Sunday, December 31, 2006

Long Term Urban Planning: Good Politics or a Waste of Time?

This New York Times article in the Week in Review section today poses an interesting question but then fumbles the football. Jim Morrison of the Doors once sang that the "future is uncertain and the end is always near". Joyce Purnick seems to take delight in the fact that ex-post certain ex-ante predictions look silly. Yes, New York City today does not resemble what urban planners predicted it would look like in 1960 or 1970 but how does this deep insight influence choices today?

If I were the Mayor of New York City and cared about how New York looks in 30 years, I would focus on improving the public schools to raise the human capital of all of the immigrant kids going to these schools. I would focus on transforming the zoning code so that all of the dumpy commercial auto shop zones of Queens and Brooklyn could be converted into housing for people poorer than Don Trump. I would try to figure out why crime has fallen in New York City and to take steps to make sure that this trend doesn't reverse. I would continue to encourage the de-industrialization of New York City and the "greening" of blighted industrial sites.

If a Mayor could follow these 4 steps, then there will continue to be high demand to live in New York. Employers will continue to want to be located in New York and the fiscal health of the city will remain high. Note that this article does not discuss the property tax base for the city but this is the key factor determining how much of a flow of annual money the City can spend for the huge variety of things that local government is expected to supply.


December 31, 2006
Happy 2030
New York, Where the Dreamers Are Asleep

By JOYCE PURNICK

NEW YORK, get ready. You are thriving and growing, but aging. Adjust, modernize, it’s later than you think.
So advised Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently, predicting that by 2030, the city will be home to another million people — 9.2 million New Yorkers clogging already congested streets, overtaxing energy supplies, burdening services. Plan for the future now, said the mayor, promising details later.
The mayor’s warnings drew a ho-hum reaction from a tough public focused on daily survival rather than problems a quarter-century away. But the suspicion here is that even if Mr. Bloomberg tried to plan ambitiously for 2010, New Yorkers would cast a skeptical eye.
The city that once lived to dazzle seems no longer able to think big or much past tomorrow. That was for its optimistic youth, when dreamers built Central Park, the marvel of a subway system, the wonder that is the Brooklyn Bridge and an advanced network of reservoirs and water tunnels. A younger New York dared to stage a World’s Fair in the shadow of the Depression.
But the bills came due, bankruptcy loomed, President Gerald R. Ford threatened to leave the city in the lurch and the place turned practical. Today’s New Yorkers want to know what something costs and who will pay. Turning landfill into a park, or building a new basketball arena and apartment-retail complex in Brooklyn if private dollars foot a healthy part of the bill — fine. Risking citywide gridlock to impress the world by playing host to the Olympics? Not so fine.
It’s not as if the mayor’s goal of moving traffic and keeping the lights on are utopian concepts. But the public has learned that New York does not follow a script.
The first plan for reviving a blighted Times Square goes back to the late 1970s. But one plan gave way to another for more than 20 years, until the market took over and created today’s tourist and entertainment magnet.
Westway was a bold government plan in the 1970s to build an underground interstate highway along the Hudson, with housing, commercial development and parks built above. After a decade of legal battles, the government abandoned Westway, and today, to get to waterfront parks later built downtown, pedestrians must navigate dense traffic.
In “Our Changing City,” a series of articles in this newspaper in 1955, officials envisioned a civic plaza in downtown Brooklyn that Robert Moses promised would rival the Piazza San Marco in Venice; a grandiose development over the Sunnyside rail yards in Queens; and a Palace of Progress devoted to world trade atop a new Pennsylvania Station. All that and a Second Avenue subway.
Didn’t happen. Other things that few anticipated did: the recovery of the South Bronx, the gentrification of Harlem, the drop in crime, sturdy growth in the immigrant population, now approaching record levels. Where is the expert who knew that Internet businesses would replace garment factories, that newspapers would fall on hard times, that the meatpacking district would develop cachet, that coffee houses would dominate every corner?
And then there is the starkest example of the unexpected — Sept. 11 and the city’s arc from devastation to renewal.
Projections can go awry, based as they are on assumptions sometimes trumped by the unforeseen. Population predictions are especially tricky, because they can be affected by factors like national and foreign policies, economic swings and politics.
In 1929, the Regional Plan Association predicted that the city would grow to 11.3 million people by 1965 (the figure turned out to be 7.7 million) and that the population in the metropolitan region would double to 20 million over 1,000 square miles. The region grew to 17 million over 2,000 square miles; the association attributed this to a failure to improve the railways.
The city’s population has had a way of taking on a life of its own. Zoning consultants in the 1960s advised city officials that New York’s population would grow to 8.5 million in 1975 — it may well have if not for the fiscal crisis that was at its worst in 1975. Instead, the numbers dropped so sharply — to 7.2 million in 1980 from 8 million in 1970 — that some social scientists advocated “planned shrinkage” in city services.
Then, as if overnight, the city began growing again, to 7.6 million people by 1990, and to more than 8 million in another 10 years — an increase that was also unanticipated. The public schools in some neighborhoods, instead of needing cuts, had to create annexes in prefabricated trailers.
What happened? Washington passed the liberalized Immigration Act of 1965, which encouraged greater immigration. At the same time, baby boomers began having children, and the city was recovering, so more people who might have left for the suburbs stayed.
Now Mr. Bloomberg anticipates more growth, based on city projections of factors like current birth and mortality rates, and aging, migration and disease patterns.
The analysis anticipates, for instance, that Staten Island and Queens will continue to outpace the other boroughs, as they have for years, attracting New Yorkers who might otherwise head to the suburbs. The city’s demographers also expect immigration to continue at a healthy clip, and that people will continue to live long lives.
They could be wrong about any of their assumptions. Maybe Congress will quell immigration and build more walls. Maybe an economic downturn will stall housing development and people will leave for the suburbs instead of moving to Rego Park. Maybe mortality rates will change.
All possible, said Joseph J. Salvo, director of the City Planning Department’s population division. “Are our projections reasonable?” he said. “Absolutely. Accurate? We’ll have to wait until events unfold. It doesn’t mean you don’t go ahead and plan for the future.”
Especially since the future is now. Traffic is already congested, blackouts are increasingly common, the parks too crowded, the air too dirty. It could be that the mayor didn’t generate any excitement with his 2030 announcement because New Yorkers, a practical lot, as noted, don’t see the big deal about their city retooling — as long as Mr. Bloomberg keeps his promise to tell them what it will cost and who pays.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Free Market Environmentalism: The Case of Recycling Christmas Trees

I have stopped blogging for a week now as I have moved to Los Angeles. The New York Times had a nice article today on the "co2 reduction benefits" of various lifestyle choices. Our Westwood apartment is a 10 minute walk from UCLA. I have noticed that we are one of the few families in Westwood to not drive a fancy car. Perhaps in an alternate galaxy a 1993 Nissan Altima is a fancy car?

I really like Los Angeles. It was 75 degrees today and sunny. Somehow Los Angeles gets a bad rap in the Northeast. I'm not really sure why this is the case. I wonder if its just plain ignornance that the people of New York and Boston haven't spent any time in LA. I have lived in NYC and Boston for 13 years of my 40 years so I may know what I'm talking about here.

May 2007 be a better year for you than 2006. I'm looking forward to it!

UCLA doesn't start up for another week so I have no deep insights about my new home at the Institute of the Environment but I did find this advertise from Whole Foods funny.

It is a good example of how a "pollution problem" can become a business opportunity for an enterprising thinker. One person's waste is another person's productive input. Isn't this a nice example of "ecological economics"? Note that there is no government involvement here in mitigating this externality. Government does play a role here of punishing people with christmas trees who just want to dump it. This credible threats creates a business opening for the recyclers.


www.recycletrees.com

California Christmas Tree Recycling offers a hassle-free way to recycle your tree and give something back to our environment. Starting at $25 we will come to your home, remove the tree from its stand, vacuum the floor and take the combustible tree to the recycling center. The mulch is then used for local plantings and a portion of all proceeds goes to TreePeople to plant new trees.

You are probably familiar with the difficulties of removing the Christmas tree yourself.

First you need to get the stinky water out of the stand. This means you either soak up the water with a sponge or buy a wet/dry vacuum.

Then you need to get the poor thing through the front door and on top of your car, which turns you into a human Christmas tree. The city forbids us to put the tree on the curb to be picked up and threatens to ticket us according to L.A. municipal code 57.21.06!

The city suggests that individuals cut their trees up and place them in their "Green" bins. But for most of us, the tree will stick out more than one foot above the top of the bin, once again violating city policy. And of course burning it in the fireplace is an extreme fire hazard.

Well, let's say that you are successful at getting rid of your tree. Now it is time to vacuum up the needles that have dropped as the crispy tree was wrestled out of the house. The stiff needles often clog the vacuum leading to expensive repair bills.


Why not skip all the hassle and call us?


Rated "Best of LA" by Los Angeles Magazine, California Christmas Tree Recycling does a great job at keeping Christmas trees out of landfills and providing a convenient service for their clients!

Call us today at (818) 986-1300 or (310) 584-6589.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Praise for California

Many economists believe that Cambridge, MA is the center of the universe. I have lived there or within 2 miles of there for 8 years of my post-PHD life. I have a pretty good sense of the intellectual benefits of being located in the 02138 zip code.

But, I'm now in California and I'd like to praise a few things I like about California that Cambridge can't match.

1. Outdoor exercise every day of the year. I was outside for 3 hours today and could have spent longer outdoors. I find that research ideas and exercise go together. I don't move at high enough speed for my ideas to be crowded out by a beating heart.

2. A well functioning Department of Motor Vehicles. My wife and I need California ID cards. I was worried that we would lose 3 hours at the notorious DMV. We were out of there in 25 min. Try that in Boston!

