New York City Today
New York today is a growing, thriving city that continues to attract people from around the country — and the world — who seek opportunity and the chance to build a new life.
The city’s population is at a record high. Our streets are safer than ever. Our economy is flourishing. Yet at the same time, prosperity remains out of reach for far too many New Yorkers, and we face existential threats.
Racist, sexist, and classist policies of the past, and regressive current national policies, have left us with stubborn inequalities in wealth, income, health, and education. Disinvestment in our infrastructure is making life harder for New Yorkers as they commute to work and rely on critical public services. Looking to the future, we are facing not only the risks posed by climate change, but also rising nationalism and intolerance on a national and global level, which threaten the social fabric of our city.
Together, these strengths and challenges set the context for the action we must take through OneNYC 2050.
We are fundamentally strong, and growing.
New York City’s population is at a record high and is projected to surpass 9 million by 2050, as New York continues to be a magnet for people searching for opportunity. This is true across the metropolitan region as well: The current regional population of 23 million is expected to swell to over 26 million by 2050.
As New York grows, so does our diversity. Today, New York is the only major American city in which white, black, Hispanic, and Asian populations each comprise at least 10 percent of the population, and no group makes up a majority. More than 3 million New Yorkers, or 37 percent, were born outside of the United States, and our residents speak more than 200 languages.
Neighborhoods in all five boroughs are adding residents, with new population centers emerging alongside a new economy in formerly commercial and industrial neighborhoods such as Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Williamsburg waterfront, as well as neighborhoods that only a few decades ago experienced severe population decline, including the South Bronx and East New York.
As population continues to reach all-time highs, new housing construction has reached its highest levels since the 1960s. More than 350,000 residential units have been built since 2000, most of which are along subway lines, reversing historic patterns of sprawl. New York City is adding more units in larger apartment buildings than ever before. This high-density growth is concentrated in certain neighborhoods, such as Long Island City, Hudson Yards, and Flushing.
To support this growth, the City has invested billions of dollars in affordable housing, schools, parks, and infrastructure to serve new and existing residents. We have also begun to reform our approach to capital planning to make sure we’re investing in step with growth rather than playing catch-up, aiming to reduce the very real growing pains our city has experienced over the past two decades.
New York City’s population is projected to surpass 9 million by 2050, with the fastest rate of growth in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
* Shortly before the publication of this plan, the Census Bureau revised its estimation methodology, which is under review. The decennial 2020 Census will determine the official New York City population count.
Source: Decennial Census, ACS 5-Year 2017, NYMTC 2050 borough population projections
Between 2010 and 2017, population has increased in neighborhoods across all five boroughs.
As New York City has grown, we’ve become more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.
Today, New York City boasts 4.5 million jobs — the most in our history — and employment opportunities are increasingly diversified, from traditional sectors such as finance, insurance, and media, to technology, fashion, and digital industries, for which New York City is now a global hub. Moreover, we have seen the beginning of job creation in transit-accessible neighborhoods closer to where New Yorkers live in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, as well as in Manhattan, a pattern that, if it can continue to grow, will give more New Yorkers access to higher-quality jobs.
Median wages are rising, due in part to the success of the movement for a $15 minimum hourly wage, which has benefited more than 1.5 million New Yorkers since it was enacted statewide in January 2019. New York State now leads the nation with the lowest wage gap between men and women. High school graduation rates and college admissions are at all-time highs, helping more New Yorkers prepare for the jobs of the future. Since 2014, the City has more than tripled the number of children in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K, to nearly 70,000 4-year-olds today, setting up the next generation for success.
Economic growth in the city is supported by a dynamic region, with jobs, commerce, and residential neighborhoods that together support the nation’s largest metropolitan economy, with a $1.9 trillion gross domestic product. The city’s large role in supporting regional growth demonstrates the need for continued partnerships throughout the region. As the counties surrounding New York City continue to add workers and residents, there will be broad implications for our transit system, housing strategies, and overall economic strength.
Today, nearly half of the City’s budget is funded by property and personal income taxes, up from 30 percent in 1980. By comparison, support from the federal government has declined significantly over the same period, from more than 15 percent in 1980 to 9 percent today, as Congress has retrenched from infrastructure and housing investments, primarily impacting urban centers.
