NYC has dealt with a wide range of emergencies—from natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy to terrorist attacks like 9/11—but there was no set playbook for dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19. The emergency forced all of us at NYCEDC to find creative new ways to use our resources and rethink our traditional approaches to public-private partnerships.
Solutions for an Unprecedented Crisis
Many of the sites we manage—like the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, the nerve center for the city’s food supply—are considered essential and couldn’t shut down, even at the height of the quarantine. That’s why, as NYC’s largest landlord, our biggest responsibility has been and remains the safety of our tenants and their employees.
On a citywide level, EDC played an important role in helping the City overcome early shortages of personal protective equipment, using our relationships in the advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and fashion industries to help our partners in those spaces make the quick transition to creating ventilators, tests, and masks.
We also had to get creative with repurposing our spaces across the five boroughs to help New Yorkers meet this unprecedented challenge, including:
- Turning the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a depot for food distribution;
- On both Staten Island and at Hunts Point in the Bronx, creating rest stops for truck drivers; and
- Converting a parking lot at Brooklyn Army Terminal into a long-term testing site.
Our team also showed extraordinary creativity in dredging a section of the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side to allow the hospital ship USNS Comfort to dock there. A task like that would normally take six months of paperwork and red tape; I’m proud to say that our team got it done in eight days.
Admittedly, this isn’t the kind of stuff I thought I’d be doing when I got into urban development, but it was just a matter of putting those same skills—problem-solving, project management, working with different teams, making plans—toward a different purpose. Knowing the scale of the challenge and the stakes involved is what kept me going (in addition to my family and midnight binge-watching of Schitt’s Creek).
I also started reading a lot about NYC’s earliest history, going back to the settlement of New Amsterdam in the 17th century. In the middle of the strain the city was under at the height of the pandemic, it was inspiring to read about what makes NYC great and unique has always existed and will always be part of its DNA.
This isn’t what I thought I’d be doing when I got into urban development, but it was just a matter of putting those same skills—problem-solving, project management, working with different teams, making plans—toward a different purpose.
Looking Toward Recovery
A strong test and trace program will be key to a safe reopening. As part of that effort, along with multiple City, state, and federal agencies, EDC is using its relationships in the science and advanced manufacturing communities right here in NYC to make testing kits from scratch, working hand-in-hand with local manufacturers across three boroughs to ramp up NYC’s testing capacity. Thanks to these efforts, we’re now producing 50,000 testing kits per week. Best of all, by working with local manufacturers, we’re putting New Yorkers back to work.
The COVID-19 crisis hit traditionally underserved communities especially hard. As we think about recovery, the most important thing we can do is to make sure that the recovery is fair, equitable, and doesn’t leave behind those communities that were most deeply impacted.
We all recognize that COVID-19 changed everything. But for far too many New Yorkers, the pre-pandemic “normal” wasn’t working either. Simply returning to that isn’t going to be good enough. As a city and as a society, we came together to respond to an unprecedented crisis, and I’m proud to say that we’re finally seeing the positive results of that effort. Now, as we look toward recovery, we’re going to need to apply that same spirit of creativity, flexibility, ingenuity, and above, all, community to create a new normal that creates shared prosperity and opportunity for all New Yorkers.