create stable household budgets, and pay bills on time.
Reform or Relapse? Kids’ Medicaid Mental Health Services Hang in the Balance
By Abigail Kramer
After five years of planning and negotiation, the State’s departments of health, mental health, and substance abuse had come up with a plan to overhaul their outdated, overburdened system of mental health services for low-income kids.
It’s No Holiday for Hotel Workers When Bad Design Burdens Them
By David Brody
The hotel industry does everything in its power to make certain that guests do not have to think about the hard work involved in cleaning guest rooms. The connection between design and the concealment of housekeepers’ work is particularly significant, since it is design that manipulates our perceptions about what does or does not occur at a hotel.
Making a List, Checking It Twice: Recent Books from The New School Community
We share a far-from-exhaustive collection of intriguing works published during the past 12 months by members of the New School community. They caught our attention, and might merit yours, too.
The Fierce Urgency of Now: Five Steps to Integrate New York City Elementary Schools
By Clara Hemphill, Lydie Raschka, and Nicole Mader
In the past year, New York City officials have taken small steps to ease racial and economic integration of enrollment in several dozen of the city’s 955 public elementary schools. In August, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a “bigger vision” focused on such efforts. To date, however, his administration has yet to come up with a plan for larger-scale efforts to diversify enrollment among the city’s notoriously segregated schools.
Why Child Protective Investigations Can Make Parents Fearful and Put Kids at Risk
By Jeanette Vega
In many big cities the number of children entering foster care has dropped dramatically while the number of families receiving support services has grown. But across the country, just as many families continue to be the subject of child protective investigations; across the country, more than three million children are the subjects of such investigations each year.
How 'Growing Up NYC' Aims to Improve the Lives of Children
By Richard Buery
New York City is home to almost three million children, youth, and young adults under the age of 24. The City is committed to helping each of those young people thrive at each stage of their childhood and grow up to become healthy and happy adults. To help us get there, the City’s Children’s Cabinet has launched Growing Up NYC: a unified vision for promoting the well-being of children and young adults.
We Don’t Know What’s Coming; We Do Know Who We Are
A Post-Election Statement from the Center for New York City Affairs
Distress; frustration; apprehension; anger: Those were among the intense post-election post-mortem emotions unpacked during a staff meeting in the offices of the Center for New York City Affairs this morning.
West Side Story: How City Leaders Can Back a Brave School Zoning Plan
By Clara Hemphill
After two years of contentious public meetings, the Community Education Council, an elected panel of parents, has come up with a courageous and long overdue plan to ease overcrowding and foster racial and economic integration of three elementary schools in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is a bold attempt to balance competing interests and to resolve one of the city’s most intractable social problems.
Dollars and Sense: Greater Economic Security for Family Caregivers
By The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
At least 17.7 million Americans are family caregivers of someone age 65 or older – unpaid work that, with the rapid “graying of America,” has become increasingly commonplace. While many caregivers find deep personal satisfaction in such work, they also experience higher levels of anxiety and stress, resulting from the physical, emotional, and economic burdens caregiving puts on their own lives.
Getting New Yorkers Back on the Bus
By Tabitha Decker
New Yorkers take 2.5 million daily rides on MTA New York City Transit buses, but the busiest bus system in the country is not delivering the service New Yorkers need. Reliability and speed have been in decline for years, and congestion in many parts of the city means it’s often faster to walk than to take a chance on a bus.
Not Just Justice: Creating Intentionally Restorative Schools
By Jared Roebuck
The subject of school discipline offers fertile territory – and an opportunity to get beyond the reductive charter-vs-district-school conflicts of recent years. Specifically, it’s a chance for some district schools to learn from the charter experience about the importance of purposefully executing a vision for school culture.
'We Moved So Many Times I Didn't Think It Was Strange'
By Hoa K. Vu
Roughly one out of eight New York City public school students has been homeless sometime during the past five years, according to a recent estimate by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. With family homelessness remaining at record levels, tens of thousands of children are growing up in shelters. In her own words, one tells her story.
