Recap: Celebrate the Tri-State Benefit | Hosted by the Regional Planning Association (RPA)
Scott Rechler, Chairman of the RPA, kicked off the benefit by saying, “one of New York’s greatest strengths is the ability to reinvent itself.” Tom Wright, President & CEO of the RPA, then introduced the projects and people who were honored this year — emphasizing that they have made our communities more prosperous, sustainable, fair, and healthy.
Project of the Year
RPA’s “Project of the Year” was awarded to Moynihan Train Hall, with special recognition of Governor Cuomo’s leadership and the bold steps he has taken to invest in and modernize New York’s infrastructure.
As many know, Moynihan Train Hall has transformed the Farley Post Office building into a modern transportation hub. The train hall is a massive 255,000 sq ft. It is not only a 21st century transportation facility, but it is a different quality of transportation infrastructure. The most visually stunning part of the station is the iconic main hall skylight. It provides natural light that serves the entire concourse. Shops and restaurants line the perimeter of the concourse. On the bottom level, there are 9 platforms and 17 tracks. Above the concourse there are offices. It is a true example of mixed-use development. It also features permanent art installations from three of the world’s leading artists.
Moynihan Train Hall gives Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road riders a modern and user-friendly new gateway to New York City. This transformative project sets the stage for very much needed new and expanded transit services.
The new landmark is just the first step in creating a much larger complex, and it signals the promise of 2021. It can serve every New Yorker and visitor the dignified, exhilarating experience that inspired Senator Patrick Moynihan to start the project in 1993.
When this project was introduced, there were significant challenges moving it forward. There was a general sense that projects this grand and complicated could not be done anymore. However, federal and state entities, as well as public and private entities, came together and proved this wrong.
Governor Cuomo prioritized the public-private partnerships that were needed to get this project moving again in 2016. His commitment and dedication brought it to fruition. The project is truly a celebration of our past, present, and future.
Governor Cuomo said a few words. He spoke about how Senator Moynihan appreciated history in the expressions of civic pride and public confidence. And he spoke about what he’s learned from FDR. “What FDR showed us, especially in the New Deal, was the connection between public works and public confidence… FDR raised buildings from the ground and spirits of the nation at the same time.” Cuomo focused on the meaning of great public works, especially in challenging times — and emphasized that the train hall is “a monument to our potential.” Finally, he noted that we need to continue to build on this momentum. We need to finish the project and we need to move quickly on the revitalization of other infrastructure in NYC (ie: extending the High Line, expanding the Javits Center, transforming Pier 76, and more).
The “Making it Happen” Award: Polly Trottenberg
The “Making it Happen” award was given to former New York City DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for her accomplishments over the past seven years in NYC, and prior to that as a public servant at the USDOT and on congressional staffs, including those of Senators Moynihan and Schumer. Among her many achievements, Commissioner Trottenberg expanded NYC’s bike network to over 1,300 miles, provided leadership for the Vision Zero campaign to eliminate roadway fatalities, and has led the agency through the challenges of COVID this past year.
Polly has always been fascinated by cities, transportation, and politics. She is the longest serving commissioner in DOT history, and she prioritizes transportation choice and safety.
Many of her colleagues spoke about the projects she led. Her accomplishments ranged from lowering speed limits, to setting up 750 speed cam zones, to improving accessibility, to protecting bike lines, to expanding micro-mobility, to rebuilding lower manhattan after 9/11, to congestion pricing. And more!
She has had a tremendous impact on the city. But nothing prepared her and her team for last year. When COVID hit, they had to reorganize the entire 6,000 person agency. They had to focus on protecting the workforce, while providing essential services. She played a key part in transforming our streets into playgrounds, restaurants, and classrooms. And she created more space for buses and bikes as New Yorkers avoided subways. Polly and the DOT rose to the occasion, helping the city and its people navigate through a pandemic and structural change.
Polly has been nominated for Deputy Secretary of Transportation under the Biden Administration.
The “Above and Beyond” award: Peggy Shepard
The “Above and Beyond” award, presented each year to an RPA Board Member, was given to Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. An RPA Board Member since 2014, Peggy shaped every major environmental policy in New York for the past generation, from OneNYC to RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan.
Peggy began her career as a journalist — writing about women and challenges. She wrote for Redbook, Essence, and Black Enterprise. During that time, she became increasingly active in NYC politics, and then became PR lead for Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign. After working on the campaign, she was encouraged to become a political leader, which led to her role as Democratic District Leader in West Harlem. During her time as District Leader, she used strong community mobilization tactics to mobilize a group called the “The Sewage Seven.” This group protested the pollution in West Harlem, caused by the mismanagement of the North River Sewage Treatment Plant. Her activism in this cause led to her founding WE ACT in 1998. It started as a grassroots organization, made up of volunteers from the West Harlem community. Now, it is a professionally staffed advocacy nonprofit. They are a leader in the environmental movement.
Under her leadership, WE ACT has created new park in West Harlem, reduced tail pipe emissions city-wide, launched a solar panel program (this program is creating green jobs, eliminating emissions, and results in significant savings for residents every year), and more. She’s protected residents from toxic chemicals, lead poisoning, and air pollutants, and she advised the architects of the Green New Deal. Now WE ACT is counciling President Biden’s transition team on environmental issues.
Peggy has provided distinguished service to her local community, the city, and the planet. She’s raised awareness about the nexus between the environment, justice, and equality. Her work on environmental justice and social reform to create a more sustainable, healthy, and equitable city and region is more important than ever.