3. Street signs --- Boston is not stranger friendly

4. fresh fruit --- As I get older, I need more fiber in my life. Somehow Boston's selection of fine local fruits is narrowed down to lobsters and clams. I won't even bother to elaborate on praising California.

Yet despite all of these important amenities, California takes a lot of crap from the rest of the nation. I'm wondering if there is a research paper to be written on this point.

Economists are voting with their feet to move to CA. Look at UCLA, Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara, CALtech, Stanford, Irvine, Davis and even Santa Cruz. All of these places have some great scholars even though the salaries are not always at the Washington University in St. Louis level.

I must teach 2 quarter classes at UCLA in spring 2007. I'm toying with offering a course on California Environmental Sustainability. If you have any thoughts on this issue, please email me!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pick Your Poison: "Oil Dependence" or Ambient Particulates

Apparently, there is no free lunch? In the New York suburbs, people are investing in wood fired boilers to reduce their dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately, these wood heating sources create plenty of particulates and a huge public health literature has documented that particulates kill.

So, this New York Times article is an interesting case of externality mitigation. In a densely populated suburb, there may be many "victims" living close to the guy with the wood fired boiler. This dude is increasing sickness and death risk for all "down wind" victims.

The article goes on to say that some of the wood fired boiler owners are too cheap to burn wood and are burning garbage instead. This stinks up the local air. Kirk Smith of Berkeley has done extensive work on the health consequences of wood stoves in the developing world. Local regulators will face an interesting priorities challenge here in determining whether to ban these things.

Look for the lawsuits to begin as property values sink for homes near the new wood boilers.





December 18, 2006
Wood Boilers Cut Heating Bills. The Rub? Secondhand Smoke.
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

Their owners proudly proclaim that they reduce dependence on foreign oil — and save thousands of dollars on heating bills each year.

Neighbors say that they create smoke so thick that children cannot play outside, and that it seeps into homes, irritating eyes and throats and leaving a foul stench.

They have spawned a rash of lawsuits and local ordinances across the country. A report last year by the New York attorney general’s office found that they produce as much particle pollution in an hour as 45 cars or 2 heavy-duty diesel trucks.

The devices, outdoor wood-fired boilers, originally invented to heat farmhouses, are now a fast-growing alternative energy fad — and, depending on whom you ask, the latest suburban scourge. Scientists studying the boilers’ environmental fallout estimate their numbers have doubled in the last two years, to about 150,000 nationwide.

A growing body of research about the toxins spewed by the boilers — namely carcinogens and lung-clogging particulate matter — has prompted campaigns around the country to limit their use.

And next month, the Environmental Protection Agency expects to issue guidelines for states to follow in regulating the use of wood boilers. The industry, too, is working with the agency on new standards for boilers.

“These machines sound good when you buy them, but look at all the health problems you cause,” said Edward J. Nowak, who is suing his former neighbor in Chicopee, Mass., for creating a “public nuisance” by installing a boiler in his backyard.

“We taped our windows up with plastic, and we tried to be a nice neighbor, but it just got to the point where it was impossible,” said Mr. Nowak, who is retired. He said he had to move because of the constant smoke.

“People are calling up their state and federal officials in unprecedented numbers because they don’t know what to do,” said Philip R. S. Johnson, a senior scientist at the Northeast States for Coordinating Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of air quality agencies in New York, New Jersey and New England. “I am getting so many calls from people complaining about their children getting sick and the nuisance of the smell, and it’s just brutal to listen to their stories.”

Owners of the devices say the complaints are unfair. Peter Muller, a landscaper in Stony Point, N.Y., who bought his boiler three years ago, calls them “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

“Every day you turn on the news they’re saying lower your dependence on foreign oil,” said Mr. Muller, who gets inexpensive wood through his business and estimates his savings at $400 to $600 a month in the peak heating season. “Now I have a renewable energy source, and people are complaining.”

Since 2001, at least 50 towns or counties in New York State have instituted laws regulating the boilers, including Suffolk County, which in November effectively banned them by prohibiting their operation within 1,000 feet of a home or school.

Vermont, in the 1990s, and Connecticut, two years ago, enacted strict regulations on where boilers can be used. Washington State banned them outright, and villages and health boards in Maine, Wisconsin, Michigan and Massachusetts are dealing with hundreds of complaints from people who say wood boilers are making their homes feel like campgrounds.

The boilers, which look like tool sheds topped by 12-foot smoke stacks, were originally designed for rural areas where open space — and wood — are plentiful. They generally cost about $5,000, and work by burning wood to heat water that is pumped through underground pipes to a home’s plumbing and heating systems.

The boilers are creating fierce disputes virtually everywhere they turn up.

Common complaints include lung inflammation, persistent coughing and trouble breathing, not to mention foul odors. Because the boilers operate under low-oxygen conditions and smolder constantly, they produce far more smoke than traditional indoor stoves — about a dozen times more, several studies have found. They also produce 4 to 12 times the amount of fine particles, which can easily move into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing heart and respiratory problems, according to researchers.

Joseph Tumidajewicz, another Chicopee resident, has a name for the boiler that a neighbor — not the same one as Mr. Nowak’s — installed 300 feet from his home: “the presence.”

“You step outside of the house sometimes and you can feel your face getting instantly dirty,” he said. “It’s unbearable.”

According to the New York attorney general, the burners produce particles that are 2.5 microns in diameter or less. A human hair measures 30 to 50 microns.

But because regulations governing them are scarce, towns that receive complaints often have no recourse other than to politely ask owners to shut them off.

Rarely does that work. Wary of responding to false alarms caused by an outdoor boiler on Pinehurst Road in Holyoke, Mass., the Fire Department sued the boiler’s owners in October, and won a cease-and-desist order. Now the city is moving toward banning boilers completely.

While boilers can save money for owners with access to cheap wood, they are far more expensive to operate in suburban areas like Long Island, where a cord of wood can cost $170. A boiler can require more than a dozen cords for the winter. That cost, says Jack Eddington, a Suffolk County legislator who introduced the law restricting the boilers, leads people to resort to burning garbage, old furniture and even Christmas trees — resulting in larger, smellier and potentially more toxic smoke.

Mr. Eddington said he knew of people who collected trash solely for their boilers. “Sometimes that would make the smell worse than the smoke,” he said. “It’s not a cost-saving measure if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use only seasoned wood — meaning no sap or anything that could give out a bad toxic emission. The only way you can save money with these things is if you burn anything and everything.”

Current federal clean air laws cover indoor wood-burning devices, but the Environmental Protection Agency said that after months of requests from several states, it is working on model guidelines that states can follow to regulate outdoor wood boilers, and that it expected to be done by January. Among the guidelines will be setback requirements on how far boilers must be from homes and schools and height requirements for stacks to release smoke above ingestion levels.

John Millett, an agency spokesman, said that it has also considered establishing emissions standards, but that states are unwilling to wait the year or more the federal regulatory process could take.

So the agency has been trying to encourage manufacturers to voluntarily produce boilers, by the spring, that create about 70 percent less particulate matter.

“The manufacturers are working with E.P.A. to come up with a set of codes and standards for these furnaces that make them burn more efficiently and completely,” said Leslie Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, an industry group in Virginia. “But that’s a process that takes a while because you’re talking about research and development and a bunch of other things.”

Too late for Mr. Nowak, the Chicopee man who not only sued his neighbor but also sold his house because of the boiler. The neighbor did not respond to requests for an interview.

He said he first sold the house for $222,000, but after the buyer learned there was constant smoke from the boiler nearby, he demanded his money back.

Mr. Nowak eventually found another buyer — after knocking $30,000 off the price. He is hoping, through the lawsuit, to reclaim that money.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Metro Areas Morphing into CMSAs: Implications for Local Labor Markets

Bill Testa has a very interesting blog entry on the implicit "merger" of Chicago and Milwaukee into one big "super-metropolitan area" (see
http://midwest.chicagofedblogs.org/archives/2006/12/a_chicagomilwau_1.html)

We see this in many settings. In Southern California, Los Angeles, Riverside and Northern San Diego are forming one super CMSA. The New York City "metro area" covers New York City and big pieces of New Jersey, CT.

Job suburbanization is the key force here. If everyone worked downtown, then it would be much less likely that these physically separate metro areas would be merging. BUT, as jobs sprawl the physical distance between these satellite suburban employment hubs shrinks. A type of "cross-hauling" can occur such that a suburban power couple in Chicago could have one spouse working in suburban Milwaukee and the other in suburban Chicago. New roads would only accelerate this pattern as they would further reduce commute times.

Are such "super-metro areas" good? The scale effects of such large local markets should mean that workers have a more diversified employment base to find firms to work for and vice-versa. In terms of "consumer city", consumers should have more choice. In terms of environmental sustainability, people will be driving more to get to various dispersed destinations in such sprawled super metro areas but this is mainly an issue of Pigou and taxing gasoline.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Moving West: A Tufts to UCLA Transition

Does a blog's content depend on where a person lives and works? If so, then this blog is about to change. On saturday, I move west; way west. We'll see if the absence of cold winter, Boston accents and the New England Patriots improves this blog. I expect that once I'm set up at UCLA that I'll have a lot more to say about Los Angeles urban politics. In terms of urban politics, Boston is a boring town. It doesn't appear to me that Boston's Mayor faces any real stark policy decisions.

At UCLA, there is a lot going on research wise in different corners of the school. I anticipate that I'll have more to report about interesting research going on on that campus with respect to environmental and urban issues. If nothing else, I can talk about the men's basketball team.

UCLA is clearly on an upward trajectory. Yes, my friends will point out that they've lost some people to rival schools but so what? Everybody can be replaced with a newer, more ambitious version of the original!