Population growth and increased tax revenue provide the City with additional resources to enact a diverse range of policies and benefits across the five boroughs. For every dollar of revenue we receive, the City spends 27 cents on education, 17 cents on safety-net programs such as health care and homeless services, and 11 cents on police and fire services. Tax revenues also support housing, transit, and dozens of other important public functions that benefit all New Yorkers, including vulnerable populations. New York City is uniquely able to fund and sustain programs that make the city a fairer place for all because we can rely on our own independent tax streams, many of which are tied closely to our economic growth.
New York’s growing population and strong economy are foundational to meeting our aspirations for the future, and will provide opportunities to improve the well-being of all New Yorkers in the decades to come.
The City increasingly relies on taxes related to economic and population growth to fund core services and investments, as support from the federal government has declined significantly since 1985.
Share of City revenues by source
Source: Independent Budget Office
New York City spends more than 40 percent of our capital budget on education, housing, and economic development, more than three times as much as in 1985.
New York City Capital Expenditures, by funding category (in real dollars)
Source: Independent Budget Office
The importance of the region
New York City is part of a strong, growing, and closely connected region. Since our founding, New York City has served as the economic core of the region, providing jobs, opportunity, and cultural destinations for tens of millions of metro area residents, who are well connected by rail and other forms of transit. In turn, New York City relies on the region to meet the city’s housing needs by providing a broader range of housing types and price points than what is possible within the city. Increasingly, the economic relationship also works in reverse, as New Yorkers reverse-commute by rail and car to jobs in Westchester, Northern New Jersey, Long Island, and beyond. The region is anticipated to add millions of people and jobs in the next 30 years. Where and how we grow as a region will affect our ability to address housing affordability, broaden access to good jobs, and keep the region moving on increasingly constrained roadways and infrastructure.
New York City and surrounding counties, cities, and towns face similar challenges. Coastal communities are vulnerable to climate change and are struggling to adapt to sea-level rise. Municipal leaders are focused on how to attract jobs, support small businesses, and prepare students for the changing economy. Health inequities — often defined by race and income — as well as the opioid crisis, are not limited to the city, nor are issues of community safety and poverty. The entire region depends on continuing investment in transportation and infrastructure.
Regional collaboration and partnership are essential to maintaining a strong region. Since 2015, the City has worked to strengthen relationships with our neighbors to align around common causes and share best practices. As we deepen these efforts, we will also advocate for policies that support responsible growth. For the region’s long-term health, New York City alone cannot meet the housing needs of the region. Jobs and housing must grow in tandem throughout the region or we risk exacerbating the housing shortage and making the region unaffordable for the workforce we need to stay strong.
As New York City works to builds a strong and fair future, both the city and the region benefit.
New York City continues to lead the region in housing production. The ability of the region to grow and add jobs relies on the capacity of cities and counties outside of New York City to add a supply of diverse and affordable housing options for the region’s workers.
Benchmarking New York City
Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, a share that is expected to surpass two-thirds by 2050. Amid this growth, New York City’s competition is increasingly global. Cities around the world are growing rapidly, attracting talent and capital from a global marketplace. They are also innovating, rapidly adapting to new technology, new climate realities, and new expectations for the role city governments should play in responding to global challenges. As a global leader in climate and technology, our peers look to us as a role model. New York City too must continue evolving if we are to meet the needs of New Yorkers into the future. How do we stack up today?
Benchmark population and economic data for major urban regions around the world (based on U.N. urban agglomeration areas)
Total regional population in millions
Sources: New York regional population is based on New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; World Cities Report 2016. United Nations Habitat Division / C40 Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Cities Interactive Dashboard 2019. C40 Cities
*CO2e represents one unit mass of carbon dioxide (CO2) based on the global warming potential of the gas
We face mounting local and global challenges.
While the city’s strengths underscore our dynamism and diversity, New York City has not been shielded from significant challenges, both local and global. In many cases, these challenges have exacerbated long-simmering tensions and unresolved InequitIES in wealth and income. At the same time, we are confronting the impacts of a changing climate, which threatens our city and way of life.
As we plan for the next 30 years, we must confront 6 core challenges:
1. Rising Unaffordability
2. Economic Insecurity
3. Wealth and Health Disparities
4. A Climate Emergency
5. Failing Infrastructure and Shifting Needs
6. Threats to Democracy
New York City is a magnet for people from around the country and the world. At the same time, we are naturally growing, as more New Yorkers are born every year than die. While this growth reinforces our diversity and fuels the economy, it also creates greater competition for the city’s spaces and services, drives a need for more housing, and transforms neighborhoods. To ensure New York City remains a safe, welcoming, and exciting place that attracts a broad mix of people, we must make investments to proactively accommodate this growth. Otherwise the competition will only intensify, and the city will become increasingly unaffordable, particularly for our most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, low-income households, and immigrants.
