When Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week that he would seek a third term if the City Council passed legislation allowing him—and them—to run again, he pegged his change of heart to the city’s dire prospects in the face of the financial crisis. But many New Yorkers have speculated that the mayor had been mulling a third term for some months, particularly as his marquee projects foundered.
And so, more than it might rescue Wall Street, a third Bloomberg term may instead continue to reshape Main Streets, or more accurately Broadways, citywide. Today, when the council introduces the controversial bill rolling back term limits from two to three, it could lead to the continuation of one of the most urbanistically driven and powerful administrations the city has ever known.
There is almost no corner of the city Bloomberg and his team have left untouched. They have undertaken 86 rezonings covering 68,000 city blocks, some of which comprise the biggest projects ever undertaken—among them Hudson Yards and Columbia University’s expansion into Manhattanville—and launched other sweeping redevelopment projects like Atlantic Yards. There is the landmark PlaNYC sustainability plan, as well as the fight for congestion pricing. He has reformed the Department of Buildings, despite the recent problems, and overseen a considerable expansion at the Parks Department.
Ric Bell, executive director of the local AIA chapter, would welcome a third term. “Mayor Bloomberg has done more that is good for architecture and planning in New York City, than any mayor since—and maybe including—Fiorello LaGuardia,” he wrote in an email. “This mayor, more than most other prospective candidates, can bring a keen awareness of the importance of design, in concert with his financial acumen, to bear upon problems that will be different over the next few years than those that we have faced in the recent past.”
Some observers have been less charitable. Joan Byron, director of the Pratt Center’s Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative, agrees that the Bloomberg administration has had a major impact on the city, though not often for the best. “The trouble is, I’m afraid he’s going to give planning a bad name,” she said. “The way he has used planning and urban design in the city is benefiting the most affluent parts of the city. The vast majority of folk aren’t getting the same attention, and when they are, it’s usually to their detriment.”
Byron pointed to Willets Point as an example where the city is neglecting the working-class constituents already in the neighborhood in favor of middle-class housing and a convention center, which would offer mostly lower-paying service jobs. “The agenda is not being deployed in an evenhanded way,” she said.
“This is New York, so not everyone’s going to like your plans,” Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, said. “Still, you have to respect the vision and leadership. Not since the Lindsay administration, which I worked in, has there been so much, well, not responding to other people’s plans but making their own.” Barwick made it clear this was not an endorsement of the mayor, either on his part or the society’s. “I think we’ll save judgment for December 31, 2009,” he said. “Or December 31, 2013, as the case may be.”