Tufts is also on an upward trajectory and I've enjoyed my 6 years on its faculty. In the short run though, sun beats snow! I'll be working outside, reading and thinking and writing. That's a pretty good life!

MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGES AND GOALS FOR NEW YORK CITY THROUGH 2030

Now this is a forward looking Mayor! A cynic might ask why a mayor who can't run for re-election again would care about the environmental health of New York City 24 years from now in the year 2030. A moral philospher might state that the mayor is altruistic and cares about future generations. An economist would point out that the Mayor owns some expensive land in the fancy part of New York City and this land will be more valuable if NYC remains a "Green City" into the future.

Regardless of his "true" motivations, this is a pretty impressive speech. I sent the Mayor a copy of my "Green Cities" book maybe he read it?



Office of the Mayor

New York, NY 10007


MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGES AND GOALS FOR NEW YORK CITY THROUGH 2030


Remarks as Delivered


Date: December 12, 2006

Location: Queens Museum of Art, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, QUEENS

Event: Delivers “New York City 2030: Accepting the Challenge” Address



Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Thank you. I might point out I also promised a subway series, an Olympics, a few other things, but nevertheless, for the things you listed, thank you very much. Marcia, thank you and thanks to the League of Conservation Voters for hosting us today as we look ahead to the year 2030 and to the immense challenges facing our City.



Some might think that whatever happens by then won’t be our problem.



But, speaking for myself, I’m going to be 88 years old that year and the kind of city we have certainly will matter to me. What’s more, my mother will be 121 and she just might come down from Boston for a visit some time so-



And that’s why we’ve come together today at the Queens Museum, which plays such a vital role in the cultural and civic life of Queens, and which I also want to thank for their hospitality.



Because it’s here in Flushing Meadows, in the heart of Helen Marshall’s district- borough, that more than once, New Yorkers have looked beyond the present, to see the promise of the future.



Whether it was at the 1939 World’s Fair, when men and women, still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, dared to imagine a dazzling “World of Tomorrow,” or at the 1964 World’s Fair, whose glorious panorama you just walked through and which featured the futuristic wonders of what people were starting to call “the global village.”



Only five years ago, looking 25 years into the future might have seemed a bit unimaginable. After 9/11, we weren’t sure what even the next day would hold. Instead of looking ahead, many people were looking back, fearful of seeing a return to the days when New York’s dangerous streets, graffitied subways, and abandoned housing were national symbols of urban decay.



We recalled seeing our city’s population plummet by nearly one million in just ten year’s time. Many of us remember that era all too well. And many of us have worked hard over the years to bring New York – and New Yorkers – back – and then some. The past five years have truly rewarded our efforts. Building on the successes of our predecessors, we’ve driven crime down to levels last seen when the ‘64 World’s Fair opened. Our welfare rolls are lower than they were in 1964, as well. Today, our streets are cleaner than they’ve been in 30 years. We’ve increased high school graduation rates to a 20-year high. Our bond rating is the best ever.



Unemployment is at an all-time record low. New Yorkers are living longer than the average American for the first time since World War II. And the most visible symbol – and source – of New York City’s comeback is that we’re growing again – our population is at an all-time high.



A generation of dedicated New Yorkers – including many in this room – have played a role in making this happen, and I want to especially acknowledge the strong leadership provided by my predecessors: Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani. As a city, we stand on their shoulders – and because we do, we are standing taller and stronger than ever.



We should be proud of what we’ve achieved together, not just over the past five years, but over the past twenty-five years.



It would be easy to sit back now and enjoy what we’ve done; to let our successors worry about the future. But we must not become complacent. That’s not how New York became great. And it’s not how I plan to spend the last eleven hundred and fifteen days of my term as mayor! But who’s counting?



(Applause)



Over the first eighteen hundred days we've already begun making the investments that will ensure the city's long-term future: A $4 billion commitment to finishing the

Third Water Tunnel -- double what has been spent by the last five administrations combined and a $1.6 billion to build the vital Croton water filtration plant, and $13 billion for the largest school capital plan in the city's history.



We're turning Fresh Kills, once the world's largest landfill, into the biggest new city park in more than a century. And a few days ago, we sold bonds for the Number 7 line, the first major expansion of the subway system in decades, and the first in modern memory paid for by the city.



But we also know that much more work needs to be done. Last January, I asked

Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff to develop a long-term land use plan for the city. At the time, we both thought it was a project that would just take a few months.But as we worked, we discovered the sheer scale of what was ahead – the intricacy, urgency, and interdependency of the challenges we face.



We realized that unless we considered the full range of challenges to our City's fiscal environment- physical environment, the progress we’d worked so long and so hard for might be at risk. And it became clear that to secure a stronger, cleaner and healthier city for our children and grandchildren, we had to start acting now. In short, we realized that New York needed – not a long-term plan for land use, but a long-term plan for sustainability.



“Sustainability” is a word that’s used a lot these days. But at its heart, it simply means striving to make our city greater, not just for ourselves, but for those generations still to come. Today, we have a rare opportunity to achieve that goal. Because with the city’s immediate prospects as healthy as they are, and with our Administration not beholding to special interests or big campaign contributors, we now have the freedom to take on the obstacles looming in the city’s future and to begin clearing them away before they become rooted in place.



To help us meet that challenge, we created a new Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. They’re supported by a team of more than 15 City agencies. Joining them have been some of the best and the brightest: independent scientists, think tank scholars, respected academics and city planners, innovative green builders.



And because our focus has been on community-based strategic planning, not central planning, our team has also included neighborhood activists, public interest advocates,

labor leaders, and others from the private and non-profit sectors.



Some of our partners serve on our Sustainability Advisory Board, while others have played a more informal role. With help from all of them, we’ve studied every part of this city. We’ve looked at every playground – all 1,310 of them – and identified which neighborhoods will need more of them going forward. We’ve rated the age and efficiency of all 25 power plants serving the city through 2030. We’ve estimated which of our nearly 250 miles of subway routes will be congested on an average day in the year 2030.

We have, in short, tried to anticipate every physical barrier our communities will experience to maintaining – and building on – the quality of life we enjoy today.



And the process has given us a new, deeper, and sobering appreciation of the magnitude of the challenges New Yorkers face. Through our work, we’ve identified three major challenges our city will face over the next 25 years:



First, we will be getting bigger. By 2030, projections show that our city will add nearly one million more people, along with millions of additional tourists and three-quarters of a million new jobs.



Second, our infrastructure will be getting older, more than a century old in many places, and it will be under increasing pressure.



And third, as our population grows and our infrastructure ages, our environment – our air, water, and land – will be pushed to new and possibly precarious limits.



Today, we’ll share what we've learned over the past 11 months.We’ll also present 10 aggressive but achievable goals that we’ve developed – with the help of our extraordinary team of policymakers and advisors. They’re our goals for making New York a sustainable city by 2030. We’ll also launch the next stage of this process: Developing, with extensive public input, a detailed action plan to create a sustainable city- a sustainable future for our city, a process that we are calling “Plan-Y-C.” Informed by that process, three months from now we’ll present New Yorkers with specific proposals for reaching each of our goals; in three months we’ll be explaining in full the regulation, legislation, financing mechanisms, or other measures they will require. And then we’ll reach out to our partners in every branch and at every level of government to begin turning those goals into realities.



The engine driving New York’s future is growth, growth that’s evident all around us.

It seems wherever you walk in our city these days, whether it’s Kingsbridge Heights or

Lower Manhattan; Queens West or East New York; Fort Greene or here in Flushing, there’s new housing being built. Over the last two years, more permits for housing construction have been issued than at any time since the early 1970s, and we will need all of those new units, and more.



Because the Department of City Planning projects that by 2010, New York will grow by another 200,000 people. And by 2030, our population will reach more than 9 million – the equivalent of adding the populations of Boston and Miami to the five boroughs.

The result is a surge that is taking our population to new heights, and our city into uncharted waters. This growth could bring incredible benefits: Billions of dollars in new economic activity will be generated by new jobs, residents, and visitors. But growth also presents challenges: It can undermine neighborhood quality of life, which is why over the past five years we’ve rezoned more than 4,000 city blocks in dozens of neighborhoods, to allow for growth where there’s capacity, and preserve community character when appropriate.



Growth can also bid up housing prices. And with more than a third of New York City renters already paying more than half their income on rent, we can’t let that pressure on family budgets grow any worse. In response, we’ve undertaken the largest affordable housing plan of any city in the nation, one that will create and preserve affordable housing for 500,000 New Yorkers by 2013—that’s more people than live in Atlanta, Georgia.



But we know even it won’t be enough. Population growth also increases the need for more of the parks, playgrounds- and playgrounds that families depend on, even as the competition for land use becomes more intense. We have added 300 acres of parkland over the past five years, yet more than 100 neighborhoods still do not have enough playgrounds for the children who live there.



Our growing population also presents transportation challenges. Strong leadership and major investments over the past 25 years have made our subways cleaner and safer today than they’ve been in decades. But, as a result, ridership has soared – making some commutes more of an “up close and personal” experience than we’d really like.



In short, growth is a challenge that can produce great benefits, but only if we prepare for it and guide it – so that our city stays as open and welcoming as ever.



OPENYC VIDEO ROLLS



Because Joe is not alone in wanting to live here, our population is expected to reach undreamed-of levels. This poses an enormous new challenge, and to meet them, we’ve set these three goals: Creating enough housing for almost a million more people and finding even more creative ways to make housing more affordable for more New Yorkers; Ensuring that even as land becomes more scarce, every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park so that every child has the chance to play and be active. And so congestion doesn’t bring our economy grinding to a halt, adding to the capacity of our regional mass transit system, so that travel times stay the same – or get better.