Supplying more housing is key to affordability. Despite record construction of affordable housing since 2014, we face an acute housing shortage and rising rents in many neighborhoods. Overall housing development has not kept pace with the rising population and the number of people in need. Today, more than half of New Yorkers are rent burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing; more than a quarter are severely rent burdened, spending more than half their income on housing.
The number of rent-burdened New Yorkers continues to grow.
The impacts of the housing crisis are severe. Rent-burdened, low-income residents are forced to compromise on housing quality or overextend themselves to make ends meet. Some residents have been forced to leave New York, and many others who might otherwise consider moving here stay away. Businesses may struggle to attract potential employees, who have difficulty finding suitable housing they can afford. Rising rents also push out small businesses, many of which are family owned, as well as community organizations that can no longer find space. In an increasingly dynamic and rapidly changing environment, people and businesses often struggle to maintain their place.
To meet the demands of a growing population and economy, more housing units and commercial spaces are needed to ease pressure on the existing housing stock and stabilize and reduce rents over time. While it may appear as though New York is constantly building, housing construction over the last decade is lower than during past growth spurts, and is still making up ground from previous dips. In addition, while significant development has been concentrated in Manhattan and in the western portions of Brooklyn and Queens, more housing is needed in neighborhoods across the city, particularly in transit-rich neighborhoods that can support a larger population and more mixed-income rental housing, but where current land use rules restrict new construction, contributing to the rise in rents.
With a connected housing market, New York City cannot address unaffordability entirely on its own. Regional forecasts suggest that, collectively, our region might grow by more than 2 million people by 2040, which translates into about 40,000 new households a year. As the region’s largest city, we must find ways to support our regional neighbors also working to address housing demand and accommodate the region’s growth equitably.
A growing population and economy are critical to addressing affordability, so we must leverage our strengths to close the affordability gap. If New York City becomes too expensive and out of reach for many residents, the benefits of living here will belong to only a small segment of the population. We would become a city that is less welcoming and less fair.
More than half of New Yorkers are rent burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and more than a quarter are severely rent burdened, spending more than half.
Rent-Burdened Households by Income Group, 2017
Making Room for More New Yorkers
The roughly 300 square miles that comprise New York City house roughly 8.6 million people, support 4.5 million jobs, and allow us to learn, play, and build community. The city’s density is key to this, and to our city’s identity.
New York City has the highest population density of any major city in the United States, with more than 27,000 people per square mile. Density comes in many shapes and sizes, and creates thriving, mixed-use neighborhoods, where New Yorkers from different backgrounds live together and streets are filled with retail and community uses. It enables one of the largest transit systems in the world, which helps New Yorkers maintain the lowest per-person carbon footprint of any big city in the country. Density supports unparalleled cultural offerings, renowned schools and universities, and leading health care institutions. The city we enjoy exists because density contributes to a vibrant economy, a walkable city, and world-famous nightlife less dense cities simply cannot sustain.
New York City is also unique because it is the only large, old U.S. city that has grown far beyond its historical peak population – since 1970, we have added more than half a million new residents. This growth has been possible because of the strong infrastructure we inherited, and our ability to use it more efficiently and extend its capacity. Our capacity to grow is not infinite – we expect growth to slow as we approach and exceed a population of 9 million by 2050 – but as long as the city’s economy and quality of life are strong, we can expect existing residents seeking to stay, and new immigrants wishing to move here.
As more people call New York City home, we will still have only 300 square miles of land. To accommodate our children and the next generation of newcomers, the City must find ways to use land more efficiently, and to make the key investments we need to grow both sustainably and equitably. Without finding places to locate more housing, we would be unable to provide options for all the people searching for a place to live every year, forcing increasing competition for existing housing and leading to rent hikes. Many New Yorkers unable to afford these increased housing costs would be displaced and the city will become more unwelcoming and less fair.
