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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at the 100 Resilient Cities' Global Resilience Summit

July 24, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Welcome to sunny New York City.


I think we’re exemplifying the situation here with the torrential rain today and the heat wave last week. So, you got to see it all. We welcome you.

I want to first thank Dan Zarrilli. He is doing an outstanding job leading our resilience efforts here in the city, and we are very, very proud to have that energetic approach that he referred to.

I’m going to speak to you briefly but I do want to pick up right away on the point that Dan made. We fight complacency, here, every single day. And we understand – maybe this is a little bit the nature of New Yorkers, a lot of you have spent time here – you understand New Yorkers tend to be very straight forward, very energetic in the way we approach life.

What you see is what you get. We understand there’s no time for complacency and we can’t wait on anyone else to save us. And it’s fitting that all of you are gathered here because I know you share that understand and you’re depending on us, we’re depending on you. This is the power of this gathering. Cities taking matters into our own hands because we don’t have the illusion that things will change otherwise. We understand the kind of leadership that we have to provide.

So, I’m thrilled everyone is gathering here. I want to thank Michael Berkowitz. I thought his remarks were very powerful. I want to emphasize something he said – formal and informal power. And this is something I have to tell you after three-and-a-half years as mayor of the biggest city in the United States of America – I’m learning all the time, never ignore that informal part of the equation because each and every one of you can change the discussion not only in your city but in your region, in your country.

And that finds, in my view, a willing audience. More and more people around the world are waking up to the fact that something has to be done. There was a period of time where the issues of climate change were ignored, understated. Obviously, there are still denialists but I actually think everyday people get it more and more because of their lived experience.

But they need champions. They need leaders to step up and say, “We’re going to go someplace we’ve never been before in terms of resiliency, and we have the power to do it even if it isn’t all obvious today. We do have the power and the ingenuity to do it.”

Your leadership becomes crucial because what I’ve found about mayors not only in this country but all over the world is we tend to be bolder. I think it’s directly connected to the fact we’re closer to ground. We actually see what people are living through. We share their experience. We feel their hardships. We understand their vulnerabilities and we speak to them.

We are the tribunes. We are the voices of everyday people, and everyday people can’t wait for these problems to be solved decades down the line. They need them to be solved right now.

And so that informal power, that – what Theodore Roosevelt once called the bully pulpit of any mayor anywhere in the world, takes on extraordinary value, and I urge everyone to always go a little farther in what you say, push a little harder.

I want to thank Raj Shah for his great leadership at the Rockefeller Foundation, and thank him for the support provided to this crucial gathering and the work that we’re going to keep doing together.

And I want to thank from my own team, in addition to Dan Zarrilli, I want to thank my Commissioner for International Affairs, Penny Abeywardena; my Director of Sustainability Mark Chambers; and my Director of Resilience, Jainey Bavishi who are all doing a wonderful job helping New York City to move ahead.

Now, I got to tell you for New York City, I think there was an obvious break-point in our understanding and that was the day that Superstorm Sandy hit us. It was a hurricane mixed with a, what we call a nor’easter – two different kinds of storms coming together to create something unprecedented that had a massive negative impact on New York City. Dozens of people died, thousands and thousands displaced from their homes, billions of dollars in economic damage.

We’re still in the process of recovery today. Probably the worst natural disaster in the almost 400-year history of New York City as we know it. That opened up eyes. That helped people to understand it was personal. It wasn’t theory anymore.

It could come home. Climate change could come home and affect you and your family at any given moment, and therefore real change has to happen.

And the OneNYC plan makes us very proud because it is directly an answer to what we’ve experienced here in the city, one of the great coastal cities in the world. We’re not putting our head in the sand and acting like we can ignore the crisis. We’re saying in the OneNYC plan, frontally, a lot has to change and it has to change quickly.

And more and more the people in this city get it. Again,  I think there’s an interactivity between what people experience, opening their eyes – and again sometimes very sad realities that open their eyes – but also our ability as leaders to keep making the point.

Repetition is very good in this case – to keep making the point that, yes, you see your lives changing and that means we cannot participate in that classic definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We obviously have to do things very differently. We have to change the way we live. We have to change the way we govern. We have to change what we invest in.

The OneNYC plan – I’m proud of it in particular because it recognizes and focuses on the fact that we have to fight climate change while fighting all forms of inequality simultaneously. They go together.

