Planning association gives Lehman president seat at table

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As the newest member of the Regional Plan Association’s board of directors, José Luis Cruz already has big plans of his own.

In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the planning organization and the institution where Cruz spends his days — as president of Lehman College.

And that’s important for the organization, which focuses on improving the economic and development environment in the city. For them, Lehman College is an anchor institution, a vital piece to building a healthier community.

“It was an honor to be asked and is a very important role,” Cruz said. “This recognition — where we have a seat at the table, where we can discuss policy issues that involves people’s lives — I think will bring a lot of value.”

Cruz is a new voice to the organization, dedicated to creating systems that invest in the futures of the community, similar to what he provides through Lehman with programs that not only cater to attending students, but neighborhood teens and children as well.

As an urban research and advocacy organization, RPA has been part of the recent push to close Rikers Island so the land can be used to relocate large water treatment facilities along the Bronx’s southeastern waterfront.

The partnership between Cruz and the RPA is rooted in bringing in development from the outside, according to executive director Juliette Michaelson.

“I’d love to see the Bronx emerge as one of those,” she said.

In a statement, state Sen. Jeffrey Klein said Cruz’s input will be important in a number of areas, including what he described as his district’s “transportation deserts” — areas where access to buses or trains are few and far between. 

Lack of transit creates a lot of issues, including making it harder for people to find and keep good jobs and health care.

But RPA is on it. The organization is focused on providing better transportation options in the Bronx, connecting the borough to job opportunities in other boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn. 

That could even mean expanding service from the Second Avenue train station to the Bronx so residents can enjoy some of the same benefits Manhattan already has.

Bringing in people like Cruz allows a group like RPA to harness the impact he and Lehman already have had in their neighborhood, Michaelson said. 

“Anchor institutions like Lehman have deep roots in communities and don’t move in the way businesses move, which can create really positive relationships with the community around them,” she said.

Cruz sees this new partnership not only as a chance to tackle large issues with the RPA, but also as an opportunity to provide insight to the difficulties Bronx residents face.

“This can provide perspective on what the problems are, and we certainly understand that as an institution of higher learning providing educational opportunities to this community,” Cruz said. “We represent a very diverse community in the Bronx, and now we have this association which has top experts who can inform us on policy decisions. But this is also great for us because we can offer some insight.”

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