Our growing New York will always be the most diverse city on earth. It will remain a magnet for artists, entrepreneurs, and ambitious immigrants from every corner of the globe. But despite our dramatically varying backgrounds and ambitions, we’ll share so many common experiences as New Yorkers. For starters, we will all go about our days confident in, and, in most cases, taking for granted the systems that underpin this exceptional city.



For example, think about what you did to get here this morning.



Maybe your alarm went off, you turned on the lamp, you ran some water to brush your teeth.



(Laughter)



Picked up the paper, which had been delivered by truck.



(Laughter)



For breakfast, you made some toast…



(Laughter)



…took a phone call from a Deputy Mayor, telling you not to mess up the speech you were going to give in Queens this morning, made yourself some hot coffee…



(Laughter)



… then hopped on the subway to get here.



In other words, you relied on the City’s infrastructure – without ever giving it a single thought. In millions of components- Its millions of components just have to work seamlessly… … every second ... day after day... year after year... for all of us to survive.

And, for the most part, they do. And that’s a testament to the genius of visionaries like Thomas Edison; to the skill and muscle of sandhogs who blasted subway and water tunnels through 400 million-year-old bedrock, and to all those who engineered and built our brilliant city.



But even their amazing achievements can't outlast the ravages of time.We’re a city that runs on electricity, yet some of our power grid dates from the 1920s, and our power plants rely heavily on outmoded, heavily-polluting technology. Our subway system and highway networks are extensive, and heavily-used, yet nearly 3,000 miles of our roads, bridges, and tunnels, and the majority of our subway stations, are in need of repair.



And even though we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our sewer infrastructure over the past 15 years, at the current pace, a full upgrade will take another 500 years. And hopeful as I am for a long and happy life, even I don’t expect to see that day!



By 2030, virtually every major infrastructure system in our city will be more than a century old, and pushed to its limits.



It doesn’t have to come to that…if we act. Once, infrastructure solutions were pioneered in New York. Now it's time for us to rise to the challenge again, with a new commitment to upgrading and maintaining New York’s infrastructure.



MAINTAINYC VIDEO ROLLS



Achieving sustainability for our growing city means protecting its foundation, our infrastructure. And to do that, we’ve set these three goals:



Developing critical back-up systems for our water network so every New Yorker is assured of a dependable source of water even into the next century.



Reaching a full state of good repair for New York City’s roads, subways, and rails for the first time in history.



And providing cleaner, more reliable power for every New Yorker by upgrading our energy infrastructure.



In addition to a surging population and a straining infrastructure, we also face

the challenge of preserving and “greening” an increasingly embattled urban environment.



The good news is we’ve already taken major steps in the right direction. Exhibit A is our Solid Waste Management Plan, which, thanks to the active support of the League of Conservation Voters, Speaker Quinn and the City Council passed earlier this year.



It was the most dramatic environmental victory New Yorkers have achieved in decades, one that will increase recycling, and completely end our Sanitation Department’s use of heavily polluting, diesel-burning long-haul trucks.



Nor is that an isolated achievement. In the past five years, City agencies have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 350,000 tons a year. We’ve made far-sighted investments that will protect the purity of the water we drink. And not far from here, we’re turning the site of the old Elmhurst gas tanks into a beautiful new park, just one example of how we’re reclaiming former industrial sites for open space and housing.



But the demands of our growing population require we do far more to protect our environment. Despite the gains we have made over the past two decades, our aging sewer network still discharges two billion gallons of sewage into our waterways every year.

Even though we have cleaned hundreds of acres of brownfields across the city, there is still much more contaminated land waiting for the reclaiming- waiting to be reclaimed for new jobs, housing, and parks.



Our air is cleaner now than it was for much of the 20th Century, yet we have one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the country and its effects are most severe for young children in neighborhoods with high poverty rates.



Meanwhile, we've all noticed that the weather seems to be getting more unpredictable and summers seem to be getting hotter. And longer. That’s not just a perception;

it’s a reality. It's called global warming, but the impact can be local. Not that I’m complaining about fifty-degree weather in December, but we’re a coastal city. And the increase of greenhouse gases in our air is not only lifting temperatures, but may also be contributing to our rising sea level. That means that when major storms hit in the future, the resulting flooding could be worse than anything we’ve ever seen.



We now know the cost of failing to prepare. It can devastate a great city in just hours, which is why we have created a comprehensive Coastal Storm Plan.



But to reduce the threat of dangerous storms, it’s also essential that we do our part to dramatically cut greenhouse gases. To ensure the health of future generations and to establish New York as a leader in meeting some of the greatest challenges of our time, we must do more to green our city.



GREENYC VIDEO ROLLS



As Carlton said, if anyone can innovate when it comes to the environment – or anything else – New York can. And in that spirit, we’ve set these four environmental goals:



--Reducing our city’s global warming emissions by more than 30% by 2030, a target we know is achievable even just using technology that exists today.



--Achieving the cleanest air quality of any big city in America…



--Cleaning up all of our contaminated land...



--And, finally, opening 90% of our rivers, harbors and bays for recreation by reducing water pollution and preserving our natural areas.



Clearly, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. I’m not going to pretend that fulfilling these goals will be easy. We know that some of these solutions will be difficult, and some will cost money.



But in a very real sense, the predicament of our future is also our hope. The very same population growth that intensifies the challenges we face also offers us

the resources for meeting them and the means needed to help achieve sustainability.



I also agree strongly with Kenneth Jackson, that doing nothing has its costs, too – economic and environmental, costs that will only escalate with the passing years. Refusing to saddle our children with those high costs is what fiscal responsibility is all about. It's why the discipline we’ve shown and the investments we've made for the past five years have given us a strong foundation to face our future. To address the challenges before us, we’ll seek the cooperation of policymakers at every level of government, including the Governor-elect and our regional partners.



And the really creative solutions to our problems are especially likely to come from the private sector, or from non-profit organizations, or from community leaders who are determined to make a difference.



We want to hear all of those voices. And we need to.



That’s why we are going to conduct a major public outreach effort over the next few months to solicit ideas, get feedback, and build toward consensus.



Today we are launching that citywide conversation.



In fact, the first discussion will take place right here on this stage. We have assembled an impressive panel of experts representing a broad spectrum of disciplines and opinions.



And now it is my pleasure to introduce the moderator for this discussion – a long-time resident of our City who loves it as much as his native South Dakota and who believes in the power to innovate and inspire.



Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a great New Yorker and a good friend – Tom Brokaw.



PANEL DISCUSSION TAKES PLACE



Wait, we’re not done yet. Sit down, sit down. I knew this was going to happen.



(Laughter)



You can’t leave until we sa- everything has been said but it hasn’t been said by everybody. So we’ve got to do that. Anyway, seriously, thank you, Tom and all of our distinguished panelists.



I think it’s clear from that spirited discussion that the question isn’t IF there are solutions, but which ones to pursue. And Ed and I will be talking about it over steak and potatoes.



As we go forward, seriously, it’s important to know that every good idea will be on the table and that every reasonable proposal will get a fair hearing.



To help us generate those ideas, we’re going to go to the real experts and that is you – New Yorkers in all five boroughs.



We’ll also encourage our neighbors in the region to participate as well. .



So go to our website, the address is here. Look for meetings we'll be holding in every borough, bring us your ideas. Next week, the city’s daily newspapers will include a brochure that summarizes the challenges we’ve considered today and I want to thank them for helping us start what I hope will be many conversations – on subway platforms, at neighborhood gatherings, and at dinner tables all over town.



We’re only at the beginning of this process, let me remind you. And if it looks today like we have a steep hill to climb, we really do. But the willingness to dream big and then act on those dreams is how New Yorkers created the greatest city in the world.



Whether it was designing a street grid for one million people at a time when our population was only 100,000. Or unveiling plans for a central park, even though the heart of the city was still a mile to the south; or building one of the world’s largest subway systems, when much of our city was still farmland and fields.



Previous generations imagined how New York would change, and they delivered.



And now it is our turn. It was exactly 44 years ago this week that President John F. Kennedy stood just a few steps from where we are today and helped launch construction of the U.S. Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. That Pavilion was called "Challenge to Greatness” and asked Americans not to remain content with victories from the past, but to face the hazards and embrace the hopes of the future.



Today, our future presents us with new challenges. And meeting them requires greatness from all of us, too – a greatness of spirit, of purpose, and of vision.



Now it’s up to us to look ahead, as earlier generations did and begin to plan for a better, stronger, and more sustainable future for our children, and for theirs.

++

It is our city.



It is our future.



It is our choice.



And shame on us if we aren’t up to the task. We can’t just say fu- people in the future should do it. The future is now, and we’ve got to make sure that we get viewed beautifully by the perspective of history.



Thank you very much, have a good day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Harvard Debates the Benefits of the Legacy Admissions Edge

This editorial presented below does a pretty good job of discussing the benefits of the status quo and thinking through who is the "marginal" student who was denied their place in the Harvard undergraduate class. I can't say that I have a big stake in this fight. I was married at Harvard and taught there from 1996 to 1998. It is certainly an excellent university but there are other excellent universities. Two I can think of are Tufts and UCLA and the University of Chicago but there may be others.


Opinion
Retain Legacy Preference
The benefits of legacy admissions justify giving alums’ children a second look
Published On 12/13/2006 2:48:38 AM
By ADAM M. GUREN and REVA P. MINKOFF
None

Giving legacy applicants an extra glance—effectively what Harvard’s current practices amount to—has clear benefits in terms of alumni giving and involvement. The argument that one’s legacy status should not be considered at all, creating some newfangled meritocracy, is too idealistic. It also assumes too much about the goodwill of donors and Harvard’s ability to withstand a reduction in alumni donations.

For better or for worse, alumni giving is a somewhat selfish prospect. Yes, alumni give because they believe in Harvard’s mission and want to give back to an institution that gave them so much. Some alumni may even be so idealistic as to give more to an institution that disavows benefits to legacies in the admissions process.