The fight against inequality takes many forms. Obviously social justice and economic justice have to be both addressed but for a long time I think there was a bit of an assumption – a wrong-headed assumption that if you’re going to address the challenge of resilience and sustainability that somehow that did not come with economic opportunity for those who had been left out in our society.

We see it the other way around. We think a full bore effort to address climate change comes with the creation of an immense amount of economic activity and opportunity but we have to target that opportunity to those who have not had a fair shake.

And so when we think about retrofitting buildings, when we think about recycling, when we think about renewable energy, when we think about restoring wetlands, all of that comes with job creation that we want to target to people in our city who have been economically marginalized.

We think addressing climate change and addressing economic inequality can go hand-in-hand. We also think the definition of sustainability has to be see in a bifocal light. I always use this example. If you had a physically sustainable city with massive inequality within it, it really isn’t sustainable in any true fashion because the social fabric would be torn apart at all times. Equally, if you had a wonderfully strong social fabric, lots of opportunity, lots of inclusion but you weren’t addressing the environmental reality you wouldn’t last long either.

We have to see these as two related pieces. And our OneNYC plan lays out very specific goals. And I want to urge everyone – there’s a lot of great leaders in this room, a lot of people who have much to be proud of in terms of the efforts for sustainability and so many other things you’ve done for your cities – but I want to urge you to be bold in setting numerical goals and making that a way to rally everyone to the cause.

We experiment with this a lot and we took some risks in the process but what I found is the minute you set the goal, everyone within the government and outside started to expect the result, and it raised the bar, raised the level of activity. It raised expectations so the healthy way of bluntly – fought against the bureaucratic impulse that sometimes holds back our governments, and gave everyone a reason to organize their thoughts and actions.

So, we, for example, believe that we have to simultaneously achieve crucial goals like the 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. In fact, we want to surpass that. But we also believe we have to achieve goals for getting people economic opportunity and for getting people out of poverty.

So, I’ll give you an example. In our OneNYC plan – I urge you all to take a look at it – we specifically say over a ten-year period our goal is to raise 800,000 people out of poverty, almost a tenth of our population. 800,000 people – a very ambitious number.

We’re now about three years into that effort and I’m pleased to say by the end of this year we think almost 280,000 people will move from poverty to an economically sustainable lifestyle. Just after three years because of big changes that have happened, because of affordable housing programs, because of better benefits for working people because of the increase in the minimum wage that we fought for here in the city and worked to achieve on the state level. These things are adding up to real tangible change in people’s economic wellbeing.

At the same time that goal – that 80 by 50 goal – that I know so many people here share is moving apace. We’ve reduced emission by 14 percent already since 2005, and as I’m sure everyone is experiencing, the more you do, the more capacity, the more momentum – we expect that to increase quickly as we go forward. The two go together. The two go together, and we’re finding that we can play a very active role in preparing people to get involved in the powerful economic opportunities around sustainability. We’re spending city resources to train more and more workers to retrofit buildings. We’re using city law and regulation to mandate the retrofit of privately owned buildings. We’re showing – leading by example, requiring all of our city buildings to be retrofitted in the next few years, and we’re going to an all-electric fleet for our city cars. All of these things interact. All of them set the bar higher, push everyone involved [inaudible] activity and create economic opportunity, which then again must be targeted to those who need it most.

So I’m proud to say these pieces have an impact in everyday life, and we’re finding that there’s many, many opportunities to make change. We’re proud of the green infrastructure projects we’re creating around the city; the food resiliency efforts we’ve done around our food hub in Hunts Point in the Bronx. We’ve found so many focal points for activity that all align to this combination of economic and environmental sustainability. And we also found that we need to be creative – every single one of us in this room. We’re all trying to be creative, and we’re all trying to borrow from each other. That’s a wonderful thing about these gatherings. You know I say mayors don’t steal each other’s ideas, we borrow each other’s ideas. We’re very genteel that way.


But it’s amazing. Some of the things that have been the greatest successes here in the last three-plus years were ideas we lovingly borrowed from other places, and then we get the call every day from someplace that wants to see what we’re doing and work with it. Everyone has a great mutual feedback loop. Cities around the world constantly upping their games by learning from each other, so one other things I’d offer is something we just started. Now I know a lot of you are probably really ahead of us, but we’re one of the great coastal cities of the world, but guess what? Over the years we turned away from the water. It’s kind of breath taking if you go and look over any vista of the Hudson River or the East River or the Harbor, you see relatively few vessels. But meanwhile our roads are more congested than ever before literally. We’ve got an aging infrastructure, so that congestion is hurting us all the time. And our mass transit, which for years a lot of people feared and weren’t using enough, now with greater safety more and more people are turning to mass transit – particularly out subways – and they’re overcrowded.

