WHITE PLAINS, NY — At a packed press conference today, the Westchester County Association announced that it was launching a public-private partnership to spearhead Smart Growth initiatives in Westchester County to bring gigabit broadband, new business, and innovation to Westchester’s four largest cities. The cities – Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers – are to sign a Smart City ComPACT shortly and, as a first step, work with the WCA to bring to the cities gigabit broadband to every household, business, healthcare, and educational organization in the next three to five years. This is the first such compact between cities in the nation. Under the terms of the pact, the cities will seek joint funding, share best practices, develop joint federal and state legislative agendas, and collaborate on creating innovation districts, among other things.
“This is nothing short of revolutionary for our county,” said William M. Mooney, Jr., President and CEO of the Westchester County Association, the county’s preeminent business association, which, in 2011, created a vision for economic vitality in Westchester with its Blueprint for Westchester. “Across the country, cities have been taking the lead in bringing gigabit broadband to their communities. Likewise, by joining together with the WCA in this monumental community effort, Westchester takes a critical step in modernizing its digital infrastructure, closing the digital divide, sparking innovation, making our county competitive again, creating jobs, and realizing municipal efficiencies. We are creating a vision for the next thirty years.”
He also announced that the WCA is in the process of putting together a Steering Committee for Smart Growth, comprised of key members of Westchester’s cities, healthcare, biotech, and education sectors, and business and nonprofit communities, who will help to determine sources of funding and the county’s needs and opportunities. A Project Director, who will be named shortly, will work on day-to-day basis with a project team to evaluate various models, current capacity, and potential providers.
“Smart growth is what we’re about, and gigabit broadband will be the game-changer. Nothing will have transformed Westchester as much since the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge 61 years ago,” Mooney said.
Emphasis on “The New Urbanism” and Just 30 Minutes from Midtown Manhattan
The WCA also has hired Joan McDonald, former New York State Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and a nationally recognized expert in economic competitiveness, sustainable development and transportation solutions, as a strategic advisor for The Blueprint for Smart Growth, which was announced at the end of August.
At today’s press conference, Ms. McDonald provided a brief history of smart growth and its implications for the region. She pointed out that “Simply put, smart growth is about the ‘new urbanism’ where cities are livable, affordable, innovative, and sustainable.” She said that while smart growth’s roots in the 1990s were in transportation-oriented development to cut down on carbon emissions and curb urban sprawl, its definition has expanded. “Today, smart growth is also characterized by mixed-use development, sustainability (meaning public health and safety), community collaboration, and super-speed broadband. The implications for population health, online education, facilitating STEM learning in our schools, public safety, modern transportation, and the creation of innovation districts, are just enormous.”
According to William V. Cuddy, Chairman of the WCA’s Blueprint for Smart Growth, which five years ago laid the groundwork for the innovation now taking place, Westchester, more than any other suburb in the New York metro region, can make it happen.
“Westchester is unique; all the elements are here,” he said. We have a burgeoning biotech and healthcare sector, 14 colleges and universities, parks, lifestyle, space, diversity, and are more affordable than Manhattan or Brooklyn. But most of all, our cities are 30 minutes from the heart of a world capital – something millennials, and empty nesters – the fastest growing segments of the general population – value. People want to live in desirable locations with an urban feel. They want proximity to work, diversity, fine dining and entertainment, and to be in close proximity to others who share their interests. And with New York City running out of affordable space, that presents a huge opportunity for Westchester.”
Smart Growth Trajectory
Cuddy emphasized that Westchester was not looking to become New York City’s ‘sixth borough’ but to complement it. “Our position is unique,” he said. “The world’s largest biotech company, Regeneron, and the world’s largest information technology company, IBM, are located right here, as are the world’s top healthcare systems, namely Montefiore, Northwell, NewYork-Presbyterian, Memorial Sloan Kettering, WMC Health, Mt. Sinai, and the Hospital for Special Surgery. So the potential is absolutely tremendous.”