Yet many alumni, consciously or not, give because they hope that their children will be able to attend Harvard. They also give because they want the Harvard that their children may attend to be as great as the one they attended. Such donations subsidize on-campus opportunities for all Harvard students—including the majority who are not legacies.

Nor should we trade the current system, as some of proposed, for a system of “development” admissions, in which a small number of spots in every freshman class would effectively be auctioned off, resulting in even higher revenues for everyone else’s financial aid. Relying on only mega-donations from the parents of such “development admits” is not enough. The decline in grassroots donations that would result from taking away what amounts to a feather on the admissions scale is too high of a price for the College to pay.

But the benefit of giving legacies a second look amounts to more than just the monetary value of increased alumni donations. Engaged alumni enrich Harvard by their presence. Alumni constantly return to campus to participate in the Harvard community, and it would be naïve to think legacy admissions has nothing to do with their presence. From guests who share their thoughts and experiences as class guests or speakers to alumni who interview applicants to grads who help students network and find jobs, engaged alumni incalculably enrich the University.

To be sure, using legacy to significantly warp Harvard’s near-meritocracy would be a shame. But as is, Harvard has so many overqualified applicants that it has an extremely difficult time discriminating among them. Legacy status may amount to a small consideration, but the decision to admit a student is often made on such minor differences.

This is particularly true when one considers that legacy preference will not make the difference between a well-off legacy from a fancy private school and a student of little means who is a diamond in the rough at an underachieving school. Instead, it will make the difference when the admissions office is considering two students of the former type: one whose parents went to Yale and one whose parents went to Harvard. In these cases, giving the spot to the legacy does not ruin a conception of meritocracy in admissions.

There are many other arguments for legacy admission. Most notably, some argue that having the children of the rich and powerful attend Harvard makes Harvard a better place. Whether one is persuaded by these arguments or not, it is worth paying extra attention to legacy applicants for the sake of having a more engaged community of alumni alone.

Adam M. Guren ’08, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is an economics concentrator in Eliot House. Reva P. Minkoff ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=516361

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

To Conserve on Natural Resource Consumption: Expected Prices Must be Positive!

Could computers and data bases be the key to reducing a city's ecological footprint? This Times article provides details about the inability of New York City's government to have a record keeping system to keep straight who is using how much water. If consumers anticipate that they won't be billed for resource consumption, then this is effectively a price of zero and demand curves do slope down!

Here's a counter-factual for you. If New York City had a credible enforcement mechanism for making consumers face positive prices for water consumption, how much would water consumption per-capita decline by? While many environmentalists focus on population growth and income growth as the key drivers of resource consumption, people would be more likely to economize on consumption if they faced a positive price for consumption.

Greg Mankiw and others have celebrated the Pigou Club but this article highlights the challenges in actually implementing a pricing scheme to make people for scarce natural resources. An irony here. If New York City privatized its water supply, I bet that a for profit company would do a better job keeping straight who consumed how much because they would lose profit if they were giving consumers a "free lunch" of a water transfer without requiring a payment. Starbucks doesn't offer free coffee.


New York Times
December 12, 2006
Water Bills Are So Flawed City Can’t Collect Millions
By ANTHONY DePALMA and JO CRAVEN McGINTY

For years, New York City has failed to collect on millions of dollars in overdue water bills because its records are so riddled with factual errors and outdated information that pursuing deadbeats and delinquents has become virtually impossible.

An examination of the city’s water records by The New York Times revealed that, at least on paper, tens of thousands of property owners have not paid a penny for water in at least two years. Officials insist that debtors collectively owe hundreds of millions for water they used but never paid for.

But whether they are true deadbeats or customers with legitimate disputes, all debtors enjoy a virtual immunity because the city, unlike Boston or Los Angeles, will not use aggressive collection methods like service suspension because its records are so unreliable.

The city’s records show a family that owns more than two dozen properties in Brooklyn and Queens owes more than $1 million in water charges. The family blames it on broken meters and misunderstandings and has managed to make no payments in at least two years.

The owners of a 10-unit condominium building on East 50th Street, a few blocks from the Waldorf-Astoria, simply stopped paying their water bills about two and a half years ago. The city says they now owe more than $16,175. The owners say the meter readings are inaccurate. The city just keeps sending overdue notices.

Two doors away, the United Nations Mission of the Republic of Niger has ignored every water bill it has received since 1998 for its elegant town house, accumulating a debt of nearly $120,000, including penalties. It ignored repeated calls for comment. Eight other foreign missions on the Upper East Side are also in debt, and collectively owe the city about $230,000.

Joseph Mannino, the owner of a small building on Staten Island has a water bill of more than $260,000, which represents some 200 years of water use.

“There’s no way I could have used that much,” he said.

What efforts the city has made to collect on thousands of water debts have been made all the more difficult by a broken record-keeping system that even city officials cannot make sense of. Meters that were installed were never read. Buildings that were demolished over the years continued to receive bills. And water use that would have taken a century to run up was billed to one customer in a single year.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said in an interview that the city could not be proud of a billing and collection system with such “long standing and deeply ingrained” problems. Yet only in the past year have city officials begun examining ways to overhaul the system. They hope to install a $200 million automated meter-reading system, but that will not be in place until 2010.

The city’s records of just how much it is owed — $230 million on debts more than two years old and $400 million accumulated in the last two years — are really just estimates. The actual debts may be less, or more. But while city officials insist the debts are substantial and real, no one believes they will be collected any time soon.

The records — which the city provided only after it was sued by The Times under the Freedom of Information Law — showed that more than 21,000 water accounts have been in arrears for at least two years, with more than 4,650 of those accounts delinquent for a decade or longer.

One consequence of the faulty system is that New Yorkers who do pay their water bills are bearing the burden of those who do not. In July, the city raised water rates by 9.4 percent, far more than had been projected. While higher insurance and financing costs contributed to the increase, the city Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the system, explained that “by far the biggest problem that is causing this proposed increase are the deadbeat homeowners who don’t pay their water bills.”

Since being appointed commissioner of the department in early 2005, Emily Lloyd has tried to straighten out the collection system, starting with determining who owes the city money and why.

“It’s very arduous to go back and figure out why they haven’t paid,” she said. “Did they just decide that nobody’s ever going to do anything so they don’t pay, or did they have a dispute, get really angry, and just decide that they’re not going to pay?”

Ms. Lloyd, arguing that the department needs tougher enforcement tools, has asked the City Council for authority to put delinquent properties into lien sales, which would force owners to clear up their bills or risk losing their buildings.

But Councilman James F. Gennaro of Queens, chairman of the Environmental Committee, which will review the department’s bill collecting performance at a hearing tomorrow, says that is not likely to happen when the billing and collection system is so troubled.

“There is reluctance on the part of the Council to give the department bigger guns to go after delinquent water users,” he said, “unless we can be sure those guns can be reliably aimed.”

Small Properties, Big Debts

The list of late accounts, not surprisingly, included some of the city’s most troubled buildings and a number of its most troublesome landlords.

Among the single largest residential water debtors is 265 Realty Associates, a company linked to Yaakov Goldfeder, whose dilapidated 71-unit building in Brooklyn is $670,423 in arrears. Mr. Goldfeder, who also owes more than $7 million in property taxes and penalties on the building, did not respond to several telephone calls. In June he told The Daily News that he no longer owns the building.

The family of the late Fred Stark, according to the records, owes more than $1 million in water bills, including late fees, on 28 residential and commercial properties in Brooklyn and Queens. The city has long tried, with limited success, to get the Starks to either sell or redevelop those buildings. A lawyer representing the Stark family blamed broken meters and billing disputes.

While those big properties attract the most attention, smaller properties with big debts provide the most chilling insight into a billing system in disarray.

Mr. Mannino’s modest three-story brick building on Bay Street on Staten Island has a water bill exceeding $260,000, several times more than he paid for the building in a private sale in 1997. He agreed to assume the previous owner’s $4,000 water bill, but within two years the bill had soared to $60,000. The debt kept growing, even though the building contained only two apartments and a beauty supply store. The current average residential water bill in the city is less than $600 a year.

“They’re running the system like Romper Room,” Mr. Mannino said. Officials said he might have had a leaking toilet that he was not aware of and did not repair.

The check of computer records found many anomalies among the largest accumulated debts. The building listed at 209 Seigel Street in Brooklyn has a debt of $171,879. But the Rev. Frank Amato, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Roman Catholic church on the same block, said the building was torn down more than 16 years ago to make way for a town house development.

After this was pointed out to city water officials, they removed the building’s debt from their records.

There was no such quick resolution for the husk of a building at 641 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn, which has a listed water debt of $251,381 even though the windows are long gone and no one has lived there for years. Efforts to contact the owner were unsuccessful. Water officials said they had received no payment for the last 16 years, but they still expect to collect on the outstanding debt before the building can be sold.

The city also continues to send overdue notices to the buildings once owned by the Central Railroad of New Jersey on a Hudson River pier. That railroad went bankrupt in 1976.

The largest debts are often the result of estimated bills, accrued over a long period, instead of metered readings. That appears to be what happened to Steve Marovic, who bought a four-family building at 411 Grand Street in Brooklyn in 1995.

Mr. Marovic said the building had no water meter when he bought it. About three years ago, he said he received a summons for not having a meter. He put one in, but no one ever came to read the meter. The city said Mr. Marovic has not made any payments since 1995. His debt now exceeds $145,000, including late charges, far greater than the amount of water the building might have used. City officials now say the bill will be adjusted, but insist that Mr. Marovic owes a substantial amount.

