The last time we had a new mayor, we were jamming out to Dido and Ja Rule, probably still actively using our AOL accounts. You might be thinking that if you’re not part of Bill de Blasio’s transition team, you’ve got no say in what happens for the next four years. Think again! I put my cynicism aside and based on my visit to Talking Transition, can attest that the new administration is very welcome to the brokester crowd.
You might be wondering how you could be connected to a new vision for New York City. Maybe it was the hour and a half journey it took to get to the tent itself, or the fact that the Talking Transition tent really is a giant white tent with a Times Square-style arrow pointing to the entrance, but the tent was like a mirage, or like a mecca of sorts for those of us waiting for twelve years of Bloomberg to end.
Upon entry, there are dozens of iPads set up with surveys about what issues are most important to visitors, such as recycling or senior services, etc. You have the option to end it at several points (it’s long!), but you can see the results clustered on the adjacent big screen. Dozens of staff buzz around to ensure you understand how the survey works and to answer any questions. Their knowledge and sanity was on a sliding scale: one representative claimed that living in NYC for six months made someone a New Yorker, causing me to ask if he himself was a native–and he was.
If you prefer to express a specific concern, you can pick up a sticker to fill out and stick on two boards. So far, there are many stickers about improving public schools, more accessible composting locations and of course alleviating unemployment.
You can also write your idea on a wipe-board and tape yourself talking about it, or just snap a quick picture. Don’t worry, you can send it to yourself on just about every digital communication platform.
Towards the back, there is an area with refreshments such as hot apple cider and artisanal beet chips. Yes, there is a spigot with free NYC tap water: no bottled water here, corporate pigs. Groundswell had set up an area where you can make drawings and collages about your hopes and dreams for the next administration.
There’s a large space for special presentations (with stadium seating in the back) that are ongoing. There will be a big Town Meeting on November 23, but I caught a large participatory-budgeting-style discussion about the City’s future, led by Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander.
Attendees formed committees around different issue areas like social services, arts and culture, and economic development and jobs. After jotting down ideas on giant paper, they reported on the most popular ones to everyone. A sustainability and environment group decided to highlight ideas like composting and better buses for places with little to no subway access.
The place is filled with iPads and a myriad of options for self expression, but in case you weren’t sure if Gen Y was welcome, there was a panel called “From Motto to Movement: What NYC’s Millennials Want to See Happen in the First 100 Days” on the agenda. Panel speaker Sarah Galli, Political Action Network Co-Chair of WIN.NYC, said she liked how the tent was “broken down into ‘town hall’ compartments, so more than one panel would occur at a time.”
One female Bed-Stuy resident told me she really liked the spacial experience of the Talking Transition tent: “the physical lay-out reflects the idea of transparency. The tent is ‘open’ in terms of space when you walk in. The ‘walls’ of the tent are also clear, so they serve more as windows than walls. Very clever.” She added, “The vision of what a better city looks like shouldn’t be confined to the privileged and well-connected few. The town halls create a space for concerned citizens to ask questions, share our thoughts, and make our voices heard in what we want for the city’s future. It’s important that I’m here. This is my New York too.”
So if you love democracy, bright lights, and your fellow New Yorkers, the intersection of Canal and Varick Streets in Manhattan may be your new favorite hang-out spot from 9am-9pm all week. Talk some Transition while you can, cause the tent is only up through the weekend! We won’t tell anyone you cheated on Brooklyn.
Follow Rachel as she raises high the roof beams of democracy: @rachelevestein