He noted that the four Westchester cities signing the Smart City ComPACT, are in various stages of downtown development, and that billions of dollars are being invested across the board. “New Rochelle and Yonkers are in the process of upgrading their downtowns; Mt. Vernon has begun to rezone; and White Plains is broadening transit-oriented development. There are as many people commuting to White Plains as are commuting from White Plains. That’s a sea change,” he said.
Gigabit broadband will make possible, for example:
•telemedicine and population health initiatives on a much wider level;
•municipal efficiencies such as controlling traffic patterns in real time;
•enhancing communications for first responders who need to share large amounts of data more rapidly and securely;
•more online education in real time;
•enable businesses and others to download large files and videos in seconds rather than hours.
Most places in the United States do not yet have gigabit broadband, where information is transmitted at close to the speed of light. One gigabit per second is roughly 200 times faster than the typical broadband speed in the United States. The WCA said it will be considering speeds that will exceed 5 gigabits per second. “We need to build infrastructure for the next ten to twenty years,” said Mooney.
Cuddy pointed out that throughout the United States, where there is smart growth, other patterns emerge. “There is a trajectory,” he pointed out. “Where there is smart growth, you find innovation districts. Where there’s innovation, there’s investment. And where there’s investment and innovation, you’ll find millennials and “talent”. And where there’s talent, there are companies that want to employ that talent. And that spells growth. And growth puts in motion housing that’s affordable, super-speed broadband for communications, modern forms of transportation systems, and much more.”
Mayors of the four cities signing the ComPACT also spoke at the press conference:
Noam Bramson, Mayor of New Rochelle, commented: “New Rochelle is excited to partner with the Westchester County Association to bring broadband service to our own community and to our sister cities. This innovative initiative will help all of us compete successfully for the residents, industries, and jobs of the future, while positioning Westchester as a national leader in smart growth and digital infrastructure.”
Mike Spano, Mayor of Yonkers, said: “Yonkers is committed to investing in the technological infrastructure of our city and surrounding communities. Working together with the Westchester County Association and my colleagues in government, we will create more jobs, build for emerging industries, further invest in our schools and better connect our communities. Once again, we are leading by example and are becoming innovators in smart growth.”
Tom Roach, Mayor of White Plains, noted: “The City of White Plains looks forward to working with the Westchester County Association and the Cities of Yonkers, New Rochelle and Mt. Vernon on this initiative. It recognizes that cities are the critical backbone of the region and the drivers of future economic growth. By focusing on bringing gigabit broadband into our communities this initiative will help ensure our future competitiveness as a great place to both live and work.”
Mayor Richard Thomas of Mt. Vernon said: “Mount Vernon is excited to join our neighboring cities in bringing more high-speed broadband to the people. We know that bridging the digital divide is key to closing to achievement gap for our students and boosting the economies of our small businesses. Mount Vernon is a town of big ideas and we deserve access to the broadband speed that will bring our plans to life.”
Mooney said that in the coming weeks and months, the WCA would be working with the four cities to assess their current infrastructure, needs and aspirations. “The key is to involve everyone; this is about our entire community and everyone in that community.” He said that the WCA would keep the public apprised and issue regular progress reports.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are critical to our future growth in all aspects of our economy – retail, healthcare, financial services, education, transportation, manufacturing, IT, entertainment, you name it,” said Mooney. “High-speed connectivity will be mandatory, therefore, for economic success and social mobility in the 21st century. All of us will need to be connected at home, in offices, and in public spaces. And, as more and more people work from home [it is projected that by 2020, 34% of the workforce will work remotely], gigabit broadband is a must. So, with smart growth and gigabit broadband, the future is here.”
The Westchester County Association is the preeminent business leadership organization serving Westchester County and the region. The Association is committed to Smart Growth, business advocacy, economic vitality, and to providing a strong and clear voice for the interests of business. Its key objectives are to promote positive economic development in the region, foster business development, and provide its members with access and interaction with key public and private sector individuals, agencies, and organizations. (westchester.org).