I STILL ♥ NEW YORK: Bringing Tourists Back to the Greatest City in the World

The decline in tourism over the past year has been profoundly felt throughout our city. A recent report from the Office of the New York State Comptroller found that not only did last year mark the end of a 10-year period of growth; the number of visitors to our city dropped by two thirds and we lost nearly a third of tourism industry jobs, many of which are held by our self-employed, minority, and immigrant neighbors. 

Tourism has become an integral part of our city’s economy across all five boroughs—between 2015-2018, two-thirds of new hotel rooms were built outside of Manhattan; as of 2018, 25% of all Visa card purchases in retailers across our city were made by tourists; as of 2016, 24% of all credit card purchases made at restaurants and bars across our city were made by tourists; and between 1998 and 2018, the incredible growth of tourism created almost 225,000 jobs across our city indirectly related to tourism, in areas including shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

And COVID’s impact on tourism can be felt beyond these industries, impacting every facet of New Yorker’s lives. Last year, the city collected $1.2 billion less in tourism-related taxes than the previous year—money that pays for textbooks, park cleaning, garbage collection, and that could pay for innovations like climate resilience, new modes of transportation, and universal broadband. On average, each NYC household saved $2,185 on their tax returns because of the tax revenue generated by tourism prior to the pandemic, which means a greater burden will fall on everyday New Yorkers.

Our city’s economic and social recovery depends on our ability to revitalize our tourism industry and bring people that contribute to our local businesses and our public services back to our city. Positive steps are already being taken: the city recently committed to spending $30 million on a tourism campaign to bring tourists back; restaurants, theaters, nightlife and attractions are reopening; and local staples like the New York Knicks and Saturday Night Live are good again. But the city has also taken some questionable positions, like the Mayor’s push to restrict new hotels that could play an important role in rebuilding our tourism sector. We need new leadership at City Hall that truly understands the central role of tourism for our city.

Shaun will lead with a new NYC & Company campaign titled “I Still ♥ New York,” focused on promoting our “NYC Healthiest City” and “NYC Safest City” commitments and attracting local, national, and international visitors. Through this campaign we’ll communicate not just that New York is back, but that it’s better than ever.

We need to work together with leaders from across our city to bring back our art spaces, music venues, venues, restaurants, and businesses safely. At the same time, we need to take this opportunity to not just make our city as healthy, safe, and accessible as it was before the pandemic, but actually the healthiest, safest, most convenient city in the world. And, given the power of tourism to drive economic and social recovery, we must make sure that we’re directing tourists to every neighborhood in our city, not just a few hubs, and that we’re making investments to resource gaps in communities that have been historically neglected.

We will make it easier to travel across the city with improved, efficient transit options, and with 15 minute neighborhoods—Shaun’s plan for a good school, fresh food, rapid transit, a great park, high-quality primary care, arts and culture, and a chance to get ahead within 15 minutes of every New Yorker’s front door—we’ll ensure that tourists can visit and contribute to the economies of communities across all five boroughs and experience everything that New York has to offer. Through effective, community-led violence prevention efforts, we will make our streets safer for everyone.

It sounds ambitious, but it is within reach with the right leadership in City Hall. We have been a leader in urban innovation before, and by combining our remarkable people, infrastructure and knowledge with a focus on equity and community engagement, we can truly begin to meet the needs of New Yorkers and our visitors in a meaningful way. There is nothing wrong with New York City that can’t be solved by what is right with New York City.

Our plan will focus on:

Bringing Back Food Establishments, Small Businesses, and the Arts, and Increasing the Amount of Community Spaces Available

As outlined in the introduction, the economic pressure related to the collapse in tourism has been immense, and the impact will be felt by all New Yorkers regardless of whether or not they directly work in the tourism sector. Coming out of the COVID pandemic, New York City must again be one of the top tourism destinations in the world.

To speed along our recovery in the critical tourism industry, we need to work closely with leaders across sectors closely tied to tourism to ensure that we are opening safely while considering the needs of local businesses, and that regulations are clear, enforceable, and fair. But beyond reopening current establishments, we must think creatively about new ways we can use space, do away with pre-COVID barriers to success, and leverage new tools for revenue and tourist attraction—like the recent legalization of marijuana, which has been found in other cities to increase hotel occupancy.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Support small business recovery and growth across the city

Our city has the greatest variety of cultures and backgrounds in the world, and this is reflected in the amazing breadth of our local businesses. And yet, tourists often aren’t exposed to much of that diversity. Indeed, there is a New York that tourists—and even many New Yorkers—seldom see, and it is in the city’s best interest to drive tourists to every one of our communities and neighborhood business districts.

