Urban Planning

For Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Whirlwind Day at Wagner

For Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Whirlwind Day at Wagner

Gordon Brown (r.) enjoys light-hearted moment at Henry Hart Rice Forum with Mitchell Moss.

Gordon Brown, the British Labour Party leader who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from June 2007 to May 2010, and is a current Member of Parliament, spent an engaging day at NYU Wagner on April 11 with groups of students, faculty, alumni, staff, and the dean, Ellen Schall. In the evening, he spoke to more than 150 friends of the public-service graduate school as the guest of the Henry Hart Rice Forum moderated by Mitchell Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Wagner.

The Right Honourable Mr. Brown projected optimism about globalization. He said vast increases in producers and consumers in fast-developing countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil will benefit the West, as long as the U.S. and Europe invest heavily in science, technology and education and keep the doors of global trade open.

In this way, Mr. Brown argued, the West can ensure it will profit and gain new sources of employment from globalization -- and ease the understandable anxiety so rife today about economic change.

"For the first time last year, in almost 200 years, Europe and America are being out-produced, out manufactured, and out-invested by the rest of the world," he said. "...It makes people insecure; it makes people feel, ‘Are we witnessing the decline of the West?...And then people feel insecure about their jobs."

It is this economic "sea change," which surpasses even that of the Industrial Revolution, that holds the seeds of opportunity for a more balanced global economy, according to the former prime minister.

"The people who are producing goods in China, India, and elsewhere - they don't want just to be workers producing goods; they want to be consumers too," he said.

"They want to enjoy some of benefit of the goods that come with a higher standard of living. They want to be part of the industrial society as middle class consumers of the future," and they want to have "houses, electrical goods, better clothes, higher quality food, health care, and education."

"There is a huge opportunity for us in what is about to happen, because we in America and Europe can be the people who are equipped to sell goods and services that are sold in the rest of the world," added Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown, who has a PhD in History from the University of Edinburg, was introduced by Dean Schall and queried by Professor Moss about his youthful influences (mainly his parents and his school teachers), rapport with U.S. presidents (from Clinton to Bush to Obama), and Scotland's historical impact on the American experiment.

The event was held at the Kimmel Center of New York University. Mr. Brown is the university's inaugural Distinguished Global Leader in Residence.

In his remarks, the former prime minister warned against a "race to the bottom" that will occur if countries are permitted to attract business via deregulation. What is required, he stated, is the development and maintenance of consistent international standards for investment.

Fielding a question from a Wagner student about the environmental impact of burgeoning consumer economies, he said that worldwide treaties, such as the one attempted but not enacted at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit, are clearly merited .

Former Mayor Ed Koch hails public service careers in NYU Wagner discussion

Former Mayor Ed Koch hails public service careers in NYU Wagner discussion

Former Mayor Ed Koch at NYU Wagner, with author Jonathan Soffer.

Former Mayor Edward I. Koch visited NYU Wagner on October 14, 2010, for an informative and engaging hour of discussion [audio] about his eventful years at City Hall -- years that generated a remarkable turnaround in the condition and character of New York City, visible to this day. Joining Koch was Jonathan Soffer, NYU Polytechnic Institute associate professor of history and author of the critically acclaimed new biography "Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City." [View video.]

More than 150 people, including many former senior officials of the Koch administration, listened as the distinguished public leader described several watershed moments involving his dealings with fiscal policy, striking unions, the private sector, HIV/AIDS, and the homeless.

Has the city been left too dependent on its finance, real estate and insurance industries, asked moderator Rob Polner, public affairs director at Wagner? No, Koch replied emphatically. He noted, as did Soffer, that while he actively encouraged private development in real estate, and makes no apologies for it, he also took advantage of growth in the city's tax base to provide social services.

"Private sector money doesn't build housing for poor people - it doesn't pay," Koch said. "That's the job of government and, regrettably, city government, because the federal government got out of the business of doing it."

One of the most prominent examples of Koch's enduring imprint on urban America was his administration's construction of 252,000 affordable housing units in the arson- and poverty-devastated South Bronx. The monumental, successful project was financed solely through the sale of previously shunned New York City general-obligation bonds.

In part because of such programs, Soffer said he views Mayor Koch not as a conservative -- as some have sought to characterize him -- but as a liberal leader, as "he basically believes in using government for public purposes." Piped up Koch: "I am a liberal -- with sanity!"

"Now when you say, 'Oh, you don't want to depend on development' -- well, that's what New York City's all about!" Koch declared. "In Pittsburgh it was steel. In some other town, it's coal -- whatever it is they have that's available. With us [New York], it's because everyone wants to live here."

Koch said a career devoted to public service is beyond compare -- something that he and hundreds of his former appointees have found true. Most have gone on to senior-level positions, representing all sectors.

"Public service," Koch said, "is the noblest of professions if it's done honorably, if it's done right...It's an aphrodisiac, in a way. Once you've done it, there's nothing comparable."

The former mayor was welcomed by Wagner dean Ellen Schall, and Dianne Rekow, Polytechnic Institute provost and NYU senior vice provost for science and technology.


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