They also are reviewing the water debt on the apartment building in Washington Heights, Manhattan, owned by Teresa Alfonso, an 82-year old widow. A family friend, Emilio Rodriguez, manages the five-story, 13-unit building at 598 West 178th Street for her. He said he receives several bills a month indicating that the debt has grown to more than $157,688, and that no payment has been made since at least 1995. Officials said the problem worsened when the building went from flat fees to metered billing four years ago. The flat fee had been incorrectly calculated because the city undercounted the number of apartments and stores in the building, then retroactively charged Mrs. Alfonso for the difference. When meters were finally installed new disputes arose over the readings.

“It’s a disgrace,” Mrs. Alfonso said.

Joseph F. Singleton Jr., deputy commissioner in charge of customer services, acknowledged that Mrs. Alfonso’s account “has got to be reworked from top to bottom.”

Bills for Horse Troughs

The system’s billing failures go back to the 1980s when New York moved to metered water bills, long after most other cities. For much of its history, the city charged building owners only a flat fee for water, a fee so low that many New Yorkers believed water was free.

After the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, the entire water system — the largest municipal system in the country — was pulled out of the general city budget to protect it from future fiscal shocks. But the installation of thousands of water meters in the 1980s was followed by allegations of fraud and complaints of grossly inaccurate readings. The billing problems were compounded when the city’s Department of Finance turned over responsibility for water billing to the Department of Environmental Protection in 1995. At that time, several accounts had been delinquent for 40 years, and the oldest dated to 1933.

Today, 96 percent of the 826,000 individual water accounts in the city have meters, which are supposed to be read every three months. Yet some of the flat fees — called frontage fees because they were originally based on the width of a building — still exist.

To this day, the water board’s yearly rate schedule is so antiquated that it includes a list of fees for 19th century uses: filling steamboats, sidewalk horse troughs and milk depots. City officials could not explain why they were still there.

Since 1999, the city has had the legal right to suspend water service to residential accounts that were delinquent for more than two years. But it alone among big cities has never turned off the taps to a residence, though its rates are among the lowest of major cities.

In Boston, the city will suspend service if an account is more than 60 days delinquent and the bill exceeds $250. But it will do so only from April to November.

In Chicago, tenants in apartment buildings have the right to send their rent to the city if a landlord fails to pay water bills. If fewer than half the tenants do so, the city reserves the right to shut off the water.

In Los Angeles, where water is especially scarce, authorities suspend service after a payment is 72 days late. It orders about 155 shutoffs a day, said Kim Hughes, a spokeswoman for the city’s water system. About 115 of those customers come in to pay within 24 hours, she said.

Disagreeing Over a Solution

Last year New York toyed with the idea of terminating service to delinquent well-to-do customers, but Ms. Lloyd, the commissioner of the department that oversees the water system, said she was uncomfortable with that approach. And she did not embrace the idea of shutting off water to an entire apartment building because the landlord had not paid.

Instead, last spring she asked the City Council for greater authority to use lien sales as a way of forcing habitual delinquents to pay. Right now, the city can get a lien for an overdue residential water bill only when owners are also behind in property taxes.

But David I. Weprin, chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, refuses to give her that authority. He said he has heard too many water bill horror stories from his constituents, and once his own water bill more than doubled in three months. Eventually, an inquiry found an underground leak, and his bill was adjusted.

“They still have not cleaned up their act when it comes to their billing,” Mr. Weprin said.

City officials began an effort last year that they hoped would bring in $50 million a year in overdue bills. But this spring they reported that only $15 million had been collected toward that goal.

The environmental agency is in the process of signing a contract with the international consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to help upgrade its collection practices.

Officials hope that improved customer service, like shorter waiting times at telephone centers, will keep the $400 million in short term debts from turning into long-term problems.

The department also plans to piggyback on the new wireless emergency notification system being installed around the city so that meters can be read automatically.

Officials reject the idea of an amnesty but they are considering ways to allow delinquent debtors to establish a reliable water use and payment record for a year. That record would then be used retroactively to determine past usage.

Under almost any scenario, the city will have to triage hundreds of thousands of water accounts.

“We’re going to have to find a way to go through those pretty much one by one,” Ms. Lloyd said. “If we don’t want to be tied up in lawsuits forever we need to look at where there have been disputes and decide how strong our case is and whether we feel that is something where we can prevail.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ed Glaeser says "Charge for Congestion"

Boston Globe
MASS. APPEALS | ADVICE FOR THE NEW GOVERNOR | EDWARD L. GLAESER
Free roads are anything but free
By Edward L. Glaeser | December 11, 2006

THE DEBATE over removing tolls on the Western Turnpike shows this state at its worst. Before the election, Governor Mitt Romney's administration engineered a proposal to eliminate tolls west of Route 128. The proposal's fans sell it as a tiny windfall for western Massachusetts. But if western Massachusetts deserves a windfall, doing it through the toll system is just silly.

Meanwhile, the proposal's union opponents are fighting to keep their members sitting in toll booths. Artificially boosting the number of people collecting tolls cannot be good social policy.

Tolls are neither a sensible make-work project nor a good tool for righting regional inequities. As Governor-elect Deval Patrick prepares to take office, he and his nascent administration should understand the best function of tolls: to charge for the use of scarce road space.

Historically, we've spent billions on roads and provided them for free. This approach has given us endless traffic jams, because as any former Soviet commissar can tell you, if prices are too low, endless queues follow. Our free roads end up being anything but free, as massive congestion causes us to pay with time instead of cash.

Tolls should be used to charge people for the congestion they create. If I drive during peak hours, I slow everyone else down. Congestion-based tolls help us make the right decision about when and how often to drive. Granted, if we just raise tolls on major highways like the turnpike, then we push people onto the already crowded side streets. Knowing that, London Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003 introduced a congestion charge throughout much of his city. That led to an 18 percent reduction in traffic and a 30 percent drop in congestion. The change made the city more livable, especially for lower- and middle-income residents who rode buses.

Whatever the benefits, implementing a London-system in the Bay State would be daunting; adding tollbooths would be expensive and unpopular. But we can make two simple improvements to toll policy, which make a lot more sense than ending tolls on the Western Turnpike.

First, we should acknowledge that, because congestion changes from hour to hour, the social cost of driving varies over the day. Time-sensitive tolls can help move drivers from commuting during peak hours to less congested periods. We could double tolls during peak hours and cut them to zero during off-peak hours. Alternatively, the toll could rise slowly from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and then decline as traffic eases off. Since trucks use up the most space, tolls should rise particularly steeply for trucks driving during rush hour.

Second, we should recognize that the administrative costs for cash payments are about three times higher than the same costs for payments made with fast lane devices. Since people who use fast lanes save the system money, their tolls should be reduced. Tolls on those who pay cash should be substantially increased, perhaps even doubled. Already, some tolls are lower for fast lane users, but this effort needs to be expanded. Alternatively, higher tolls on cash-paying drivers can be used to make transponders free.

These two simple proposals require no new infrastructure and would cut commute times and administrative costs. Douglas MacDonald, the former head of the Water Resources Authority, is putting these ideas in place as transportation czar in Washington state. In Massachusetts, these improvements can be revenue neutral; any increases in tolls could be offset by an equal amount of toll decreases, so turnpike users on the whole won't pay any more. The change should be progressive. People who really care about saving money will switch their behavior and pay less, while people who don't care about saving money will end up paying more.

The state can't go on providing free roads forever. Cutting tolls in the western part of the state is rank populism, and Governor-elect Patrick should resist that temptation. At some point, we will have to charge drivers for their effect upon the transportation system. Using tolls to spread traffic more evenly over the day -- and pushing people into the fast lane -- is policy.

Edward L. Glaeser is an economics professor at Harvard and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Reducing Big City Traffic Congestion: Lessons from London

Incentives seem to matter in many settings. Jonathan Leape of the LSE has written a very nice paper on the London Congestion Charge for the Journal of Economic Perspectives. This paper goes into detail about the challenges of implementing a central london congestion charge including the nitty gritty details of enforcement. He also provides some "before/after" facts concerning the impact of the program and discusses the charge's unintended consequences. For those interested in solving big city ills I highly recommend it.
see http://www.atypon-link.com/doi/abs/10.1257/jep.20.4.157

I'm interested in the bigger question of the "demonstration effect". Has NYC learned from London's success? Or does the London success teach us little about how NYC would be affected if it adopted congestion pricing?

This article below has an interesting political economy section on detailing the concerns of garage owners who may lobby against this welfare improving policy.


New York Times
December 10, 2006
The City
Reducing the Cost of Congestion

It is reassuring that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not shut the door on congestion pricing, even in the face of those who incorrectly call it a tax. The mayor and his planners have no doubt observed the success of congestion pricing in cities like London and Stockholm, which have eased traffic gridlock by charging drivers a fee to use the most heavily-traveled streets.

The argument for considering congestion pricing got a further boost last week with a study from the Partnership for New York City showing that clogged streets cost New York $13 billion a year.

If anything, that number seems conservative. The federal Department of Transportation, using figures from the Texas Transportation Institute, puts the costs of traffic backup around cities across the nation at an astounding $200 billion. That doesn’t even count the unmeasurable value of lost time and opportunity. Businesses and consumers lose when goods and services aren’t delivered efficiently, and both human health and the general environment suffer greatly from dirty air.

Washington is now handing out planning money to help cities find ways of easing congestion. Mr. Bloomberg should grab it. Even though polls show that New Yorkers want relief from traffic overload, an actual test of congestion pricing could help seal the deal. That’s what happened in Stockholm, where citizens first balked, then voted to approve congestion pricing after a seven month trial.

Workers in New York have the longest commute in the nation. If solutions are not found now, the situation will only get worse as the city’s population grows, as expected, by one million people, to 9.2 million, in the next 25 years.