Making room for additional residents can occur in many ways, suited to the needs of different neighborhoods and the capacity of our transportation and other infrastructure. Today it consists of duplexes in Elmhurst, mid-rises in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and towers in Murray Hill. Looking ahead to future growth, high-density, transit-rich neighborhoods can add more residents through innovative building practices such as micro-units. Lower-density neighborhoods can support growth through incremental additions to the housing supply, such as East New York’s pilot basement apartment program, or through zoning changes to allow for multifamily housing near transit. As we plan for more mixed-use projects in the boroughs, we will bring not only new housing but also jobs and services closer to new population centers.
As we strive to become a strong and fair city, we must continue to find ways to accommodate this growing family and leverage the benefits of our density and dynamism to protect our city’s legacy.
Nearly two-thirds of the land used for housing in New York City is for one- and two-family homes. Some of these neighborhoods have strong transit access.
City Residential Land Use within a 15-Minute Walk of a Subway Station
The city’s economy is evolving in parallel with global trends, creating unrivalled opportunities for new businesses and jobs. Yet this boom also raises questions about unequal access to prosperity and social mobility, and how to ensure everyone benefits from economic growth.
Overall, poverty and unemployment are down and earnings are up, and the hallmarks of a robust economy—economic output and productivity — are rising. Still, many New Yorkers are excluded from this boom and face economic insecurity. Wages for low- and middle-income earners have not risen at the same pace as the economy as a whole. The top 0.1 percent of New Yorkers by income, in aggregate, earn four times more than the bottom 50 percent, while more than 40 percent of New Yorkers live in or near poverty. And slow wage growth and the rising cost of living threaten to displace New York’s middle class.
The changing nature of work, if not properly managed, has the potential to worsen insecurity. At least 400,000 New Yorkers are full-time freelancers, working across industries as home health aides, for-hire drivers, graphic designers, hospitality professionals, and the like. This number is expected to increase, especially in service sectors, with the growth of app-based hiring. This gig economy brings flexibility and autonomy to independent workers, but also creates challenges around job stability, financial security, and access to health and other benefits.
As a center of tech innovation, New York City has an opportunity to lead in developing 21st-century employment models that reward hard work while embracing productivity gains. This is especially important amid trends toward automation that by some estimates could impact up to 40 percent of jobs, requiring workers in many fields to develop new skills. This is already being felt in the manufacturing sector, retail occupations, and back-office operations of major financial firms. The greatest risk of displacement is to low-barrier, low-skill jobs that are predominantly held by New Yorkers with the least financial security.
Preparing the workforce for the 21st century by expanding economic opportunities, developing skills and digital literacy, raising wages, and increasing protections for workers across industries will contribute to economic security for all New Yorkers. Without these efforts, more and more New Yorkers will find it increasingly difficult to make it here.
Poverty and near poverty rates have only begun to return to pre-Recession levels, and remain higher among New Yorkers of color.
Source: NYC Opportunity
While transit access to jobs is highest in Manhattan, job centers have grown in downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City.
The legacy of segregation and racist policies continues to cast a shadow over New York City. Persistent inequalities in wealth and income, as well as health and education, are inextricably linked and underscore the reality that New Yorkers have not benefited equally from the city’s prosperity, both in the past and today, requiring even stronger action by the City to promote equity.
The gaps are starkest when viewed through the lens of race and gender. In fact, while the gender pay gap in New York is comparatively lower than nationally, women — and women of color in particular — continue to face significant inequity. In 2016, black women working full-time in New York City made 57 cents for every dollar paid to white men; over a 40-year career, the median full-time working Hispanic woman in New York City loses $1.5 million in earnings due to the gender wage gap. While unemployment has fallen dramatically for all groups since the last recession, it remains significantly higher for black and Hispanic workers; as of 2017, the average black worker in New York City was twice as likely to be without work than a comparably educated white New Yorker.
The disparities in wealth between white and nonwhite households are even greater. Nationally, the median wealth of white families is more than $100,000, while black median wealth hovers around $10,000. This divide has deep, long-term implications. When black children become adults, they are far less likely than their white counterparts to get financial help from their parents for higher education — a disparity that has financial consequences over the course of the adult child’s life, reinforcing inequities across generations.
