As Mike Bloomberg's 12-year tenure comes to an end, New York Magazine takes a deep dive into the accomplishments, controversies, data points, and other legacies of New York City's long-serving leader. Given that few people ever agree on anything when it comes to Bloomberg, archicritic Justin Davidson's round-up of the mayor's impact on the physical face of the city naturally ends up as a somewhat equivocal "he did this, but oh yes, he also did that" assessment. On the whole, though, whether the mark (okay, many marks) Bloomberg left will be heralded or decried, it's clear that with a crowd of diverse New Yorkers as critics and arbiters, a city that's simultaneously a historic relic and a bastion of the new, no one can really "win." On the pace of development, for example, Davidson concludes: "In a way, the go-slow camp and the get-moving contingent were both right. New York is an elderly city, constantly trying to prevent its subways, bridges, brownstones, and monuments from crumbling even as it erects shiny new toys. Compared to Paris, say, New York has been stripping itself of history; compared to Shanghai, it's Miss Havisham." Here now, seven concrete ways Bloombergian development has defined post-9/11 New York.
1) He built really tall stuff. Starting with his own tower on Lexington Avenue in 58th Street, he pushed back into vogue the idea that we could build high and drastically alter the skyline: "He bullied and cajoled developers, steered Liberty Bonds their way, and pushed through rezonings they wanted. Today, each new skyline summit gets superseded by another." Ah, just like the skyscraper wars of yore.
2) He allowed non-drivers to own some of the streets. It's frequently touted that Bloomberg lined the roads with bike lanes and favored pedestrian plazas, but there's more. "Wider sidewalks kept foot traffic from spilling into the road; sidewalk cafes provided new audiences for the theater of the streets; asphalt plazas redistributed real estate from cars to pedestrians. ... [T]hey were tools for making the public realm more public."
3) He tapped big names for public-sector projects. Sure, starchitects were and are involved in city projects at the most ritzy levels, from Calatrava and Gehry to Vinoly and de Portzamparc. But Davidson notes: "[T]he city recruited some of the same names to design firehouses, libraries, schools, and police stations at a fraction of their usual fees. Some of the most appealing private projects (Schermerhorn House, designed by Ennead; the Nehemiah Spring Creek Houses in East New York, by Alexander Gorlin; Grimshaw and Dattner's Via Verde apartment complex in the Melrose section of the Bronx) were built for low-income residents."
4) He wooed tourists and foreign buyers, and they boy did they answer his call. They came in droves, fueling the fires of gentrification. Change was all around, and neighborhoods transformed almost beyond recognition: "Young trees lined the streets. Everyone seemed to live in glass houses, yet hardly anyone threw stones, or spray-painted subways, or even smoked. Those who returned after just a few years' absence found themselves disoriented. The banks had cleared out of Wall Street; families lived there now. Children cavorted along a waterfront that was once a concrete wilderness. (Wasn't it?) The East Village had turned deluxe, Bushwick?Bushwick!?was hopping, and the Brooklyn literary world now considered Manhattan an outer borough."
5) Well, he also introduced some gawd-awful, ugly buildings. Think glassy towers and big-box stores. But don't shoot the messenger?it wasn't exactly all his fault: "The answer is that bad, overpriced buildings are the price of civic ambition. In lean times, most architecture is crap because only what is cheap gets built; in better times, most architecture is crap because developers can't wait to start cashing in."
6) New development equaled success, in Bloomberg's eyes, and so he forged ahead with makeovers on outposts from parks to piers. As Davidson says, "Belief in New York is not an abstraction; it gets expressed in real estate. And so, rather than rally the citizenry, the mayor showered it with proposals. A free-market entrepreneur with faith in the beneficent powers of government, he expressed his confidence in the form of new skyscrapers, growing campuses, hotels, stadiums, parks, piers, malls, and museums."
7) He championed megaprojects like a boss. Besides all the rezonings (both up and down), besides transforming the Brooklyn waterfront, besides Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards, there are the projects yet to be approved. These are slated to get the green light before the year's out: the Staten Island observation wheel and megamall; the Bronx's Kingsbridge Armory, which will be converted into the city's largest ice rink; the new, hurricane-resilient residential Seaport City along the eastern shore of lower Manhattan; the rezoning of Midtown East; and more.
That's some legacy for the build environment as we know it, and what's more, we won't see it fully realized for generations. We just have to wait, and watch.
· Shiny, Alluring, Ugly, Visionary, Inspiring, Incomplete: How Bloomberg Remade New York City [NY Mag]
· His Town: 12 Years of Bloomberg [NY Mag]