The Partnership study offers other compelling data. If traffic were to come down just 15 percent, it says, as many as 52,000 jobs could be created. This is an achievable goal. In London, which charges a fee of about $16 to most drivers in its main business district, traffic has been reduced about 17 percent. In Stockholm, where charges vary by time of day, downtown traffic dropped 25 percent.

The benefits would ripple to choke points in all five boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey, where the study found that traffic bound for Manhattan’s busiest streets moved at less than 12 miles an hour.

The epicenter of New York’s mess is Manhattan, south of 60th Street. More than 800,000 cars enter the area every weekday. About one-fifth of these vehicles are just passing through, going between New Jersey and Queens or other points east.

But the more amazing figure is that fully 40 percent of the vehicles in the area are occupied by just one person, the driver. Congestion pricing could turn some of these drivers into users of mass transit, which in turn would receive the revenues from congestion pricing fees to improve subway service, expand the number of express buses and subsidize affordable ferries.

Critics of congestion pricing — including some garage owners, who fear empty parking spaces — say they’re standing up for the small business owner, who may have no choice but to drive into the city. Others express concern for city residents who own cars and may need to use them. But the system could be tailored to meet these objections.

The discussion of how New York might implement a pricing plan is less important right now than keeping it on the table as an option. Mr. Bloomberg has been seeking ways to grow New York’s economy, reduce carbon emissions and improve public health. All of these goals could be furthered by simply relieving traffic congestion.

Friday, December 08, 2006

When Bioterrorism was no big deal

Patricia Beeson and Werner Troesken provide some historical perspective on our post 9/11/2001 world by looking at how cities coped in the past with crisis.


http://www.nber.org/papers/w12636

When Bioterrorism Was No Big Deal

Patricia E. Beeson, Werner Troesken

NBER Working Paper No. 12636
Issued in October 2006
NBER Program(s): DAE HC

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of papers like this. You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

---- Abstract -----

To better understand the potential economic repercussions of a bioterrorist attack, this paper explores the effects of several catastrophic epidemics that struck American cities between 1690 and 1880. The epidemics considered here killed between 10 and 25 percent of the urban population studied. A particular emphasis is placed on smallpox and yellow fever, both of which have been identified as potential bioterrorist agents. The central findings of the paper are threefold. First, severe localized epidemics did not disrupt, in any permanent way, the population level or long-term growth trajectory of those cities. Non-localized epidemics (i.e., those that struck more than one major city) do appear to have had some negative effect on population levels and long-term growth. There is also modest evidence that ill-advised responses to epidemics on the part of government officials might have had lasting and negative effects in a few cities. Second, severe localized epidemics did not disrupt trade flows; non-localized epidemics had adverse, though fleeting, effects on trade. Third, while severe epidemics probably imposed some modest costs on local and regional economies, these costs were very small relative to the national economy.

Urban Tourism by Demographic Group

The growth of the black middle class has created niche markets. Many cities are competing to attract minority households to spend their vacations there. This article highlights the scale externality effect that Joel Waldfogel has written about. Atlanta is a popular destination city for black tourists because Atlanta has a large affluent black population. This consumer base means that night clubs and restaurants and stores catering to this group can make profits there.


New York Times
December 8, 2006
Once a Hub of Strife, Boston Woos Black Tourists
By JOSHUA KURLANTZICK

ON a warm November weekend morning, some 35 people from Massachusetts, New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania pack the benches of a trolley rolling through Roxbury, a historically black neighborhood in Boston. For two hours they listen as the tour guide explains how residents are building on vacant lots created when the neighborhood disintegrated in the 1960s.

The trolley, part of a tour organized by the local group Discover Roxbury, passes restored 19th-century mansions and red-brick row houses, and the tourists audibly “aah” with delight. When the tour finishes, the group gathers for lunch, where James Guilford Jr., a 95-year-old lifelong resident of Roxbury, still dapper in a bolo tie and gold earring, retells stories of vibrant local life in the 1930s and ’40s.

“There were so many black barbershops here, so much business,” said Mr. Guilford, a former barber. “I opened, and I couldn’t keep out the customers.”

Ten years ago, it would have been tough to find a tour of Roxbury or any other black neighborhood in Boston. For many black travelers, Boston meant not only John Adams and Paul Revere but also Ted Landsmark, the Boston businessman assaulted by a group of whites in 1976, a time of fierce local conflict over school integration. Someone in the crowd struck Mr. Landsmark with an American flag, a scene captured in a famous news photograph that distilled Boston’s image as a place hostile to black Americans.

“There was a racial overtone in the city, and people didn’t necessarily want to come,” said Carole Copeland Thomas, head of the multicultural committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Darnell Williams, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said that in the past, when he would suggest to black people that they visit Boston, “They’d say: ‘Do I want to come here? Are you out of your mind?’ ”

Today, Boston is trying to change its image among black Americans. By supporting programs and attractions like the Roxbury trolley tour and a number of other initiatives, the Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to draw more black travelers to a city that the longtime Boston Celtics basketball star Bill Russell once called “a flea market of racism.”

“The city of Boston and its leaders have to recognize the fact that Boston has a reputation of not being that welcoming for minorities, but we’ve made extraordinary gains,” said Julie Burns, director of arts, tours and special events in the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Larry Meehan, vice president of the convention and visitors bureau, said: “Boston has had a perception problem for years. I believe it’s going to change. The African Meeting House, the 40th birthday of the Black Heritage Trail and other events we are promoting for 2007 will have a tremendous appeal.” Mr. Meehan also cited the recent election of Deval L. Patrick, who will become Massachusetts’s first black governor, as having a positive impact on the city’s image.

BEYOND the social and cultural need to repair Boston’s reputation among black Americans, there is also a financial incentive. According to a 2003 study by the Travel Industry Association of America, a national trade group, travel by blacks in the United States is growing twice as fast as travel by Americans over all. And Target Market News, a publication that specializes in the black consumer market, estimates that blacks in the United States annually spend around $5 billion on leisure travel.

Cities like Boston that court black travelers will reap the benefits, said Andy Ingraham, president of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners. “African-Americans’ share of the industry is big enough that you have to pay attention,” he said.

In the past, according to Angela DaSilva, founder of the National Black Tourism Network, a travel company, “the only way that we could get to learn about black culture was to ask the black doorman or the black maid. The visitor bureaus didn’t care.”

But over the last decade, with the recognition of the social and commercial importance of black travel, Dallas, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and other cities have started campaigns to promote themselves to black tourists. Black-themed museums have opened in several cities, with new ones soon to come, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and a United States National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va.

Boston’s effort to draw black travelers is among the biggest undertaken by any city in the country. The city, where Crispus Attucks died in the Boston Massacre and where Frederick Douglass lectured, already boasts plenty of important black historical sites, including the Museum of Afro-American History, a memorial to a famous black regiment from the Civil War and a meetinghouse where prominent abolitionists plotted strategy.

Yet, despite the presence of so many black heritage sites, other hurdles to attracting black tourism have proved tough to overcome. One is the relative scarcity of some commonplace aspects of black life.

“The biggest thing that Boston lacked, particularly in terms of African-American travelers, is nightclubs,” said Candelaria Silva, director of the ACT Roxbury Consortium, a group that promotes art and culture. “I send out an e-mail to people coming here about where to get soul food.”

The portion of Boston’s population identified as black is 25 percent, a small segment compared with some other major cities.

This works against Boston, according to Thomas Dorsey, publisher of SoulofAmerica.com, a leading black travel Web site. “African-Americans don’t feel comfortable in Boston, especially when they see how white the tourist areas are,” he said.

Black travelers prefer cities with sizable black populations and a strong black cultural presence, he added. The Travel Industry Association of America study found that Atlanta, more than 60 percent black, was the most popular city among black tourists.

“The black culture, the black night life, the black colleges are all in Atlanta,” Ms. DaSilva said. “Atlanta says, ‘We’re black anyway, and here’s where all your black tourist dollars are going,’ It’s not like some kind of trickle-down thing in Atlanta.”

The multicultural committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a guide to ethnic neighborhoods, film festivals and tours, and it is developing programs to educate local concierges and tour guides about Boston’s black history and attractions. The Massachusetts Cultural Council, meanwhile, has provided financing to groups like ACT.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau has recently also attracted the conventions of prominent black organizations, including the National Association of Black Accountants and the East Coast wing of Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority.

Ms. Burns, of the mayor’s office, also cited Boston’s staging of the 2004 Democratic National Convention as key to rehabilitating its image. Black business leaders and state legislators at the convention got the word out in an effort to draw convention business from black organizations.

THEY were just trying to acknowledge the fact that Boston did have busing — we didn’t try to hide our past,” she said. Their message, Ms. Burns said, was, “Despite what you think, why don’t you come here and see what’s changed?”

But much of Boston’s effort is aimed at the grassroots level. “In terms of making tourism grow for African-Americans, it’s really the nitty-gritty day-to-day work of who guides the tours, who runs the tours,” Ms. Silva said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ingraham, president of the black hotel owners group, said Boston has been aggressively encouraging black hotel ownership, including working with one of the association’s board members to develop a hotel with majority black ownership.

“They’ll reap the benefits of it in people coming to those hotels,” Mr. Ingraham said. “African-Americans are becoming more discriminating in where they stay.”

To address the question of entertainment, young black Bostonians have begun Web sites and listservs to popularize nightclubs and restaurants. One of the best-known sites, Downtimeonline.net, lists 30 to 50 events each week.

Neighborhoods like Roxbury now get visitor traffic: Discover Roxbury events sell out, and the area has started the Roxbury Film Festival, which features films focusing on people of color, as well as actors’ workshops and other events.

These efforts might also help change Boston’s minorities’ perception of the city. One third, according to a Harvard study, say they have at least occasionally felt out of place or unwelcome at a local arena or museum because of their race.

