Twenty years ago, Fred and I were invited to an intimate meeting of tech founders and senators. It was memorable for many reasons, but the one that has always stuck in my mind is our government’s inability to break glass, be brave, and make game-changing decisions. It seems to annoy me more these days.
There were as many tech founders as there were senators at this particular event, and that alone changed the conversation. Bill and Hillary Clinton were there too. Schumer directed the event. We have all talked about topics that are important to us. At the time, I was the chairman of MOUSE, an organization that empowers students with technology.
My question was simple. Why don’t we spend the money it takes to solve the problems of children going home without internet access (aka the digital divide) and put the money it needs in public schools to get all that fat get rid of? God forbid that should happen. Why? Quite simply, politics. I don’t want to upset anyone. And most importantly, how can we do just enough to change direction, make a difference, while staying in power so that everyone feels good and is re-elected. If they had made bold decisions 20 years ago, we would not be where we are now.
Covid forced education to change and wake up. Wherever we will go in the post-pandemic world, the unclear but compelling education into the future has been fueled by Covid. The private industry around education was ready, willing, and able. Let’s see, what will come next.
If we went to the same event now, I would ask different questions. Public housing is celebrated in other countries. Here, too, should be celebrated. There is a physical structure that helps those in need to live in our cities. Your jobs are the backbone of many parts of our city. Why shouldn’t your apartments also have solar power, wireless access points everywhere, washing machines and dryers in the basements, split HVAC systems and just feel wonderful? Data has shown that the effects can be felt when people live and learn in a positive-feeling environment.
Why don’t we take city-owned land across the boroughs and build enough buildings out of the old buildings to accommodate each person? Get the community involved in the discussions about what their buildings should look like. It should be a collaborative process. Create beautiful, future-oriented apartments with parks, built-in social systems, bodegas with products that the community wants and climate-neutral buildings and you can earn money with solar power. Then, when they’re working perfectly, have anyone currently living in public housing check it out so they’ll be excited and help them move in. Then take the old buildings and implode them. After that, rebuild more public housing in that room from scratch using the same future program.
It wouldn’t cost $ 40 billion, the number it would take to repair the buildings as a whole, but it would cost $ 200 billion. If anyone does the math, they will see very clearly that the additional $ 160 billion will save money in the long run and the positive effects of all residents of these buildings and our city will be enormous.
There’s a saying when you create projects; cheap is expensive. We have to stop running this country year after year, but for decades to decades.