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BID Challenge Awards

Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director, Roosevelt House
Roosevelt House Auditorium
November 27, 2012

I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to this occasion, which recognizes the accomplishments of 7 innovative Business Improvement Districts, which are winners of the first BID Challenge grants. It is my privilege to chair the selection committee, which had the difficult job of choosing the winners from an extraordinary field of 37 applicants.

We gather in the houses of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. She built these twin townhouses in 1907 and gave number 49 to Eleanor and Franklin as a wedding gift. They lived here until moving to the White House. It was here they raised their 5 children, entertained guests like Frances Perkins and Mary McLeod Bethune, and where Franklin recovered from polio to return to political life in 1928 when he ran for Governor.

I hope you will look around the houses, see the spot by the parlor fireplace on the second floor where Franklin made his first address to the nation as President-elect, visit his study where the New Deal was planned, and his Cabinet recruited. Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the Cabinet, recalled her conversation in that room where she and FDR agreed to create the Social Security Program.

Franklin and Eleanor would be pleased that we are gathered in their home to honor local initiative and neighborhood leaders. They understood the importance of community development. Hear Franklin’s words in a 1933 Fireside Chat talking about employment creation and economic development:

Our program “will succeed if our people understand it -- in the big industries, in the little shops, in the great cities and … in small villages. There is nothing complicated about it and there is nothing particularly new in the principle. It goes back to the basic idea of society and of the nation itself that people acting in a group can accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about.”  

We are living in an era when people the world over are gravitating to cities. The percent of the US population that is urban has grown to 80.7% and around the world, the percent of humanity now living in cities is roughly 50%, up from 30%  60 years ago.

But people do not move to cities so much as they do to neighborhoods. That is the genius of the robust network of 67 Business Improvement Districts that make New York a great place to live and work. We know the names: Bedford- Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, 125th Street, Bayside Village, Forest Avenue Staten Island and Union Square where I was co-chair of the Local Development Corporation for 17 years making common cause with Rob Walsh.

I saw first-hand how neighborhood groups, businesses, institutions came together to fashion creative spaces, platforms for renewal but also for innovation and opportunity. Local initiative is the way of the future. Our world is undergoing a “Big Shift” from the familiar world of “push” where decisions come top-down to the world of “pull” in which people come together in self-forming networks to get the information they need to create new initiatives, tap new markets, provide services people really need and will use.

The BID Challenge Awards are a celebration of the Power of Pull, a world in which the aggregate energy of neighborhood groups is the engine which makes the larger city more competitive globally but also more just and humane with opportunity for all.

We should pause for a moment to honor the role of the BIDs in helping small businesses and entire neighborhoods recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Emblematic of the heroic effort of the BIDs are Dumbo, the Downtown Alliance, Chinatown, Lower East Side, Brighton Beach.

We are fortunate that the great work the Business Improvement Districts are accomplishing has a wise, caring and determined advocate one step from the Mayor. I have the pleasure of introducing Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Robert Steel. After a successful business career including 30 years at Goldman Sachs and service as Under-Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance, Bob Steel has applied his immense talent to supporting the local economy of New York’s diverse neighborhoods.

Since his appointment, the Deputy Mayor has had the opportunity to visit many of your neighborhoods, walking around Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Hub 3rd Avenue in the Bronx, and St. George, Staten Island, just to name a few – each time recognizing the great work of our Neighborhood Leaders and the organizations you represent.  Not only has he attracted the first Applied Science Campus to our great City, bolstering the growing technology sector, but he has also created the first Bank Advisory Council that is dedicated to helping new and small business secure loans, expand their customer base and thrive.

And it is because of his commitment to New York City BIDs that we are here today. In June Deputy Mayor Steel challenged you to take a fresh look at your neighborhoods, their problems and their possibilities. Through the BID Challenge, he invited you to dream, to innovate, to imagine new solutions unbounded by traditional constraints. He had confidence you would use that freedom to move your neighborhoods and our city forward. And you did not let him down. At this difficult time for our city, the BID Challenge proposals are a celebration of hope for a brighter future.  

Bob Steel embodies what it means to be a Leader as he carries on the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt who is smiling down with approval.