℞ for the New York Region: How We Can Create a 'Culture of Health'
By Mandu Sen
When we talk about the wellbeing of a city or region, all too often we use economic data, such as income or employment statistics. Only rarely do we also take stock of our collective health. But there are many appropriate reasons why we ought to.
Can 'Learning as Play' Make a Kindergarten Comeback?
By Lydie Raschka
In a number of New York City elementary school kindergarten classes, [choice time] revives, in modified fashion, the once-common play-as-learning “free time” that’s been driven almost to extinction in favor of whole-class instruction, textbooks, worksheets, and other elements of more rigorous education in the Common Core era.
Commit - And Also Verify: Putting Reality Checks into the World's 'New Urban Agenda'
By Michael Cohen, Bart Orr, and Lena Simet
Given the economic growth of the past two decades, how well have countries used their resources to meet the commitments of the Habitat II agenda? To answer this question, the Global Urban Futures Project has developed the Habitat Commitment Index (HCI)—a way of measuring country performance on a set of indicators taking per capita income levels into account to gauge progress over time.
To Improve Family Child Care Offer More Coaching
By Kendra Hurley
The Center for New York City Affairs recently investigated New York City’s nearly four-year-old “EarlyLearnNYC” reforms of city-contracted home-based programs. We found those programs encumbered by well-intentioned but misguided requirements
Seven 'Raise the Age' Work-Arounds: Doing the Right Thing When Albany Won't
By Kate Rubin
Another legislative session has ended in Albany, and a 16-year-old who jumps a turnstile or smokes marijuana in public will still be arrested and prosecuted as an adult. Efforts to raise the age of criminal responsibility once again foundered in the Legislature. Other policymakers have a moral obligation to act where legislators have failed. Here are seven steps City and State agencies can take—right now—to protect children from an outdated, abusive criminal justice system.
Cutting Rents Without Bleeding Landlords
By Flavia Leite, Courtney Loiacono, Grant Nagaki, and Dan Wooldridge
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan paints a stark picture of nearly one million low-income households competing for fewer than half that number of affordable housing units. That’s why we propose decreasing, not just freezing, what the hardest-pressed tenants pay – without penalizing their landlords.
A Long, Hungry Summer? Filling the Nutrition Gap for New York City Kids
By Karra Puccia
During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.
Diversity in New York’s Specialized Schools: A Deeper Data Dive
By Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo
The most recent Urban Matters reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city’s most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city’s public schools. This week we’re following up on comments and questions we received from you.
Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Racial Diversity To New York’s Specialized High Schools
By Bruce Cory and Nicole Mader
There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9% of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6% the year before.
Summertime, and the Reading Is Meaty
One of the traditional joys of summer is the extra, welcome free time it opens up for the pleasures of reading. And for many of us, a good book in the shade isn't necessarily a mystery or romance. With that in mind, we asked colleagues at The New School for summer book ideas for readers of Urban Matters. Here are their suggestions.
'Rikers is Horrible': Venida Browder Recalls Her Son's Ordeal - And Her Own
In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder of the Bronx was arrested for stealing a backpack – a crime he insisted he never committed. Nevertheless, he then spent some three years jailed on New York City’s Rikers Island, including roughly two years in solitary confinement. Urban Matters presents this video excerpt of Venida Browder's recent powerful description of what she typically endured in visiting her son in Rikers’ bleak, remote lock-up.
The Limits of ‘Self-Help’ in Fighting Poverty: A Conversation with Erica Kohl-Arenas
Erica Kohl-Arenas is an Assistant Professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy and author of The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (University of California Press, 2016). Her book focuses on how private philanthropic initiatives often focus on the behaviors of poor people while ignoring the structural inequities that produce poverty.
Edgy Explorations: The Transformative Effects of ‘Parks Without Borders’
By Mitchell J. Silver
In our densely populated city, people look to parks to serve many purposes. New Yorkers use parks as backyards and living rooms, public squares and nature preserves. However, New York’s public sphere has not always been designed for this multitude of uses, especially not around park edges.
