Located just under 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, New Rochelle is a community that is ambitiously competing for the future, working hard to attract millennials who are searching for a place to call home. With an incredibly innovative attitude, New Rochelle is also the first city in Westchester County to deploy Soofa technology for its community. City leaders acted fast to collaborate with Soofa and make a positive impact in their community. After all, it is in their nature to do so, to remain ahead of other neighboring towns, cities, and boroughs all competing to attract the ever-elusive millennial population. We spoke with Mayor Noam Bramson and Luiz Aragon, Commissioner of Development, to learn more about how the City is taking steps right now to prepare for the future.
When we asked Mayor Bramson and Mr. Aragon to tell us about the project that is best preparing New Rochelle for the future, there was no hesitation. Mayor Bramson told us that “New Rochelle has adopted the most ambitious downtown redevelopment in the Hudson Valley which will position [the City] as the best place to live, work, and play for millennials.” The redevelopment will transform the downtown into a place unlike anywhere else, offering services and experiences that young residents value in their lives. In addition to changing the built environment to meet the needs of 21st century urban dwellers, New Rochelle is also committed to providing sustainable energy options for its residents. Through a process called Community Choice Aggregation (often abbreviated CCA), the City has shifted to 100% renewable energy in its local electricity supply, an effort that fundamentally supports its broader sustainability efforts and overall strategy.
Where New Rochelle also outpaces other cities is its ability to market a consistent message to its current and future residents, and actually execute on it. “Ideally Yours” is the City’s tagline narrative, and both Mayor Bramson and Mr. Aragon told us this goes far beyond just messaging. “Ideally Yours” guides their every decision - from changing the built environment to providing digital services to citizens and more. Some of these actions include preparing to launch high speed public wi-fi throughout the city, designing plans to more fully activate the City’s waterfront to connect it with the downtown in a seamless and beautifully designed way, launching a bike share in the Fall of 2016, and setting up the foundation now to become a “gig city” in the near future. All of these decisions revolve around the notion of making New Rochelle “Ideally Yours” with an emphasis on attracting millennials who will both live in town now, but also plan to take root for the long term. This effectively transforms New Rochelle into a lively and attractive city that provides all the necessary amenities to make it into a “generational destination,” one that brings new people in and makes it very easy and comfortable for them to place roots for years and decades to come.
When we asked Mayor Bramson what cities he and his team look to as examples, he told us, “we don’t look at just any one city, instead we look at many cities at one time to find the best practices that we can implement in our planning decisions.” One outcome in particular from this process is that New Rochelle has become very prescriptive in terms of the design of the built environment. This strategy has led to the City winning numerous awards and gaining national recognition.
Another unique aspect of the City’s planning process was that it utilized crowdsourcing as a medium by which to gain the public’s input on placemaking and planning decisions, co-creating a downtown vision. Residents posted ideas and voted on what they liked best. In this way, Mayor Bramson said, “everyone had the opportunity to actually get their idea included in the master plan.” In addition to this innovative crowdsourcing initiative, the City also hosted over 50 community meetings over the course of one year. It’s clear that collaboration between the City and its residents is paramount to successfully achieving its long term planning goals.
All of this effort leads to making New Rochelle a very unique and special community now and helps sustain its competitiveness into the future. When we asked Mayor Bramson what he wants people to think of when they hear New Rochelle, he said, “I hope people think of New Rochelle as a blend of urban and suburban features. A dense downtown that has the feel and the cultural vitality of a city, surrounded by a classic and charming suburbia, and a seamless connection between the two.” Mr. Aragon was quick to add, “and very hip.”
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