Inequities in New York City are reinforced by segregated neighborhoods. Only one in four New Yorkers lives in a racially integrated neighborhood, and segregation, inequities in neighborhood conditions, environmental injustice, and economic disparities all contribute to unequal health outcomes. Rates of premature mortality and infant mortality are twice as high among black New Yorkers than the citywide average. Life expectancy in East Harlem, where residents are predominantly black and Hispanic and poverty is more prevalent, is 8.6 years shorter than on the Upper East Side just a few blocks south, a predominantly white community with lower poverty. New York City has the highest disparity in exposure to air pollution between people of color and white people, a contributing factor to heart and respiratory disease.
New York City’s schools also grapple with the legacy of segregation and unequal policies. Though black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of New York City’s public school system, in 2019, just over 10 percent of students admitted into the city’s eight specialized high schools were black or Hispanic. Moreover, the quality of education varies widely across the city, with students in economically disadvantaged households performing worse than their peers. Nearly three-quarters of all New York City public school students live in poverty.
Addressing persistent inequities in income, wealth, education, and health is necessary in order to bring living standards across the city in alignment and provide equal opportunity to all New Yorkers. Without both an economic system that promotes equitable growth and a concerted effort to improve services and access to care in historically neglected communities, New York City will fail to overcome the “tale of two cities” narrative that has plagued us for decades.
Wealth and health inequities contribute to higher rates of premature mortality among black New Yorkers.
We are a diverse yet segregated city.
Despite New York City’s plurality, the city remains divided. Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in housing, came into effect, many neighborhoods across New York City are still segregated along racial lines. These divisions reinforce inequalities in our schools, health care, access to opportunity, civic engagement, and other aspects of our day-to-day lives.
Our divided neighborhoods shape our lives. Explore more impacts elsewhere in OneNYC 2050:
In An Inclusive Economy, see how the City is investing in job growth to address unequal access to economic opportunity related to race and geography.
In Thriving Neighborhoods, see how rent burden impacts New Yorkers across neighborhoods and by race/ethnicity.
In Healthy Lives, see how race impacts mortality rates across neighborhoods.
Source: Census Bureau Decennial Census, ACS 5-Year 2017
Our climate is changing, and the impacts — bigger storms, higher seas, more intense heat waves — pose a threat to our economy, ecosystem, infrastructure, public health, and way of life. It is already having an impact on a national and global level and on our city’s streets and neighborhoods. Extreme heat is now the number one cause of mortality from weather conditions, and extreme storms can be ruinous. When Hurricane Sandy landed in 2012, it killed 44 people and caused $19 billion in damage in New York City alone. If we don’t act now, we will see major disruptions to the global food supply, mass migrations as regions become uninhabitable, declining biodiversity, and unpredictable impacts on our economy and way of life.
The cause is clear: Burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to human-caused climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is a national emergency without a national policy, and efforts to curb fossil fuels and GHG emissions have been stymied by federal actions as well as federal inaction. Equally troubling, a decades-long campaign of deception and denial by fossil fuel companies has tried to mislead policymakers and the public, delaying the transition away from fossil fuels. Climate change is an emergency, and we must mobilize now if we hope to avoid catastrophic impacts.
Let’s look at the science: On our current trajectory, global temperature increases of 4.7 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit are anticipated by 2100. This will directly impact all New Yorkers. By 2050, without adaptation, more New Yorkers will die each summer from intense heat. At the same time, greater dependence on air conditioning will place heightened demand on the city’s electrical grid, increasing the chances of larger and longer blackouts in summer months and leading to infrastructure outages and spoiled food and medicine stocks. It will also impact our ability to meet renewable energy targets, and heighten risk for the elderly and other populations especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
High tides will cause flooding twice a day in some coastal communities, and permanent inundation in others. Without added protections, severe storms could put most of Coney Island, the Rockaway peninsula, Hunts Point, Throggs Neck, East Harlem, and the East Shore of Staten Island under water. In New York City, climate change will have increasingly severe consequences for our health, our economy, and our quality of life, with a disproportionate burden falling on the city’s most vulnerable populations and communities.
New York City, because of its density and public transportation system, has long had a smaller per capita carbon footprint than any other big city in the United States — and we have made significant progress reducing GHG emissions over the last decade, using new technologies and innovations to get us there. The City has assumed a leading global role in fighting climate change, and the actions we take can become a national and global model. However, the lack of commitment by the federal government to the Paris Agreement has placed New York and the world in a precarious position. Time is running out.
While New York City has made strides to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, global emissions continue to rise, putting New Yorkers at risk.