Next Stop, Fairness in Fares: Why New York Needs Low-Income Transit Discounts
By Harold Stolper
Most affluent New Yorkers don’t think twice before ponying up $2.75 to ride the subway or bus. But for the working poor, it’s another story. In the Community Service Society of New York’s most recent “Unheard Third”—an annual survey of the daily experiences of low-income New Yorkers—more than one out of four such New Yorkers reported that they were often unable to afford subway and bus fares.
Seoul-Searching: A U.S. Teacher’s Quest For the Secret of Korean Student Success
By Clara Hemphill
As a biology teacher at a high-poverty high school in Los Angeles, Taylor Wichmanowski was impressed that his Korean-speaking students—including those newly arrived in the United States—seemed to do so much better academically than most of their classmates. He knew that South Korea not only had the world’s highest student scores on international tests; it also had the lowest proportion of low-performing kids anywhere. Even poor Korean children did well.
Ending Family Homeless Shelters
As We Know Them
By Ralph Nunez, PhD
Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a restructuring of how the nation’s largest city serves its most impoverished citizens: the homeless. With the city’s homeless population at a near-record high of almost 58,000 people – including, distressingly, almost 23,000 children – the mayor is absolutely right about the need for fresh thinking in meeting this challenge. Such reforms must go beyond this latest administrative reorganization. And the first thing that must change is the concept of the homeless shelter itself.
Designed to Work: A Neighborhood-Based Strategy to Connect People to Jobs
By Rosanne Haggerty and Katie Gordon
In New York City, unemployment has fallen well below the 10%-plus peak it reached after the global financial meltdown and recession of 2008. While that’s hopeful news, it obscures a glaring divide: This recovery hasn’t benefitted the city’s neighborhoods equally.
Environmental Justice Takes Center
Stage On Earth Day
By Molly Johnson
Reports of water contaminated by lead, copper, and E. coli in Flint, Michigan dominated national headlines early this year, and became a focal point for outrage around the issue of environmental racism. Then in March, closer to home, reports surfaced of elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at public schools in Newark, New Jersey. These stories are frightening and frustrating. Worse, they are not unique.
Can 'Controlled Choice' Help
Integrate NYC Schools?
By Clara Hemphill
“Controlled choice” as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in elementary schools is a current hot topic on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity and now up for consideration by education decision-makers, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.
No Food, No Phone, No Subway Fare:
Daily Hardships of the ‘Unheard Third’
By Apurva Mehrotra and Nancy Rankin
"In New York City, the idea that hard work and perseverance can lead to a better life is losing ground.” That bleak assessment begins "Getting Ahead: An Upward Mobility Agenda for New Yorkers in 2016," a report based on the most recent (July-August 2015) annual survey of the city’s “Unheard Third” by the Community Service Society of New York – what CSS calls “the only public opinion poll in the nation to regularly chronicle issues facing low-income individuals and families.”
Human Services, Human Costs
While fast food workers have commanded most of the attention in the “Fight for $15” both nationally and in New York, proposals to raise the minimum wage affect other major segments of the workforce, too. By some estimates, more than 400,000 workers in the human services in New York State currently earn less than the $15 per hour that Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed be the new State minimum wage, to be phased in by 2019 in New York City and mid-2021 in the rest of the state.
Our Trump: Made in New York
By Peter Eisenstadt and Robert W. Snyder
Despite Donald Trump’s unpopularity with New York State voters—71% hold unfavorable views of him, more than any other candidate—it helps to remember that he is the product of New York City and its political culture. His career tells us a lot about changes in a supposedly liberal city and state—especially when it comes to media manipulation, the politics of resentment, and the blurring of public and private interests.
Help Wanted: Nonprofits Hiring Young Adults with Criminal Histories in Supportive Work Environments
By Julie Peterson
Many social service programs aim to get young people ready for work. Not enough hire them. As important as education and training are, they often fall by the wayside for young people living in poverty, lost in the unending immediate need for funds to survive and support a family. Without a job to provide those funds, inevitably, many young people turn to a shadow economy – and that often leads to a criminal record.
