At Manhattan Institute, Bloomberg Praises Big Ideas, Denounces Autocratic Urban Planning

Here is a copy of the prepared remarks Michael Bloomberg delivered this morning in midtown to the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank that recently was in the news for providing Rudy Giuliani inaccurate data about cancer rates that found its way into his recent presidential campaign ad.

Here are the prepared remarks, which I haven’t checked against actual delivery:

“Thank you, Julia, and good morning everyone. I see that some people are still coming in; perhaps they were out trick-or-treating a little late last night. And then getting here this morning- wow, this Midtown traffic is really murder, isn’t it? You know, someone ought to come up with a plan to do something about it!

“I want to thank the Manhattan Institute, and its president Larry Mone, not just for bringing us together this morning, but for more than 25 years of scholarship, and leadership, in reshaping public policy in our city. On subjects ranging from welfare reform to tax policy, the Manhattan Institute’s hard-nosed, well-researched ideas have had a tremendous impact. And I want to especially thank you for spearheading the movement to ban trans fats.

“Nowhere has the impact of those ideas been stronger than in the arena of policing and public safety. The Manhattan Institute got it exactly right when it argued that low crime was essential to economic growth, neighborhood stability, and a strong and unified city. And by ‘Thinking Big for New York City’—and then by turning that thinking into realistic policy prescriptions the Manhattan Institute has helped what was once written off as an ‘ungovernable city’ put itself right again.

“We’ve been at City Hall for nearly six years. And over those six years, we’ve built on the record we inherited and kept New York moving forward in directions that the Manhattan Institute has pointed the way on: we’ve driven crime down 25 percent lower than it was six years ago; we’ve outpaced the nation in moving people from welfare to work, and today the welfare rolls are at a more-than 40-year low.

We’ve also brought the principles of welfare reform to the homeless system, and freeing ourselves—as Julia recently noted in the Post—from the ‘tyranny of the advocates’ and the ‘fetters of political correctness’ as we employ new strategies to continue reducing street homelessness in this great city. And perhaps most importantly of all, we’ve brought accountability to our school system, championed charter schools, and created the nation’s largest pay-for-performance program for teachers and principals.

“Not only has the ungovernable city become governable again; we’ve reclaimed our title as the greatest city on earth. Because the truth today is that New York City is back—and not just back from the aftermath of 9/11, but from half a century when the city’s engine of growth – our population – was essentially stuck in neutral.

“Today, that engine is in high gear. Since 2002, we’ve gained close to a quarter-million people and we expect our population to climb to nine million people by the year 2030. That’s great news, because the ability to attract people and talent is the single best predictor of a city’s economic success. A major factor in this renewed growth and economic recovery is our openness to immigrants. And we’ll continue to advocate immigration policy that creates secure borders for our nation and opens doors for the immigrants who are the future of our city. The other indicators of our city’s growth are just as strong.

“This year, for the third consecutive year, we’re on course to issue permits for at least 30,000 housing starts. Ten billion dollars in construction is underway within a three-block radius of the World Trade Center. And by every quality-of-life measure – crime, street cleanliness, park cleanliness, school test scores, and graduation rates – the city is a more attractive place to live in, and invest in, than it’s been in decades.

“We may be headed for a national economic slowdown, but New York City has never been better prepared to weather one than we are right now. Six years ago, no one was predicting that we would be as strong as we are today. Far from it.

“In fact, in the aftermath of 9/11, the conventional wisdom was that New York’s best days as a city were probably behind us. When we came into office, the watchword was Recovery. If we could somehow manage to stave off the expected exodus of businesses and residents; if we could keep crime down to the levels seen during the Giuliani Administration – we could consider it a job well done. Not too many people were putting any bets on our hitting those targets. But we believed that recovery was not enough.

“I spent 15 years on Wall Street and another 20 building up and running my own company. And I learned that you have to manage for the next quarter, and for the decades to come, too. So we came into office determined to achieve, not just short-term recovery, but long-term growth. We began by doing precisely what Julia’s Center for Rethinking Development does so insightfully: we asked fundamental questions about the city’s recent past, its present, and its future.

