From my bedroom window, I look out onto Broadway. Over the past five months, I have been watching the slow reveal of a storefront construction fence going up and now finally coming down. The site at the corner of 81st once held two grouty but beloved discount stores, selling brands cheap enough to draw people from other neighborhoods. In their place, a beached whale-length Bank of America is about to open. In the ten blocks between 81st Street and 91st Street on Broadway, there are ten banks; three of them are already Banks of America. I fantasize about spraying ‘Get out of Dodge!’ on the plywood door.
In January, the City Planning Department submitted its plan to limit the proliferation of banks and mega-chains on the Upper West Side. On June 28, City Council approved the zoning change. Fast but not fast enough for my block.
Last November the Architectural League and the Citizens Housing and Planning Council held a joint symposium to develop innovative housing options; the hands-on favorites were micro-units. And on July 9, with astonishing speed, Mayor Bloomberg announced adAPT NYC, a competition to develop a rental building concept “composed primarily, or completely, of micro-units” according to the RFP. No need to revisit here DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan’s combat readiness when it comes to launching quickie pilot programs.
This is a responsive administration. In fact, it sometimes seems to operate on emergency room protocols. Or perhaps it’s simply the ingrained trait of our entrepreneur mayor’s DNA expressing itself: Identify it; Do it.
Not everyone thinks rapid response decrees are the way to go. The Pratt Center for Community Development has cautioned in the past that the Bloomberg Administration has launched a lot of plans without sufficient neighborhood input and that the city’s own strategic plans are not transparent enough for communities to understand and respond with their own feedback. No sooner was the complaint lodged online than City Planning upped the number of plans emerging “pursuant to 197-a,” the City Charter amendment that fosters public participation in planning. One of the latest, Partnership for the Future: a 197-a Plan for Revitalization of the Bronx, just came out in May.
This hallmark ability to pounce has turned New York City from an eminence grise into an urban wunderkind. We’re not Copenhagen, yet, but New York has bootstrapped it’s way up from Scorsese seedy to sustainably cosmopolitan. Other cities want to learn from us. From the High Line to the rooftops of Via Verde, you can see mayoral posses taking notes. It has not, of course, just been the doing of Manager Mike making proclamations from City Hall but the work of city agencies collaborating and coordinating, not competing, across their departments with unprecedented collegiality, call it fraternity, for over a decade. There is not a scene-chewing Moses among them.
And so as the Bloomberg Administration starts its ride into the sunset, it is no surprise that the architecture and urban planning communities are concerned. Already, the anxiety about what lies ahead is palpable. The next team will need performance enhancers to match this band of bureaucrats with shared purpose who believe that new ideas must be put to work sooner than later. There’s a New York style to it; we’re an impatient bunch.