Change in GHG Emissions, 2005-2017
Source: Mayor’s Office, International Energy Agency
New York City’s greatness, and its livability, are directly tied to our physical infrastructure, from the world’s most extensive subway and bus system to the intricate network that conveys drinking water from hundreds of miles away. Most of this infrastructure was built more than a century ago, and today large segments are in desperate need of repair due to decades of disinvestment. Without new funding and upgrades, the essential systems that connect New Yorkers to their communities, jobs, local businesses, and schools — and that are essential to meeting our climate impact goals — will continue to deteriorate. And as we look to the changing needs of the 21st century, we must also address the need for new digital infrastructure, public health resources to fight infectious disease threats, and resiliency to cyber-attacks and other threats.
Getting around New York City is increasingly frustrating. Subways are chronically underfunded, leading to declining reliability and frequent disruptions. Buses are often stuck on traffic-clogged streets. This forces New Yorkers to find alternative and often costlier transportation, such as for-hire vehicles that — together with the proliferation of vehicles making online retail deliveries — worsen congestion, reduce the efficiency of above-ground transit, such as buses, and contribute to air pollution and the city’s carbon footprint.
Major repair and expansion projects remain underfunded due to a lack of federal support. This includes Gateway, a critical replacement rail-tunnel system connecting Manhattan with New Jersey that is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country. The regional economy would grind to a halt in the event of a tunnel shutdown, causing $16 billion in economic damage over an estimated four-year repair cycle and impacting millions of lives, according to the Regional Plan Association.
New York City’s sewer mains are on average 85 years old, water mains are 70 years old, and our electric grid dates back to the 1920s. One out of every 10 bridges and tunnels is structurally deficient. These deteriorating systems cause costly and dangerous leaks and outages that impact residents and businesses. To restore public housing, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) estimates total capital needs of $32 billion, following decades of federal spending cuts. This disinvestment has severely hurt public housing residents, who face unreliable heat in winter as well as long wait times for repairs.
Our modern infrastructure is not much better: Nearly one-third of all New Yorkers do not have access to high-speed broadband internet at home, creating a digital divide that impacts economic opportunity and quality of life. To be competitive in the 21st century requires a population that is digitally literate and prepared for jobs in the burgeoning tech sector. At the same time, cyber-attacks pose an increasing risk. In 2016, hackers targeted companies in the financial services sector more than any other. As hackers become more sophisticated, and the city’s digital footprint increases with ever-more data, platforms, and systems, New York City — and our position as a global economic center — requires forward-thinking investment to leverage the power of technology to keep New Yorkers and our economy safe.
We also face strains on our public health infrastructure. New York City is uniquely at risk of an infectious disease emergency, given the city’s density, crowded mass transit systems, and role as an international travel hub.
New York City can no longer put off massive investments to modernize our critical physical systems, leverage smart city tools, meet the evolving needs of digital connectivity, and protect the city against disease and cyber-attacks. If we don’t identify ways to invest in 21st century infrastructure sustainably, we risk ceding our global competitiveness and worsening quality of life and inequity.
Since 2012, on-time performance for MTA subways has decreased by 25% and ridership has dropped off.
The rise of nationalism and intolerance both in the United States and globally breeds distrust in public institutions, creates divisions in our communities, and undermines democratic principles.
Organized displays of intolerance are not welcome in cities such as New York that embrace immigrants, celebrate diversity, and encourage the free exchange of ideas. Yet we are not immune to this phenomenon. The number of immigrants deported from the city without criminal convictions has risen by 265 percent since 2016 — the largest increase in the country — while many New Yorkers have been impacted by travel bans and other anti-immigrant policies.
Just as importantly, the culture of political partisanship and dysfunction in Washington, D.C. has undermined trust in civic institutions nationally, and discouraged members of the public from participating in public processes — a necessary condition for our democracy to function. According to a 2018 Pew report, only 18 percent of Americans today trust the government to do the right thing. In New York City, low voter turnout limits representation in City government. Millions of New Yorkers are not able to vote at all because of their immigration status or criminal background. Residents report a widespread feeling that the government is not listening to their voice, or their needs, especially in communities historically left out of City decision-making.
Recent federal actions have also undermined global diplomacy, which is critical to creating more democratic societies around the world. The Trump Administration’s disavowal of international institutions and skepticism of global agreements have sparked trade wars that have created uncertainty in global markets and reduced the nation’s standing among key allies. And its hostility toward acknowledging the reality of a changing climate has weakened our country’s global leadership role while exacerbating the risks posed by climate change. Meanwhile, anti-democratic, authoritarian regimes have risen to power in many countries and gained global influence.
