A conversation with Adam Friedman[audio:http://urbanomnibus.wpengine.com/redux/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/AF-Manufacturing-1.mp3]
Click audio player to hear Salazar’s interview with Adam Friedman. Running time: 9:36.
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The collapse of the financial markets and their subsequent rescue has brought the need for a “real” economy into sharp relief. While the financial sector was shedding jobs earlier this year, I sat down with Adam Friedman, then executive director of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), to talk about the manufacturing industry in New York City and why it’s important.
“Manufacturing today is overwhelmingly very high end and provides very well-paying jobs.”
-Adam FriedmanThroughout the five boroughs New Yorkers are producing high end garment and paper products, building green construction materials, furniture, the kitchen sink, and so on. While much needed infrastructure investments and talk of a Green Economy are getting long overdue attention from Washington, many New York businesses are doing the kind of work the national economy seems to be dreaming about. Steady growth in this corner of the economy goes to show the viability of potential investments nationwide.
These jobs also contribute to the vitality of the city and our neighborhoods. High wages, unionized workplaces, benefits, the high walk-to-work ratio of blue-collar communities – for many people, industry jobs are the only jobs in the city that offer a living wage and decent work. Even so, there are tremendous pressures on manufacturers in the city to leave. High rents and inadequate and outdated zoning laws are squeezing manufacturers out of the city.
Political and private interests are also at work, as always. A recent proposal supported by the Bloomberg administration to eliminate zoning protections in the garment district in Midtown means 4,600 workers are battling for survival. Once upon a time (in the 1950s and 60s), 95% of apparel sold in the United States was made here. Today, that number is down to 5%. With the Garment district under threat of extinction, we should expect to see that number plummet further. If the proposal goes through, designers will not be able to afford the rents for production in the Fashion Capital.
The work by The New York Industrial Retention Network and Adam Friedman, who has since been appointed Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, are critical voices on how we can make our communities stronger, more innovative, and more resilient. Now more than ever we should bring their work to the forefront.
Nicole Salazar is a Multimedia Producer at the independent TV / Radio news program Democracy Now!. Previously she studied Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. She lives in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.