Outgoing BPCA President Reflects on Resiliency, Affordability, and Playing Detective
Longtime Battery Park City Authority president B.J. Jones recently resigned to become executive director of the Adams administration’s “Making New York Work for Everyone” plan, a package of 40 initiatives that aims to provide a roadmap for equitable, inclusive growth throughout the five boroughs. “This is about the whole City,” he says, “the interplay of culture and public art, public space and affordable housing, urban innovation and economic development.” The Broadsheet asked him to reflect on his tenure at the Authority.
Broadsheet: What was the catalyst for your decision to leave?
Jones: Duty calls when we least expect it and with it comes the opportunity to make a difference. One of the times that happened was when I became president of the Battery Park City Authority. And now with the opportunity to help the City navigate this new world in the wake of the pandemic, it just feels like this is where I needed to be next.
Broadsheet: How easy or difficult will it be to replicate the success of Battery Park City elsewhere?
Jones: Despite the financial framework that Battery Park City enjoys, fighting for those resources isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s going to be interesting to figure out how to prioritize resources when there are so many needs. In government, you can’t always do it all, and you can’t always do it as fast as you think it needs to be done. You just keep making progress and it adds up. But I relish the opportunity to set priorities and make the case for resources and deploy them.
Broadsheet: What is your advice to your successor about what not to do?
Jones: Don’t underestimate how important the day-to-day work of horticulture and maintenance and parks programming is. It really is the heart and soul of what the Authority is about. The parks team does a wonderful job of taking care of this neighborhood, but they also make it look easy, which it is not. They deserve as much recognition and empowerment as anyone in this organization, because what they do is vital to the life of the neighborhood. It is easy to take that for granted, but I would say to my successor, “don’t take it for granted.”
Broadsheet: Did you have any idea what you were signing up for when you accepted the [BPCA] job?
Broadsheet: What do you wish you had known when you walked in the door?
Jones: I wish I had know what the master lease was, what the ground leases were, what the settlement agreement was, and what the joint-purpose fund was. [These are references to unique and controversial features of BPCA finances that relate to property ownership and the disbursement of funds collected by the Authority.] It was fun being a detective, constantly peeling back layers of an onion. But if I’m leaving anything, I hope it’s greater clarity on what makes this organization tick, whether it’s the people, the projects, and the processes or the financial frameworks and the governing documents. I went through a serious period of discovery. I also wish I had known what the the projections for sea level rise were.
Broadsheet: What was the most challenging part of the job?
Jones: Almost every day I have felt a little bit overwhelmed. But as I began digging into things, it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, what needed to be done if I was going to make a difference, instead of treading water.
Broadsheet: What is the BPCA initiative you are proudest of?
Jones: My favorite is the P226M work readiness program. [This is a reference to the vocational training program for developmentally disabled students headquartered in Stuvesant High School, through which the BPCA partners with the City’s Department of Education to offer horticulture, clerical, culinary, and maintenance training to students.]
Broadsheet: What do you think of as your legacy?
Jones: I can leave here with a full heart because we had the opportunity to make a dent in coastal flood protection. We were able to start chiseling away at addressing and preserving affordable housing, and reinvigorating our public art. We recently completed a district energy assessment to evaluate the options for how we can reduce our carbon footprint locally. We’ve planted an amazing number of seeds.
Broadsheet: What could undermine Battery Park City in the years ahead?
Jones: The real the threat is climate change. The resiliency stuff needs to get done so this neighborhood is safe. The other concern is housing affordability.