In her fourth State of the Borough address on Friday morning at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Katz offered a vision of Queens that accommodates a growing population, offers reliable public transportation and fosters a creative hub for the tech industry.
With hundreds of elected officials, community leaders and other dignitaries in the audience, the borough president, recently elected to a new term, reflected on her accomplishments in her first four years in office.
She touted the restoring of confidence in the Queens Library system, the ongoing revitalization of downtown Jamaica and recovery of waterfront communities from Superstorm Sandy. She highlighted an 8.8 percent increase in jobs since 2013, the opening of new ferry stops, and the success of universal pre-kindergarten.
In her first term, Katz said she allocated $300 million for capital projects in Queens. One-third went to public schools, universities and libraries. Another third went to parks for improvement projects. The final $100 million was allocated for upgrades at cultural institutions, hospitals, housing and firehouses.
Even the New York State Pavilion, one of Queens’s most iconic structures, received $16 million for restoration. That project isunderway and will soon be “back from the dead,” Katz said.
“With all of these investments, what we’ve actually been doing in Queens is setting a roadmap and building the infrastructure for the future,” she said, “of where we want the borough to be by the beginning of the next generation, by at least 2030."
Looking toward the future, Katz spotlighted concerns that will need to be addressed in her second term and beyond. One of the most pressing needs is school capacity, particularly in areas where the population has exploded in recent years. Queens has more than 283,000 students, Katz said, greater than the entire population of cities like Newark and Buffalo.
Elementary schools are at 116 percent capacity, and high schools are at 113 percent, she said. The most overcrowded high school in the city is Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, which has more than double the number of students than the school was originally built to serve.
On average, Queens schools exceed capacity by 8 percent. Katz said the borough also receives the least amount of funding per pupil among the five boroughs, something she will look to change.
The School Construction Authority (SCA) has already dedicated more than $1.9 billion to build an additional 18,632 seats in Queens by 2020.
“As we look to where we will be and where we want to be by 2030, it’s clear we need more,” Katz said. “And our families deserve more.”
Another area of focus is the growing technology sector in neighborhoods like Long Island City. With tens of thousands of housing units being built, Cornell Tech’s $2 billion campus on Roosevelt Island nearby and other educational institutions producing local talent, the waterfront community is on pace to become a hub of innovation and creativity.
Despite the potential, Queens has only seen 10 percent job growth in the tech sector, compared to 28 percent growth citywide. Eighteen months ago, the borough president commissioned the "Western Queens Strategic Tech Plan” to create a roadmap to foster “equitable growth” and close that gap.
“By leveraging Western Queens’ ample space for growth and its projected development, and by working closely with great partners for our future like EDC, we are steering our borough into the competitive lane of the digital age,” she said.
Ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census, Katz said she will also convene a new committee to maximize the borough’s participation in the count. At stake, she said, are federal resources for infrastructure, health services, schools and government representation.
“If we want our fair share, we can’t afford to just be reactive,” she said. “We must be proactive, and we must be counted."
By 2030, Katz said she hopes to end homelessness among veteran, provide health care for every veteran, set aside a portion of public housing units specifically for grandparents, and launch a branded tourism campaign for Queens.
She also joked that she would also want the New York Mets to win their sixth World Series by 2030.
Though those accomplishments may just be a pipe dream, Katz said there are many realistic goals the borough could achieve by then, including ridding schools of classroom trailers, offering 3-K for every child, and expanding or even opening new library branches.
On transportation, Katz said Queens will reactivate the former Lower Montauk line for commuter rail, complete the overhaul of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports, and even create a continuous, protected bike lane throughout Queens as part of a borough-wide bike plan.
She also envisions a fully-developed Willets Point that is home to tens of thousands units of 100 percent affordable housing funded by a new soccer stadium that will eventually host the 2034 World Cup. Nearby would be a transit hub that connects passengers to the 7 train, LIRR and an AirTrain to LaGuardia.
One of the questions that will remain is Sunnyside Yards, where Katz predicted that officials will “still be talking about it” by 2030.
“With a shared vision – our vision – New York’s greatest potential, opportunities and future are all here,” Katz said. “And in 2030, when I’m 64, we’ll be able to look back fondly to today and how, together, we build our tomorrow.”