Part of this requires properly supporting our small businesses so tourists will always find thriving communities to visit. The Donovan administration will nurture entrepreneurship, especially among immigrants and Black and Latinx New Yorkers, providing technical assistance, greater access to capital, and a more thoughtful and consistent regulatory environment. We will also work hand-in-hand with industry partners, community leaders, and the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to ensure our policies have the greatest possible impact.

At the same time, we will utilize revitalized citywide arts and food sectors to drive New Yorkers and tourists to every neighborhood. These particular initiatives are discussed in more detail below.

Work with experts to reopen our arts and nightlife venues and bring patrons back

Even at 70% to 80% capacity, many of our city’s venues would struggle to stay open. Limiting them to even less than that isn’t just as bad as keeping them closed—it can actually be worse, since this reintroduces rent and other financial obligations that these venues would be incapable of fulfilling while following city regulation.

With vaccine distribution increasing in New York City, we have the opportunity to finally and properly reopen venues that have been shuttered for over a year. To ensure that this is carried out with safety as a guiding principle, we will listen to data, science, and insight from our health leaders. Bringing together experts and venue owners to establish a clear set of guidelines around reopening of businesses will ensure that safety considerations are clear and enforceable while taking into account the needs and perspectives of our local businesses.

Even with a strong, scientifically-informed plan, many New Yorkers and potential visitors from across the world may be justifiably apprehensive to patronize our venues. In order for the industry to thrive as the pandemic winds down, it must be articulated clearly to the public that arts organizations and venues are safe to visit, and in this regard Shaun, as a candidate and as mayor, must lead by example. Shaun will frequent and uplift arts organizations across all five boroughs, including but not limited to galleries, dance studios, music venues, independent theaters, circus performances, comedy clubs, and museums, from our large arts spaces to our smallest community groups, with a particular focus on organizations led and promoting art by women and New Yorkers of color. Working to sustain the rich cultural life of our city and support the tourism industry, the Donovan administration will make sustained investments in arts and culture and will work closely with philanthropy to galvanize private contributions to this essential sector to the New York City economy. And given its crucial role in the revitalization of our city, we will invest in expanding and strengthening the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife.

Use art to revitalize communities and attract visitors to every neighborhood

In the 1970s and 1980s, during a different time of crisis in the city, we looked to occupy abandoned or empty spaces in ways that brought life to the community. Once again, we have the need and the opportunity to find spaces for cultural organizations to safely engage with New Yorkers.

We must make unoccupied commercial spaces like empty storefronts, as well as open public spaces, available to visual and performing artists, with a particular focus on providing space to artists of color. This effort will ensure that wherever tourists go, they will find streets filled with life and activity. The allocation of these spaces will economically benefit the city at large as it will provide work opportunities to our artists, financially support struggling landlords through rent subsidies or tax forgiveness, and visibly demonstrate to the rest of the world that the arts scene in New York City remains strong. 

These vacant space arts initiatives will be part of a broader effort to attract New Yorkers and tourists to communities across the city, prioritizing neighborhoods that are furthest from being 15 minute neighborhoods. They will also make space more available for film and television production, which in conjunction with initiatives to expand the arts workforce pipeline, will reinvigorate our film and television industries, further attract artists to our neighborhoods, and make it easier to produce content that showcases our city to the world

To that end, we will leverage the existing technology to create a robust digital network of cultural organizations in our city, displaying the richness of our cultural sector across all five boroughs, creating bridges between our neighborhoods, and spurring greater movement across our city. 

We will develop a digital application making all of these places easily identifiable—potentially with curated “walks” or “experiences.” This network can also make it easier to launch artistic events across the city, from large-scale community festivals to short pop-up performances and exhibitions, and to create a citywide events plan to improve coordination—ensuring people are incentivized to visit all boroughs and minimizing conflict between events and local arts organizations.

