Building A City Lifestyle In The Suburbs

Can Westchester become a booming urban center? Four Westchester mayors gathered last week to share their insights—and explain why urbanization is a key trend for the county.

Westchester’s shift to embrace a more urban future was emphasized last week when mayors from the county’s four largest cities gathered to voice their shared desire to attract millennials, and make Westchester’s cities more walkable, transit-oriented, and environmentally friendly.

The crowded breakfast event—part of the Business Council of Westchester’s KeyBank Speaker Series—at the Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown brought together the mayors of New Rochelle, White Plains, Yonkers, and Mount Vernon for a panel titled “Westchester’s Booming Urban Centers.”

The four mayors agreed that enhancing Westchester’s urban areas needs to be a priority for the county. “Our interests are aligned,” said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. “When you look at the big picture we’ve got to remember it is the entire New York metropolitan area that is in a global competition for talent. If we can’t attract that talent, if we can’t attract a new generation to deal with the aging of our population, we’re going to be in big trouble. We’re going to be losing out to all of these other cities.”

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Building off of New Rochelle’s recent branding of “New Rochelle, Ideally Yours,” Bramson said recent restoration and growth make the town ideal for business and investment. He also praised New Rochelle’s 11 million square foot downtown development plan as “the most ambitious downtown development plan in the Hudson Valley” and is optimistic about smart growth making New Rochelle more walkable and appealing.

White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach highlighted the addition of zip cars, bike lanes, and electric car charging stations as first steps toward making his city more attractive to younger generations. Roach aims to create more street activity along the Galleria Mall on Main Street, update and improve the White Plains Metro-North Station to give locals a sense of arrival, and enhance access to the Bronx River Parkway.

“I’m trying to build a city that people feel like they need to get into,” said Roach. “Our brand is that people see our city and they want to be part of it.”

From left, BCW Executive Vice President and COO John Ravitz; KeyBank President Ruth Mahoney; Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano; New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson; White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach; Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas; BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon and BCW Chairman Anthony Justic

In Yonkers, Mayor Mike Spano noted the city’s success in daylighting the Saw Mill River to enhance the city’s appeal; he also touted Yonkers’ plans to redevelop old sites like the Boyce Thompson Institute to accommodate restaurants and offices and attract millennials through the arts. Spano went on to stress the importance of making it easier for developers to make investments in a community.

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“It’s really about that connection, because if you’re able to get someone with deep pockets to believe in what you’re doing and believe in the future, you’re able to make them come and make an investment,” said Spano. “If they make an investment, it makes the next one easier to come by.”

Mount Vernon’s newly elected Mayor Richard Thomas acknowledged a few of his city’s previous mistakes, but said creating new community partnerships, repairing bridges, streets, and sidewalks, and improving public safety by providing local police and fire departments with additional training and resources will allow Mount Vernon to catch up to the success of the county’s other cities.

“We’re not that far behind but I’m taking a few steps back to ensure that you see there’s quality leadership under new management,” said Thomas. “We’re going to get the basics right before we think big.”

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