So what we hoped would be a more mass transit focused society, well that’s come to pass to the point that there’s not enough space on the train. Well, it dawned on us that we have to use other alternatives, so we’re turning to the water. And we just started this year NYC Ferry, and I urge you all if you have a few free minutes go and take one of these ferries, experience what it’s like. They’re beautiful new boats for only $2.75 – the same cost as to get on the subway – you can go to different parts of the city. Someone at a press conference the other day noted that this only started a few months ago and it’s been wildly popular already. Well beyond the ridership levels we experienced – expected, excuse me – and someone asked at a press conference, one of the journalist said ‘to what do you attribute the success?’ And one of the folks running the ferry program said ‘it’s simple, it’s $2.75 to get on a boat. And by the way, they had beer on tap.’


So I want to note the positive use of beer in making social change and environmental change.


This may be, you know, the one thing you’ll remember from my remarks today is that if you offer affordable beer you can get people to change all their environmental habits for the better.


But, we are now – so that’s a City of New York run service. It’s not part of our regional transportation authority. That’s run by the City of New York, and we found it to be a great investment that’s going to allow us to create a whole new modality of transportation and use the water and get people off the streets, get people out of overcrowded subways. When you take that, which is brand new, plus the light rail we hope to build in our city soon; plus select bus service, which is express bus service with protected lanes so they can move more quickly; plus Citi Bike, which I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with – these are all ideas that have only been started in the last years, in the last decade or so in this city. Some of them brand new like the ferry service and the light rail, but they all synergize. We just need more and more good, sustainable transportation options, and more and more reasons for people to get out of their cars. And remember my friends, we all are bedeviled by the challenge of the automobile. What a double-edged sword it has been for our society, but our job is to show people there are better alternatives and constantly make them appealing and available to people. And you know the famous line from the movie – if you build it, they will come – we’re finding that already with our ferry service – tremendous response to this new option.

So let me conclude with this. We all know that we’re in a time in history where there’s just no resting for us. We all chose these jobs willingly, and we didn’t choose them to sit around and take it easy. We came into office at a time when there’s an urgency, and I think it’s reflected in the younger generations coming up now – the kids who have just gotten out of college and folks that are 20s and 30s, and I’m also asked about their political character here in this country. And I say I’m very, very hopefully about that generation because I think they’re been affected by the urgency of the moment. This is a generation that grew up understanding the danger of climate change; understanding the danger of economic inequality; understanding that they had no guarantees for their economic future compared to previous generations, and they have to fight hard and work hard. I think that’s an encouraging sign – that urgency. We have to feel it too on behalf of them and all who will come after them. So we have to keep upping our goals. In this city I’ve asked of all of my agencies – literally every city agency – come back to me in September. In light of President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accords we now have to do more. It’s as simple as that. I think a lot of you have seen we’re very, very proud in this country – over 300 American cities, in reaction to President Trump’s decisions, over 300 American cities say well if our national government isn’t going align to the Paris accords we will. Three hundred American cities said we’ll do it ourselves.


And that number is growing all the time, so my message to my agencies is you know the 80 by 50 goal is absolutely necessary, and it will come with its own challenges. We all understand the necessity of keeping warming to no more than two degrees Celsius, but my mandate to my agencies will be let’s look at the most stringent standards. Let’s look at the 1.5 degrees Celsius standard and see what – if we wanted to model our role in leading the charge to halt the growth and keep it to that lower level – what would we have to do even more? What would we have to even sooner? And let’s start laying that pathway because if our country is unfortunately has taken a wrong turn temporarily, our cities and our states just have to go even faster, even harder at the goal to make for it. That is the nature of all of us at the city level.

And again I just want to say a profound thank you to all of you for being here. We are thrilled to have you in this city. Thank you for what you do every day for the people you represent, and a thank you for the boldness that you’re all engendering by being a part of 100 Resilient Cities. This is an organization that if you join it means your consciousness is already set to bold, aggressive action. Let’s push each other. Let’s inspire each other. Let’s go someplace that no one could’ve imagined in the service of saving this planet.

Thank you. God bless you all.

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