And, we will work to incentivize the development of arts districts across the city that provide more community-focused, sustainable, and inclusive ways to interact with the Arts & Culture industry. Like the policies outlined in our Economic Development Platform to support the growth of neighborhood commercial corridors, these efforts will draw upon cross-agency collaboration, as well as clarification and simplification of regulation. 

Of course, a clear and consistent dialogue with the communities themselves will be central to these efforts. We will promote communication and collaboration between community boards and boards of local arts organizations to drive community involvement.

It is also Shaun’s belief that, given the potential of these strategies to drive economic development, particular attention should be paid to communities that have faced historical neglect or disinvestment when directing funding and promotional attention.Read more about these plans and the innovative tools we’ll use to make it a reality in our Arts & Culture Platform.

Ensure a faster, more efficient COVID recovery for our food establishments

Through this crisis, our restaurants have found creative ways to adapt to new health precautions and keep diners safe. These ideas—like the outdoor structures many restaurants have built during the pandemic and the technology many use to meet delivery, pickup, and payment needs—present amazing opportunities for restaurants to better meet the needs and wants of New Yorkers and tourists year-round and long after the pandemic is over, and will be a key part of making visitors feel comfortable with coming back to our city.

The Donovan administration will partner closely with food leaders to ensure that the City facilitates the expanded use of these adaptations and lessons as food businesses continue serving New Yorkers. And, we will better coordinate City initiatives like Open Streets and expanded outdoor dining to ensure that these benefit food and non-food establishments in the community alike instead of putting them at odds.

At the same time, we must recognize that restaurants in New York City have not received the amount of support they deserve in reopening safely, and we must change that. We will work to ensure that every food establishment has the resources to keep their employees and patrons safe, provide education and guidelines for safely operating a food establishment including standardized protective gear practices, and help make personal protective equipment (PPE) more accessible for all workers across the city’s food production and distribution chain.

That said, we recognize that many restaurants are in dire need of financial support. It’s fantastic news that the Biden-Harris recovery plan includes a $28.6 billion grant fund to assist restaurants, food trucks, bars, and street vendors with a range of financial needs. 

We’re very excited about this initiative, but we also recognize that this may not be the last time that the food sector, and specifically our city’s food businesses, may need some quick financial support. Shaun, with decades of experience at every level or government and deep connections to the Biden-Harris administration from his time on the Obama-Biden cabinet, is uniquely positioned among mayoral candidates to get money in the hands of those who need it most.

At the same time, we will not wait for federal action if our city is faced with an urgent need. Shaun’s decades of government experience also give him an understanding of local and federal regulation that would allow him as mayor to find creative sources of funding or potential reallocations of resources that others might not consider.
These plans will connect to broader efforts to address longstanding needs of the food industry, including complicated regulatory hurdles, lack of language accessibility, and the use of punitive action and fines over education and collaboration, to ensure restaurants across the city can thrive well beyond the pandemic. Learn more about our plans in Shaun’s Food Platform.

Expand access to public spaces

New York City has approximately 2,300 parks; yet, 1.1 million New Yorkers are not within a 10 minute walk—meaning tourists either also lack access to a park, or avoid entire areas of our city where parks are inaccessible. As we work to make all of New York City a beneficiary of the tourism industry, it is important that we properly invest in parks across every neighborhood.In New York, the Department of Parks and Recreation maintains 14% of the city’s land, and their services have been undeniable for physical, mental, and social health during this pandemic. However, parks receive less than 0.5% of the city’s total budget every year despite seeing their highest usage in decades during COVID-19. This is unacceptable, and we plan to make New York City Parks an essential service in order to safeguard a minimum level of public funding. This includes:

  • Restructuring funding to ensure equitable quality, maintenance, and access to open spaces across all five boroughs.
  • Decentralizing private funding pools by distributing funds raised through parks conservancies and foundations (with funds specifically targeting neglected parks and spaces) – while prioritizing environmental justice communities first.
  • Prioritizing funding for neighborhoods and spaces that have less open space, fewer investment opportunities, and that face disproportionately negative impacts of environmental and public health conditions.
  • Initiating direct stewardship of spaces, which will lead to the creation of new jobs.
  • Fostering strong public-private partnerships within public spaces in order to localize stewardship.