But many black Bostonians don’t necessarily feel that way. “I really think Boston gets a bum rap,” said Darius McCroey, the founder of Downtimeonline. “I won’t say there are no racial issues, but I don’t think it’s so different from other cities.”

Younger travelers, perhaps less aware of Boston’s contentious history, also seem more comfortable going to the city. “If you lived through the busing in the 1970s, that’s going to be a benchmark,” said Ms. Thomas, of the convention and visitors bureau multicultural committee. “But if you’re younger, that won’t be your benchmark.”

And Ted Landsmark, the man in that famous photograph from the time of strife over busing students to achieve school integration? He still lives in Boston and has risen into the city’s elite. Today he is chief executive of the Boston Architectural College, a prominent design institution.

“Busing? That was 30 years ago,” he said, adding that the election of Mr. Patrick was changing outsiders’ perceptions. “They hadn’t realized that Boston had changed that much. People will realize that Boston is not the city it was in the 1970s.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Do Rats Threaten New York City's Quality of Life?

Forget crime, pollution, congestion or bad public schools, this article claims that rats represent NYC's biggest quality of life nemisis. If garbage could be disposed of in an orderly fashion, then rats would have less to eat.

The article engages in some empirical trends analysis. Complaints about rats have increased but children suffering from rat bites have declined. The article argues that the new 311 complaint line has made it easier for New Yorkers to "rat out" the rats.

Perhaps scholars at Columbia or NYU should conduct a rat census counting each of them and learning about their demographics and household structure.


New York Times
December 5, 2006

In Epic Battle, the Rat Patrol Adjusts Its Aim and Digs In

By SEWELL CHAN

In its aggressive strides to improve the quality of life, New York City has drastically curtailed its crime rate. It has overhauled its chaotic school system. But in one area, success is elusive: The city’s rats remain as bold and showy as ever, darting through well-lighted subway stations as blasé New Yorkers watch and scurrying through its public parks at will.

Confounded in previous tries to control the rat population, the city has profoundly shifted its approach in recent few years in an experiment that is being watched by cities across the nation. Instead of waiting for residents’ complaints and responding with rat poison and baits, officials want to tackle the root cause of infestations. They hope to reduce the number of rats by curtailing the food supply — exposed or easily accessible garbage — and controlling the clutter and debris where rats thrive.

The jury is still out on whether the new strategy is working. The number of pest-control complaints has nearly doubled since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office in 2002, surging to 32,160 in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the highest in years. But the number of rat bites, which disproportionately affect children and which are considered especially worrisome because rats can spread disease, is at its lowest level in decades. The disparity has mystified some experts.

Officials attribute part of the increase in complaints to the inception of the city’s 311 hot line in 2003, but they concede that the problem is broad and stubborn. Surveys by the Census Bureau show the rate of rodent infestations — 28.7 percent of rental units and 7.6 percent of owner-occupied housing last year — has remained fairly stable since the late 1990s.

In the last fiscal year, the number of exterminations plummeted, but city officials attribute part of that drop to the improved handling of duplicate complaints. However, it can take months for the city to respond to a rodent complaint, a problem that has been cited in several audits by the city comptroller.

One part of the new effort involves collecting information on computers, block by block and building by building in the most rat-infested areas of the city. Another element is a public education campaign with colorful posters and slogans like “Feed a Pigeon, Breed a Rat” and “Help New York City Send Rats Packing.” The city also conducts classes for many workers called the Rodent Control Academy, using a federal grant.

In addition, each Tuesday, representatives of 22 agencies — including the Buildings, Health, Parks and Sanitation Departments, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Housing Authority — gather in Lower Manhattan to discuss who should handle rat sightings in places like sewer drains, alleys and playgrounds. The group, known as the citywide rodent task force, was formed in 2000 under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and has been expanded under Mr. Bloomberg.

The most effective strategies for rat control have been known for a century but have rarely been followed with rigor, according to Stephen C. Frantz, a retired State Department of Health official and an authority on animal-borne diseases.

“The key to success was environmental management that focused on eliminating food sources, water and harborage,” he said. “Today, we place far too much reliance on poisoning.”

Complicating the problems, rats are developing resistance to many of the poisons used on them.

The Norway or brown rat, the species prevalent on the East Coast, has been around since the Colonial days, but systematic efforts to control the pests did not begin until the late 19th century, with the hiring of rat catchers paid by the rat. The development of powerful rodenticides in the 1940s prompted widespread extermination efforts. New York City officials started such a campaign in 1948.

Later, New York was one of 65 localities that received federal grants from 1972 to 1981 under a program that emphasized public education, sanitation, code enforcement and, to varying extents, poisoning, according to Jerry M. Hershovitz, a longtime official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who oversaw the federal program.

“Unfortunately, since 1981, when the federal program ended, there’s been a resurgence of the rodent problem in many communities,” said Mr. Hershovitz, who retired this year. “Today, most rodent control programs are complaint-oriented and are limited to poisoning and, sometimes, trapping. Undoubtedly, rodents are taking advantage of the situation.”

New York’s rat problem gained new attention under Mr. Giuliani, who doubled spending on pest control in 1997 under pressure from politicians in northern Manhattan, which has historically been a major theater in the war on rats.

Bill Perkins, who represented central Harlem on the City Council from 1998 to 2005 and was elected last month to the State Senate, led a committee that convened a “rat summit” at Columbia University, held seven hearings and produced a report in 2001 that called for lessening the use of poison and improving trash removal and sealing cracks and holes in building foundations that allow rats to move about.

That preventive approach, known among specialists as integrated pest management, has gradually become the city health department’s official policy, particularly because of increasing safety concerns about poisons and the resistance rats are beginning to show to the poisons.

The city’s first pilot project based on that approach used a federal grant to control rats in a 48-block area in Bushwick, Brooklyn, starting in November 2001. The area was inspected for conditions that encourage rats: loose garbage, overgrown lots and holes that let them get into buildings.

The city hired two neighborhood organizations to hand out brochures and put up posters. The city cleared litter and debris from parks, schools, playgrounds and city-managed apartment buildings and other public properties. Rat-resistant trash cans were given away. Within a year, more than half of the properties met inspection standards, up from one-third.

Using city money, the Bloomberg administration expanded the program in August 2003 to cover 1,500 blocks in central Brooklyn, the southern Bronx and northern Manhattan. The rat populations dwindled in those neighborhoods, but the program, the Mayor’s Rodent Control Initiative, ended last December after a series of building-by-building inspections was completed. Some fear that bad human habits may return, and, with them, the rats.

With limited resources, the health department is now trying to apply integrated pest management by collecting better neighborhood data.

“Rodents don’t just live on one property,” said Jessica Leighton, an epidemiologist who has been the deputy commissioner for environmental health since last year. “They’re in a community.”

One of her deputies, Edgar R. Butts, a plant physiologist, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.”

The Bureau of Pest Control Services has a staff of about 235, which includes 43 inspectors, known as sanitarians; 24 exterminators; and 111 lot cleaners. The department spends about more than $8 million annually on rat control, a number that has fluctuated over 20 years.

Michael Mills and Eric Han, both sanitarians, are putting into practice a strategy of rat surveillance, known as indexing. Using maps and property information downloaded onto tablet computers, they look for six “active rat signs”: tracks, active runs (streak marks created when rats run along walls), fresh droppings, gnawing, visible holes and “live rats seen.” (The last is, mercifully, rare.) Each characteristic is recorded on a scale of zero to three.

On a recent walk through the Bedford Park neighborhood in the Bronx, the two men pointed out relics of private efforts, like abandoned bait stations and haphazardly applied patches of concrete. Some property owners even cordon off their yards with sheet metal in a usually futile effort to prevent rats from entering.

Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce.

At another building, the workers found a series of freshly dug burrows at the base of some yew bushes in a concrete, elevated planter that ran along the front. The planter was littered with paper, a discarded soda cup and other trash. A white foam food container was perched at the top of one burrow, apparently dragged there by a rat.

The side yard of a 25-unit building on Valentine Avenue held piles of trash, construction supplies and other clutter. In the corners of the lot were the soft, black pellets: rat droppings. The building has new owners who have hired private exterminators and a new superintendent, a property manager said.

The data will eventually help health officials to prioritize blocks with improperly stored garbage or hazardous amounts of debris; to use rodenticides more selectively; and to better inform residents about how to dispose of garbage. Rats bore into plastic bags effortlessly and can even gnaw through thick plastic trash can lids. Metal cans are ideal, but sanitation workers do not like them because they are heavier and have been linked to injuries. At the least, residents are urged to cover their cans.

While the city does not know if its rat population is increasing or declining, the complaints are continuing to roll in.

Owners of private property are responsible for controlling rat infestations on their premises. If inspectors responding to a complaint — most often from renters — find signs of rats, they issue a letter giving the owner five days to correct the problem. If the problem is still there on a follow-up inspection, the department sends in exterminators and lot cleaners, then bills the owner for the work.

The surge in complaints keeps the exterminators busy. On a recent morning, two veteran exterminators, Larry J. Adams and Harold B. Pou, parked a city van in front of an apartment building in Brooklyn. The front yard of a building on Bushwick Avenue was perforated with rat burrows, indicating a severe infestation.

Using a rubber tube, they poured packet after packet of a rodenticide, Talon-G, into the burrows. Each packet contains 25 milligrams of blue-green pellets of brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that is highly toxic to rats and leads to fatal bleeding.

“We’ve complained so many times,” said Manuel Matias, 24, a resident who peered out of a third-floor window to watch the work.

Outside another apartment building, on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a rat carcass was in plain view. The yard was riddled with burrows, and a superintendent said the owners planned to pave it.

Mr. Pou marveled at the yard. “This is what I call a golf course: 18 holes,” he said. “We’ve been here many times, and we just can’t seem to beat them.”