Quite a few people were surprised when RPA announced this year that Preet Bharara was going to be one of the keynote speakers at the annual RPA Assembly. But we knew the U.S. Attorney would be a perfect fit for the conference in April, where we wanted to examine whether and how governing institutions need to change in order to address some of the region’s big challenges, from income inequality to decaying infrastructure to protracted housing shortages.
At the Assembly on April 24, Mr. Bharara made a powerful case that corruption and the resulting loss in public confidence in government has had a corrosive effect on the region’s ability to solve big problems. “Even in a dynamic and transparent and honest system, it is supremely difficult to get action on long‐term, hard things,” he told an audience of nearly 1,000 at the Waldorf-Astoria. “Now think about how much that difficulty is compounded if a culture of corruption is allowed to take root.”
Corruption had become a draining distraction that was preventing us from fixing the very problems that we had gathered to discuss at the Assembly. A cultural change that begins with public awareness of ineffective or tainted government is crucial to creating focus, resolve and lasting change, he said.
Mr. Bharara’s speech was one of many high points at the 25th annual RPA Assembly. The day’s proceedings began with an update on RPA’s research for the Fourth Regional Plan, including new projections for population and job growth in the tri-state area. New York City First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris delivered an overview of the newly unveiled OneNYC sustainability plan. And over a series of nine discussions and debates, policy makers and other experts tackled difficult questions that RPA has been grappling with in our Fourth Plan work -- ones where we have found very little consensus. Those issues, including whether vulnerable coastal communities should be encouraged to retreat from flood zones, or whether the accelerating pace of gentrification has been good or bad for low-income communities, produced some pointed disagreements, but also a great deal of insight that will help shape the research and recommendations of the Fourth Regional Plan.
Thank you to all our presenters and attendees for a great conference.
Video clips of main stage speeches and debates:
Video clips of breakout debate sessions: