Leaders from business, labor and communities across the city joined Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams in Times Square on Monday to launch WE ❤ NYC, an updated version of the original I ❤ NY campaign that was rolled out in 1977 to unite New Yorkers around a common purpose: making this the safest, strongest and most welcoming city in the world.
Fifty years ago, New York City faced bankruptcy as a half-million manufacturing jobs moved offshore and almost a million middle-class New Yorkers fled to the suburbs.
Crime rates skyrocketed, schools deteriorated, housing and storefronts were abandoned, and neighborhoods burned.
In the face of that urban crisis, city government put forward an agenda of “planned shrinkage.”
Fortunately, New Yorkers stepped up and pushed back. They were not going to let the city they loved go down the drain.
Bankers — including David Rockefeller, Felix Rohatyn and Walter Wriston — teamed up with Gov. Hugh Carey and with labor leaders like Victor Gotbaum, Albert Shanker and Harry Van Arsdale to restructure city finances.
Churches and community organizers formed local development corporations and block associations to rebuild ravaged neighborhoods with support from New York Community Trust, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and national intermediaries the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Enterprise.
Civic activism was ignited, and we saw the birth of the Association for a Better New York, the Central Park Conservancy, Citizens Committee for New York City, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, the Partnership for New York City, New Visions for Public Schools, the Citizens Budget Commission and hundreds more organizations fueled by love for the city and a refusal to accept its decline.
A half-century later, anxiety and negativity have again taken hold in our city.
Surveys show that the public believes conditions are trending in the wrong direction. Fewer than 25% of eligible voters participated in recent local elections.
Fear of crime is greater than statistics justify but remains the biggest factor in dissatisfaction with the status quo.
New Yorkers want to help, but most don’t know how or believe it will matter.
Post-pandemic, there is no denying New York faces serious challenges.
The acceleration of a technology revolution has widened the skills gap, deepened the digital divide and disrupted basic patterns of urban life and work.
Public-safety concerns are overlaid with issues of mental illness, homelessness and racial reckoning.
Whereas the city was a bargain in the 1970s and ’80s, today it is unaffordable for a significant number of current and would-be New Yorkers.
These problems are harder to solve because New Yorkers have become overly dependent on government to fix everything.
We have gotten better at complaining and worse at doing. But we can no longer wait for fixes from above.
The network of nonprofit, community-based institutions that were so essential to the 20th-century renaissance of city neighborhoods is now fragile.
Arts and cultural institutions, local restaurants and retail shops, all are struggling to recoup pandemic losses just when their vitality is necessary to inspire joy in the city.
The New Yorkers who gathered Monday in Times Square recognize this is a moment that calls for renewed civic activation and engagement — for “we,” not me.
It is time to drop the divisive rhetoric and figure out what each of us can do to make things better. It is a time to celebrate what we love about New York — our friends, our parks, our theaters, our multicultural neighborhoods, our skyline and 500 miles of waterfront and so much more.
Under the WE ❤ NYC umbrella, there will be opportunities for all who care about the future of our city to volunteer, lend their voice and remind each other what makes New York the greatest city in the world.
Go to welovenyc.nyc and follow us on social media to learn what you can do to help.
Kathryn Wylde is president and CEO of Partnership for New York City.