Life After Bloomberg: Assessing NYC’s Urban Future

Originally published by Architizer on July 3, 2013.

Innovation has played a big part in NYC Michael Bloomberg’s three terms, and the critical majority would agree that New York remains one of the most competitive and admired cities in the world. As summer approaches and the 2013 mayoral race heats up, we’re in a panic.

To diffuse this creeping insecurity, NYU Wagner School of Public Policy and the urban think tank Center for an Urban Future have convened a Mayoral Policy Lab. This research team scoured the nation for best practices in other US cities, interviewing 200 policymakers, chiefs of staff, and deputy mayors about their urban plans. They accumulated a list of 120 impressive ideas before whittling it to 15 that met the criteria of reaching scale and taking root. Finally they assessed whether these game changers be retrofitted to New York City.

Vishaan Chakrabarti (partner, SHoP Architects) cited the two of the most pressing challenges for the next administration.

A dozen years ago, New York City was a hub and spoke city and people commuted in to midtown. Now in 2013, NYC is a network of business hubs—from midtown, the Flatiron, and DUMBO to, in the future, Hudson Yards and Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory. By necessity, NYC needs to keep apace with this new model by building the right kind of infrastructure that supports this emerging pattern.

As for NYC’s existing infrastructure, Vishaan declared it was time to “unpack the demons in the city.” Deteriorating infrastructure remains this city’s Achilles Heel (think Penn Station or the Second Avenue Subway, which was first proposed in 1929.) He surmised that as NYC continues to grow, the next mayor has to tap into that demand to help pay for what the city needs to maintain that desirability.

Linda Gibbs (deputy mayor, Health and Human Services, NYC) relayed that the Bloomberg’s administration spent a great deal of time creating a culture where innovating and taking risks were encouraged. His mantra: If you don’t have failure you are not trying hard enough—just don’t screw up next time.

Ben Hecht (president and CEO of Living Cities) proposed that a younger generation of mayors had bought into the idea that cities are incubators of experimentation and are not beholden to legacy assumptions. They often come from the private sector and have an entirely different attitude of governing. He suggested that their role was more akin to a general contractor, a model of distributed leadership and a reliance on partners and collaborations.

At 42, Angel Taveras (mayor of Providence, Rhode Island) embodies the future. Born and bred in Providence, he attended public schools, Harvard, and then Georgetown Law School. He was elected Providence’s first Hispanic Mayor in 2011, and in March 2013 he won Bloomberg’s Mayor’s Challenge First Prize of $5 million to implement a revolutionary early childhood education product to close the word gap of low-income households. He sheepishly declared that he practices “good mayors steal good ideas,” but he became visibly excited when he started to summarize one of his favorite projects in the CUF report—San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College Savings Account—and concluded that he would be implementing that idea when he returned to his fair city.

As the session concluded, I remained panicked and asked myself, why does NYC not have a mayoral candidate like Angel Taveras?