Amid this changing global context, cities such as New York must play a more prominent role in global affairs. Cities are in a position to call out reactionary trends, and New York City in particular — with our history of tolerance and progressive ideas, as the host city to the United Nations and countless other international organizations, and our unmatched global connectedness — can take the lead in defending democratic values and reenergizing the public’s faith in democracy.
Nationally, public trust in the government remains at a near record low. Only 18 percent of Americans today trust the government to do the right thing.
Public Trust in Government, 1958–2017
Source: Pew Research Center
How We Got Here
The city we know today is the result of policy decisions made long ago that continue to influence the way we live now. To plan for the next 30 years, we must first understand the history of New York City and how, for decades, some policies successfully moved the city forward while others perpetuated systems of inequality.
New York City has long been a cauldron of political expression and self-determination, from women-led abolitionist and suffragist societies to settlement houses and labor unions. Some 20,000 women and children shirtwaist workers went on strike in 1909 to protest poor working conditions in the garment industry. The Urban League was formed in 1911 as a response to the lack of economic opportunity for black men in New York City, which had the largest African-American population of any city outside of the South.
New York City was home to civil rights pioneers such as Dorothy Height, Paul Robeson, and Bayard Rustin; political pioneers such as Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Percy Sutton, and Shirley Chisholm; and Black Nationalists such as Malcolm X. New York City is where the Young Lords coined the term “Latino” in their 13-Point Program and Platform around health care, sanitation, and education. New York City is where the gay rights movement began and found its voice, following the Stonewall uprising. New York City is where Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker social justice movement, and Ai-jen Poo founded the National Domestic Workers Alliance and passed the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010.
Postwar New York City helped define America’s modern middle class. Co-op City in the Bronx created a new model for homeownership for middle-income earners. The public health care system was redefined with the creation of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, now NYC Health + Hospitals, in 1969. The City University of New York created an affordable postsecondary education opportunity for all New Yorkers, and today lifts almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class as the Ivy Leagues, Duke, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, combined.
While the city was founded on principles of tolerance and inclusion, our history has seen extreme exclusion and race-based violence. Native Americans were terrorized by early Dutch and British settlers; slavery was legal until 1827 with devastating consequences; and Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Chinese immigrants faced nativist violence throughout the 19th century.
Still in the 21st century, policies and practices based on institutionalized racism led to an unfair distribution of resources across the city. While not unique to New York City, they left a deep legacy of inequity. Redlining deprived communities of color access to federally backed home loans, creating segregated neighborhoods upheld by public policy. Urban renewal projects displaced thousands of people, mostly communities of color, to make way for highways, housing projects, and civic centers, while unequal siting decisions subjected poor communities to increased pollution. The city’s fiscal and economic decline in the 1970s led to disinvestment and a spate of fires in low-income communities of color. In the 1980s, the War on Drugs approach to reversing the crack epidemic led to the disproportionate incarceration of young people of color and resulting disruption of young families. The police department’s use of stop-question-and-frisk in the 2000s and early 2010s was disproportionately borne by communities of color.
Our lives have also been shaped by national and global forces. Decades of disinvestment in urban communities — reflected in declining federal spending on public transit, public housing, and community development — have disproportionately impacted New York City and starved our city of the resources necessary to keep housing and infrastructure in good repair. Tax cuts implemented in the 1980s launched decades of austerity budgeting that reduced spending on public services and benefits, disproportionately impacting lower- and middle-class Americans. Decades of denial and deception by fossil fuel companies and a rejection of climate science in Washington have made us reliant on fossil fuels for far longer than necessary, and we have only begun to reduce our dependence and respond to climate change. While national productivity has continued to rise, systems of inequality, a lack of worker bargaining power, dwindling union strength, and greater consolidation of wealth among the few, have prevented wages from rising at the same pace.
Just as consequentially, for too long past City leaders failed to acknowledge these injustices and their lingering effects. to acknowledge these past injustices and their lingering effects. We must name these injustices in order to overcome them.
OneNYC 2050 confronts the most pressing issues facing New Yorkers today with this history in mind, knowing that the decisions we make and how we respond to challenges at home and on the national and global stage will affect the lives of millions for years to come. At this moment, we have a unique opportunity to honor our history and reject injustice, in order to build a strong and fair city for future generations.