Another important community space is our libraries. With 214 libraries across New York City, there is a library building in every neighborhood. Opening all libraries, in all neighborhoods, seven days a week will allow libraries to serve as catalysts for social and economic infrastructure within our communities for people of all ages, and create environments in communities across the city that will further welcome visitors to their neighboring businesses and arts venues.Read more about our plans to preserve and support our parks in our Climate Platform, and about our plans to open libraries seven days a week in our Education Platform.

Making New York the Healthiest AND Safest City in the World

The next mayor’s first priority must be ensuring that everyone in our city is healthy, safe, and has equitable access to resources needed to preserve their wellbeing. But making our communities safer doesn’t just benefit New Yorkers, it applies to our visitors as well. In asking tourists from around the world to return to our city, we must at the same time ensure that they will be able to enjoy every part of our city with the confidence that they will be safe from harm.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Launch our “NYC Healthiest City” commitments

Shaun’s Health Platform lays out a comprehensive set of policies geared toward making New York the healthiest city in the world. The first step is to end the COVID crisis through more unified city coordination under the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, greater emphasis on vaccination prioritizing the hard hit communities of color, and improved, more transparent data systems. Looking ahead to our long-term recovery and potential future health crises, we must also be sure to invest in building and training a reserve of medical professionals, partner more effectively with primary care physicians, plan for an annual vaccination campaign, and use vaccine distribution to sign people up for health coverage.

All that said, health goes beyond staving off pandemics. Even prior to COVID-19, our city faced a number of health challenges that have only gotten worse over the next year and need to be addressed if tourists are to feel healthy everywhere in our city. One issue is geographic access to quality care. As part of his 15 minute neighborhoods initiative, Shaun has committed to ensuring every person in the city has access to high-quality primary care within 15 minute of their front door. This, combined with efforts to expand our public health workforce pipeline and improve care will ensure that anyone visiting the city can safely get the care they need even if they’re unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Shaun has also committed to tackling the “second pandemic” of untreated chronic disease that impacts the health of so many New Yorkers through greater access to fresh food, public space, and active transportation options like walking and cycling anywhere in the entire city, which will allow visitors to easily exercise healthy lifestyles while visiting. And, recognizing that environmental factors like air and water play an important role in people’s health, Shaun is committed to taking steps including closing peaker plants and increasing green space so that there aren’t any parts of the city that would be detrimental to one’s health to visit.

Launch our “NYC Safest City” commitments

In addition to preserving the health of our visitors through greater access to care and a cleaner environment, we must make sure people feel safe from harm inflicted by others as well.

With decades of government experience at the city and federal level including years serving as President Obama’s Budget Director and managing the $4 trillion federal budget, Shaun understands how to make the most efficient use of government resources and he sees when they’re not being used appropriately. At the moment, the NYPD is not being utilized efficiently by the city. They are being asked to respond to situations that they are not the best equipped to address, like mental health crises and school safety, leaving them with less time and resources to deal with the issues that they should focus on, including violent crime and gun violence. 

That is why Shaun has committed to reimagining what we ask the police to do in our city, replacing them with trained mental health, social services, mediation and development professionals. This will allow the NYPD to focus on preventing and investigating violent crime, targeting the out-of-state gun pipeline, and fast-tracking gun cases, bolstered by public health studies on gun violence at the city level.

Rethinking the role of police, along with a commitment to view incarceration as a last resort, will free up considerable resources, and Shaun has committed to reinvesting $500 million annually in community-focused public safety and racial justice initiatives. He will also dedicate roughly $3 billion or 20% of the city’s public safety budget for these efforts by the end of his first term, directed to the neighborhoods with the greatest needs and guided by community input.

Read more about our plans for a safe and just city that focuses on community needs in Shaun’s Criminal Justice Platform.

Improving Mobility and Accessibility Across the City

A key part of making New York City an attractive tourist destination is making it as easy as possible for nonresidents to get around our city. As we reimagine our city in the aftermath of this crisis, we have an opportunity to make necessary and long-overdue changes to our public transit. Similarly, we have an opportunity to rethink how we utilize public space like our curbs, streets, and parks, so that people can move more freely and safely across our city. 

It is critical that we pursue real changes, that make them in a way that addresses the accessibility needs of every community, and that we tie these improvements to our broader economic and social recovery efforts so people can easily access everything they need to thrive in our city.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Improve subway service

The subway is the primary mode of rapid transit in our city, and though we must invest in alternatives (discussed in the next section), we must also make sure that gaps in quality of subway service are addressed through close collaboration with the MTA. 

