Dec. 30, 2020 By: Ben Guttmann
A few months ago, in this very publication, I announced my candidacy to represent the 26th district in the New York City Council. This neighborhood is my home, it is where I’ve grown a business, and I believe that this community is the future of New York and can be a model far beyond the five boroughs.
But today, I’m suspending my campaign. With a coming winter that promises to be challenging for us all, my first commitments to our employees and clients, my students, and of course to my friends and family, make it necessary to take a step back and rededicate my time and efforts. It’s been an honor to be a part of the conversation about how to save the promise of New York for the next generation – and I wanted to leave this race with one idea for the road, literally.
It’s rather simple: streets should be for people. In this decade, we should reallocate 25% of the 3 million on-street parking spaces in this city to community-building uses.
New York City happens when you walk out your front door. When you take that step from the private realm to the public one, you enter what is the essential fabric of our city: the street.
Our streets make up an incredible 27% of the land in our city. They are the largest single part of NYC. But they are easy to overlook in the “everydayness” of it all. We’re used to what we’ve got in most of our neighborhoods: one row of moving cars, two rows of parked ones, and the occasional tree, meter, cyclist, or pile of stinking garbage.
But I believe that our streets contain the answers to help us address nearly every problem we have in this city. We saw some of this happen at light speed in the spring and summer of 2020, when the pandemic forced communal life outdoors, and we built sidewalk cafes, pop-up bike lanes, and instant open streets. In 2021 and beyond, we need to continue this creative re-imagining of our streets to remain a competitive, equitable, healthy, and sustainable city for our next generation.
Streets can help us save and spark small businesses and entrepreneurialism. Streets can help us address our open space crisis and allow for healthy community gathering. Streets can help us solve our environmental challenges, from the sewers and garbage on up to the climate. Streets can even help us build a more just and equitable society.
And most of all, streets can help us do what we most need them to do: safely and efficiently get around this city, whether that means by foot, wheelchair, stroller, bike, bus, train, or yes, car.
Through research and discussions over the past few months, I’ve become passionately convinced that how we view our street needs to radically change. I’m also a Community Board member who knows exactly what kind of pushback and criticism a plan like this can face. But as we’ve seen in 2020, the arguments against progress held little water, and the upside of our sudden shift outward saved both lives and jobs. Indeed, the cost of inaction is far greater.
I’m stepping back from this campaign, but I look forward to sharing more ideas for how to build a better city as we progress into a new, hopeful year. I’m deeply grateful to everybody who donated time, money, expertise, or all of the above in this campaign. Your support means more than you know, and I hope to make you proud in whatever is next.
This is a difficult decision, but what makes it easier is the great field of candidates that I leave behind. I’ve known many of the contenders for years, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the others over the past few months. Everybody is doing this for the right reasons, and everybody cares about our community enough to go through the wringer of this race.
I don’t know who I’m voting for yet. But I will say that in a community as diverse as Western Queens – and which has not had a long history of equally diverse representation – we’d likely be well-served by a woman and/or BIPOC Councilmember. I eagerly look forward to seeing the debate shake out over the coming months, and to see this continued passion for our great city in 2021 and beyond.
Thank you again, happy new year, and see you around the neighborhood.
- * Ben Guttmann is the co-founder and co-owner of Digital Natives, a Long Island City-based digital marketing agency. He ran for City Council in district 26 to represent Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City and parts of Astoria.