Wages have not kept pace with national productivity gains due to systems of inequality, dwindling union strength and worker bargaining power, and greater consolidation of wealth.
Source: Economic Policy Institute
How New Yorkers shaped OneNYC 2050
More than 16,000 New Yorkers’ voices shaped the vision and priorities that make up OneNYC 2050. Residents from every neighborhood attended community forums, took our public survey, and spent a few minutes with our team at their greenmarket or cultural events, and other venues to let us know what works — and what doesn’t — and what they want for the city of the future.
A few themes stood out almost everywhere. Public transit is in a state of emergency, as delays and rising fares affect quality of life on a daily basis. Rising housing costs are making it harder to get by for New Yorkers of all income levels, with the greatest burden on New Yorkers living in or near poverty. The city’s economy may be strong, but many New Yorkers feel left behind and want to see investments that support working people and small businesses rather than those already at the top.
Other issues affect some communities more than others, but are no less critical to our city’s future. Sandy-impacted areas such as the Rockaway Peninsula and Red Hook stressed the urgent need to address climate change and protect against future storms. Northern Queens and the Central Bronx sought greater support for immigrants. Communities with higher shares of young children urged more investment in our public schools.
These collective sentiments — from residents of all backgrounds, in all boroughs — guided the vision, priorities, and specific initiatives highlighted in this long-term strategy.
Who We Heard From
Inclusiveness is integral to effective planning. As important as data analysis and policy experts are, only broad-based public engagement can reveal how different communities experience New York City and how they want to see their city evolve over the next 30 years. Over seven months, OneNYC sought out diverse voices from all corners of New York City and, recognizing systemic barriers to participation, incorporated input from a broad mix of stakeholders.
From September to March, more than 14,000 New Yorkers participated in the OneNYC survey. The survey asked New Yorkers the question, “What do you think are the most important issues facing New York City’s future?” and offered the chance to share one or more ideas for how New York City could address those issues.
The survey respondents represent voices from every corner of the city and are broadly representative of New York City’s population by borough and gender. As illustrated at left, they send a strong message about the issues New Yorkers care about the most, and how priorities vary across New York’s diverse neighborhoods. OneNYC 2050 addresses all of these issues.
Approximately 60% of all survey respondents identified housing or transportation as one of the most important issues New York City faces.
Percentages reflect the share of respondents who selected that issue as one of the most important issues New York City faces.
The issues New Yorkers care about differ by neighborhood. Residents of central Brooklyn identified housing as the issue they care most about, while their neighbors to the south care most about transportation and infrastructure. Residents in Soundview care most about jobs and the economy, and residents of nearby College Point were most concerned about public safety.
How We Incorporated Input
The diverse input gathered over the last seven months is reflected in OneNYC in ways big and small. Comments from the public survey and public meetings were reviewed by the OneNYC team that developed the strategy. As certain topics surfaced again and again, such as traffic congestion, we were able to deepen our focus with City agencies and on initiatives to address those challenges. In one case, a suggestion from a recent college graduate inspired the idea for an event celebrating civic life that the City is now exploring.
In other cases, ideas submitted by New Yorkers have us looking toward the future. How can we help the middle schoolers we met at the Manhattan Youth Engagement Tour reduce the use of plastic in public schools? How can we promote career fairs for non-English speakers who need job application assistance, as suggested by a resident in Sunset Park?
As we work to turn OneNYC from strategy to reality, we are continuing to evaluate the many great ideas offered by New Yorkers.
Shaping the Future of NYC
As we promoted the OneNYC survey, we had a call to action: “Help us shape the future of NYC.” We want to make sure that opportunity carries on. OneNYC 2050 is designed to not only set a path to a strong and fair city but to empower all New Yorkers to help create that city.
How can all of us, together, build a better future for New York? How would you like to get involved? This plan offers a few guides:
- Each OneNYC volume ends with a section titled “What You Can Do,” which suggests ways to get involved locally or globally.
- The A Vibrant Democracy volume spells out strategies to amplify all New Yorkers’ voices, broaden participation, and promote human rights.
- Keep your eye out for upcoming events and tools posted at nyc.gov/onenyc that will enable New Yorkers to act in support of OneNYC 2050.
What will you do to build a strong and fair city?