Currently, the mayor has limited power with the MTA, holding only four board seats. By creating a stronger partnership with the MTA, we can ensure ridership on the subways, buses, and paratransit is supported. We must increase oversight on MTA capital plan prioritization, operations planning, and work to increase governance authority through the addition of Board seats.

The mayor also has the opportunity to use their bully pulpit to encourage collaboration between the city, state, and federal governments. As the MTA is experiencing a major financial deficit, aid from the federal government is more important than ever. Downstate New York accounts for 8% of the country’s GDP, which translates to great bargaining power. We can use that power to bring funding to the MTA by lobbying for federal tax dollars and ensuring that the sources of funding are dedicated to City priorities.

Through all of this, we must prioritize addressing gaps in accessibility across our subway stops. So many stations lack consistent elevator access, and some don’t have it at all. Shaun will ensure that every single subway station is fully accessible to every New Yorker and tourist.

Prioritize a broad range of transportation infrastructure investments

Subways do not adequately serve the full population of New York City or open up the entire city to its tourists, and buses do not currently provide a reliable, far-reaching complement. Buses in New York are slow and unreliable for those who need them the most, and the City has not worked aggressively enough to prioritize bus transit systems. The city should prioritize investment in a true Bus Rapid Transit System in key corridors with dedicated right of ways, intersection treatments, and stations while also improving regular bus service. This is a cost-effective, low-carbon method of improving mass transit that also begins to reverse the inequity of previous MTA capital expenditures.

Technology can also be used to speed up regular bus service by installing more Traffic Signal Priority (TSP) throughout the city. One study found an 18% reduction in bus travel times when using TSP. According to NYCDOT, all buses in the fleet are equipped with the technology, but every intersection needs TSP technology installed to “talk” with the bus. There is TSP currently active at 260 intersections on five out of 326 bus routes. By prioritizing the intersections with bus routes, we can speed up the average bus travel time. 

Cycling is also a great way to get around the city, especially as an alternative to the subway during the COVID-19 pandemic. While more people are choosing to use bikes, the current infrastructure is insufficient and unsafe. Though there are more than 1,200 miles of bike lanes currently across the five boroughs, only 480 miles of them are protected. 

Furthermore, in 2020, more people were killed in traffic than in 2019—people dying in the crosswalk is not an unavoidable part of city living. Two-thirds of commuters who don’t bike cite safety concerns as their primary reason for not biking. We must prioritize the connectivity of the current fragmented network of bike lanes while at the same time making many of these new connections protected to make it safe for bikers to travel about the city. Envisioning new street design delivered in a more cost-effective way can promote safe cycling will be a boon to the city as we make our way towards recovery.

Many cities around the world are seeing a boom of e-scooter options as a new form of transportation. New York City must be prepared to launch a similar program and is mandated to launch a pilot program in 2021. To best support e-scooter expansion, the city must ensure that safety, choice, equity, and transparency are key pillars of any introduction of private sector operators. E-scooter companies operating in the outer boroughs should be responsive to community needs, including those of the disability community.

Looking beyond modes of transportation themselves, we need to ensure that transportation points like our train stations and airports are well taken care of. We will review the condition of all of our transportation hubs and direct adequate infrastructure resources toward making any necessary improvements.

And, COVID-19 has shown us that our streets can be used for so much more than vehicles and parking. We can use streets as parks, expanded dining seating, and gathering places. By speaking with communities and gathering their input, we can make the Open Streets Program accessible, equitable and responsive to the needs of each neighborhood. This will help us revitalize small businesses throughout the city, given that research shows cycling and foot track improve business income. Permanent Open Streets can ensure safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists alike while simultaneously creating new public spaces and new corridors to access the city’s parks. Our Open Streets policies will connect neighborhoods, parks, and plazas to create a network of corridors that serve pedestrians and micro-mobility users. 

By investing in alternate uses of street space like Open Streets, we will also reclaim space that has been reserved for cars for decades, decreasing traffic and congestion that—in addition to contributing to climate change and making the city more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians—disincentivize people from coming to our city.
Read more about these initiatives in Shaun’s Transportation Platform.

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