When the Face of Homelessness is a Baby's Face
By Kendra Hurley
When we talk about homelessness, the conversation typically—and understandably—focuses on families’ most pressing needs: affordable housing; jobs that pay a living wage; and subsidized child care so that parents can work and families can find a way out of the shelters and into permanent homes.
The Privilege of Investing in our Kids and the Racial Wealth Gap
America’s racial disparities in wealth are enormous. The white-to-black disparity in median net worth – the value of what a family owns over and above what it owes is 19 to 1. This vast wealth divide has deep, long-term implications.
Close Rikers Island?
A Former Correction Commissioner Offers a Five-Minute How-To Guide
Recently, key City and State elected leaders have made public pronouncements warming to the once seemingly unthinkable goal of closing New York City’s violence- and scandal-scarred jail complex on Rikers Island. Former New York City Correction Commissioner Martin Horn, now a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, offered this succinct, step-by-step plan for decreasing the inmate population on Rikers Island by more than 90%.
Misery, and Hope, In a Poor People’s Court: ProPublica Talks With Abigail Kramer
A bleak portrait of a reception area in the Bronx Family Court opens the Center for New York City Affairs’ vivid new report “Is Reform Finally Coming to New York City Family Court?” Last week, reporter Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning independent, non-profit investigative news organization, asked the report’s author, Abigail Kramer, about her work, including her views on the latest push to speed the notoriously glacial pace of child protective cases in Family Court.
NYC Gets an 'Incomplete' Grade In Early Childhood Education
By Stephanie Gendell
Over the past two years, New York City has made good on an historic commitment to early childhood education by instituting free full-day pre-kindergarten for more than 65,000 4-year-olds. In the broader realm of early childhood education, however, NYC’s work is still far from complete. Tens of thousands of children are still out in the cold when it comes to high-quality early childhood education programs.
A Conversation About America's Retirement Crisis
A professor of economic policy analysis at The New School, Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci is a nationally recognized expert on retirement policy and is the author of a number of books on the issue, including When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them. She recently talked with Urban Matters about the proposal by her and others to close retirement savings shortfalls by creating guaranteed retirement accounts.
The Latino Vote and the Race for President: Five Factors to Watch
By John Rudolph
Latinos are the epicenter of the swirling, unpredictable 2016 Presidential election campaign – now entering its crucial primary and caucus phase. From Donald Trump’s polarizing comments about Mexican immigrants to Hillary Clinton’s somewhat clumsy attempts to identify with Latino grandmothers, Latinos are either being blamed for ruining the country, or their votes are being courted as never before.
The Pitfalls in de Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan and How to Avoid Them
By Ronald Shiffman
In creating affordable housing, New York City government is dependent on its own revenues, its ability to leverage private financial resources, and the limited powers that State government grants it. Zoning is one of those powers. That’s why the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio is pursuing a policy of “mandatory inclusionary zoning.”
Are Schools Segregated Because
Housing Is? It Ain’t Necessarily So
By Clara Hemphill and Nicole Mader
In multi-ethnic New York City, why are so many elementary schools segregated by race and class? For years, school officials and researchers have assumed that school segregation merely reflects segregated housing patterns—because most children attend their zoned neighborhood schools. However, new research by The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs demonstrates that school segregation is not always the result of housing patterns.
Scars that Remain a Lifetime:
Why Rikers Island Must Be Closed
By Glenn E. Martin
Less than 300 feet from the runways at LaGuardia Airport lies a longstanding and notorious stain on our city’s integrity: Rikers Island. On any given day, approximately 9,600 New Yorkers languish in its 10 jail complexes where they are exposed to a “deep-seated culture of violence,” in the words of a report issued last year by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Brutality pervades the island, inflicting irreparable physical and emotional trauma on the men, women, and adolescents housed there.
South Africans Trek a Long, Winding Road In Battling for Toilets – and Justice
By Charlotte Scott
Khayelitsha is a South African township of more than 400,000 people living on the periphery of Cape Town, geographically and economically isolated from the city’s central business districts. Its residents still contend with the bitter legacy of apartheid – including inadequate municipal services in the township.
