In California With Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
We knew that a major policy announcement on long-term planning and environmental sustainability was imminent when we heard last week that Mayor Bloomberg had asked City Council to push back their sustainability hearing from September 18th to the 26th. A New York City Mayor likes nothing less than City Council trumping him on a major policy initiative.
Now Streetsblog has learned that Mayor Bloomberg will make a major announcement on New York City sustainability policy today at 3:00 pm EST. Here’s the catch: He’ll be making that announcement in Sunnyvale, California with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’ll be appearing at the offices of Bloom Energy, formerly known as Ion America, a high-tech start-up company that apparently specializes in fuel cell technology. We do not know what the details of the announcement will be — "long-term planning and sustainability" covers a lot of ground — but based on a couple of recent hires in Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s new shop, we surmise that the mayor may be touching on economic development, transportation, energy and greenhouse gas emissions in today’s talk.
Streetsblog has learned that Mayor Bloomberg’s newly established office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability has hired Dr. Rachel Weinberger, an Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in land use and transportation planning. Dr. Weinberger now works at City Hall as the "Senior Policy Advisor for Transportation." On paper, she looks to be an ideal candidate for the job.
According to her bio, Weinberger "has worked on a wide range of transportation planning projects including transportation master plans, parking policy studies, mobility and access plans, ground-side access to airports, adapting strategies of travelers in the New York Metropolitan region after 9/11, and econometric analyses of transportation investment on property value." And at Penn she was on the same faculty as Streetsblog hero Vukan Vuchic, author of "Transportation for Livable Cities." Weinberger is no stranger to New York City. She earned her Masters degree in Urban Planning from Hunter College. And she has been helping DOT deal with street management issues in Lower Manhattan during the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.
Weinberger’s supervisor is Rohit Thomas Aggarwala, also somewhat newly appointed as the Director of the Long-term Planning and Sustainability office, which is housed within the Mayor’s Office of Operations and overseen by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. Word has it that Doctoroff is pushing Aggarwala hard to get a long-term plan finished within the next three months. The aim is for the Mayor to deliver a speech in January.
Dr. Aggarwala, who provides us with an extraordinarily Googlable name, earned four degrees at Columbia University — a BA in ’93, MA in ’98, MBA in ’00 and then a Ph.D in history with the legendary Kenneth T. Jackson in 2002. Aggarwala’s dissertation, Seat of Empire: New York, Philadelphia, and the Emergence of an American Metropolis, 1776-1837 argues that New York City’s "rise to pre-eminence among American cities was neither inevitable nor predictable." And that the story of New York City’s success "has significant implications for the future of cities in a globalizing economy" in which "some cities may gain or lose relative stature."
After Columbia, Rit, as he is known to his friends and colleagues, took a job at the New Jersey office of McKinsey & Co., the global management and consulting firm. At McKinsey, Aggarwala worked on light rail and intercity passenger rail systems — or so we have heard. Streetsblog would have asked him directly but he doesn’t want to do a Q&A just yet.
Aggarwala is "a really practical… no-nonsense guy," one student told the Columbia Spectator for an article in 2001. "He knows people well; he can read people’s characters very well." Another student said, "Rit is a natural leader, a brilliant speaker, and a charismatic politician. He has an amazing ability to remain objective no matter what his personal views are on a subject."
If Aggarwala is involved in implementing the Mayor’s long-term sustainability plan in addition to writing it, then he is going to have the opportunity to put those political skills to good use. Pushing ambitious and challenging ideas through the City’s entrenched agency bureaucracy and change-averse Community Boards and City Councilmembers will be no small task. Aggarwala has a big job ahead of him and Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t left him much time to get it done — unless, of course, he gets to continue doing it during a Doctoroff Administration.