On the Menu This Thanksgiving:
Mixing Traditions & Inventing New Ones
By John Rudolph
Turkey brined or basted? Stuffing with mushrooms or cornbread? And that perennial Thanksgiving dessert puzzler, pumpkin or minced meat pie? Actually, the choices for Thanksgiving dinner in our nation of immigrants are gloriously far broader than that. That means that this Thursday, feasts that fuse what’s considered familiar Americana with the flavors of distant homelands will come steaming out of millions of kitchens from coast to coast.
Words Are More Powerful Than Munitions:
A Timely, Timeless Dispatch from Paris
By Albert Camus
In November 1946, the novelist Albert Camus published a series of eight essays in the Parisian newspaper Combat, to which he had begun contributing, anonymously, during the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France. The essays represented Camus’s attempt to define a political morality responsive to what he called, in the first of those essays, “The Century of Fear.” Recent terrorist violence in cities around the globe, culminating in last week’s suicide bombings in Beirut and murderous attacks in Paris, have prompted Urban Matters to present some excerpts.
Safe Havens, Not Mean Streets:
Respite Centers for Troubled Youth
By Amy Albert
One of the greatest crises facing youth charged with or convicted of juvenile offender crimes is homelessness. When the young person returns home after a period of incarceration, the trauma that he experienced may create tension leading to intra-family disputes. According to the crisis intervention center Covenant House, 50 percent of adolescents aging out of foster care and the juvenile and criminal justice systems will be homeless within six months. When youth are kicked out of the home they have very few options because many are unprepared to live independently.
Giving Low-Income Parents
A Better Alternative to Family Court
By Jane C. Murphy
By all accounts, the New York City Family Court is in a state of crisis – one felt most crushingly by the people who appear before it. Often described as “the poor people’s court,” it hears, among other issues, child paternity, support, custody, and visitation cases typically, but not exclusively, involving non-marital parents. (Divorces, often involving parties having both more resources and property disputes, are heard in the less crowded and better-funded State Supreme Court.)
The Hurricane Next Time:
Sandy and Its Aftermath
By Bruce Cory and Alexander Bryden
Sandy was the worst natural disaster in New York City’s recorded history. It killed 44 people; flooded more than 15 per cent of the city’s land mass, an area with more than 90,000 buildings; left nearly two million people without power; and massively disrupted such essential services as education, transportation, and health care.
How Not to Turn Schools into Gentrification Battlefields
By Clara Hemphill
Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. But there’s another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.
'Backwards on Purpose':
The Wrong-Way World of Jobs and Prisons
By Jeff Smith
“You’ll be back, sh*tbird.” It’s what correctional officers (COs) told prisoners nearing their release date, especially those who had “slick mouths” or who otherwise created problems. “Jackasses like you are how I know I’ll always have a job,” one officer frequently said – his way of reminding us that not only did he expect us to return, but his livelihood depended on it.
The Stark Black and White of America's Wealth Divide
By Darrick Hamilton and William Darity, Jr.
Wealth – the value of what you and your family own minus what you owe – matters. A lot. Wealth generates opportunity, fosters well-being, offers children the advantages of debt-free higher education and parent-provided home down-payments, provides capital for business formation and investment, and deflects the slings and arrows of outrageous economic fortune. Wealth is, in short, the paramount indicator of future economic success.
Another Reason to Make Rents More Affordable: It Could Be Good for Your Health
By Rachel Meltzer and Alex Schwartz
Researchers and reformers have long raised alarms about the serious health hazards associated with substandard or badly maintained housing. Now our newly published research suggests that another factor – the high cost of housing – may be just as bad for many New Yorkers’ health as these physical perils. In some cases, unsustainable rent burdens may in fact be even more detrimental.
‘I Was in Prison And You Came to Me’:
Pope Francis’s Challenge to America
By Rev. Rubén Austria
During Pope Francis’s visit to the United States this week many are eager to hear what Pope Francis will say about criminal justice reform. The U.S. leads the world in imprisoning people; we detain a quarter of the world’s prisoners though we account for only five percent of the world’s population. Along with other advocates for reform, I am hoping that Pope Francis calls us to repent of our national addiction to incarceration.