“The threshold question was: How do we make New York City more competitive? How do we make it attractive to both the enterprises and the people who will give it vitality in this century? We decided fairly quickly that that meant changing course in a fundamental fashion. We knew that what determined that change would be private investment, not government programs. But the question was: How do we incentivize that investment?

“The answer that we arrived at was that we needed to completely re-think the regulations governing the way we use land in this city. We needed to couple that regulatory relief with investments in the public infrastructure and amenities that make communities attractive for private development. And we needed to get all the key City agencies, and the key community stakeholders on board with the process—something that’s not always easy to do in this great but sometimes contentious city of ours.

“At the outset of our Administration, we committed to making City regulations supportive of, not deterrents to, private investment. For instance, when I first ran for Mayor in 2001, I promised to modernize the Building Code – which was adopted in 1968. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult that would be, which is probably why no one else had done it. But we worked very hard, and Patricia Lancaster, our Buildings Department Commissioner, deserves a lot of credit for bringing everyone to the table – developers, unions, fire and safety professionals, the City Council and keeping them there until every last detail was hammered out.

“Now, the outdated regulations that were unnecessarily complex and convoluted have been replaced with a streamlined set of codes that will reduce construction costs and lead to safer, more energy- efficient buildings. We’ve also streamlined the development process by assuming the responsibility of the environmental reviews associated with rezoning. In the past, these were always the obligation of private developers for their individual projects. These reviews can be lengthy, painful, and expensive disincentives to development.

“Now, City Planning takes on these reviews and moves them through the process. That will encourage development and jobs in areas prepared to handle growth – and we’ll easily recoup our costs through the resulting new tax revenue. Some people call this work a gift to developers, I just think it’s a smart way to do the people’s business, because development and growth are essential to the future of our city. But the most important regulations that we zeroed in on were our zoning regulations themselves.

“We knew that New York could not become a 21st century city if it continued operating under a zoning resolution that was adopted in 1961 and that was obsolete by 1975. Decades ago, there was a belief—still around today—that with the right zoning, you could preserve a big share of the city’s industrial economy. No such luck. By the early 1970s, we were hemorrhaging blue-collar jobs.

“By 2002, the city’s economy has changed dramatically – but we were penned in by land use restrictions that no longer made any sense. The waterfront piers were nearly empty, the warehouses falling down, the factories closed, but they still stood there. And even though market forces were pressing for housing in these areas, the City’s regulations prohibited it. The ’61 zoning resolution did succeed in meeting one of its major goals: encouraging development at the city’s periphery, away from mass transit. This is where planners expected the city to grow. Co-op City and Starrett City were seen as the future. But – as is often the case – government is not very adept at predicting the future.

“Government was making two big mistakes: it was freezing out development in areas where growth made sense, and sending it to places that didn’t have the infrastructure to handle it. We were determined to change this – to unlock the potential of the city’s under-used land, to allow market forces to create mixed-use communities, and to move away from a “Manhattan-centric” economic model. But to do this, we couldn’t just change the colors on a zoning map.

“In addition to clearing away the regulatory barriers, we also had to clear away physical barriers. We saw that rezoning had to be coupled with targeted improvements, especially in communities that had been long neglected, because private companies are simply not going to invest in those communities unless the City invests in public infrastructure and amenities. That means increasing the capacity of sewers, expanding mass transit, improving streetscapes and creating new parks and open spaces. These are the public goods that catalyze private development.

“As an example, think about London’s Canary Wharf. It was built on the promise that the government would run the London tube out to it. When government failed to do that, Canary Wharf went bankrupt – but when government finally acted, it became one of the most successful real estate deals of all time. Without that tube extension, Canary Wharf might still be in bankruptcy – and the jobs that are there now would be scattered around the world.

“We took that lesson to heart. That’s why we didn’t wait for the MTA to find the capital dollars to pay for the Number 7 train extension into Hudson Yards, it would have become the next 2nd Avenue subway, delayed by 50 years. We put up the money—because without the subway, developers are not going to build the office space and housing that we will need in the decades to come. And I’m pleased to say that this work is now moving forward. The first contract for constructing the new tunnel has been let. And that’s an essential step to creating the modern and readily accessible office space we need to stay competitive in the global economy.

“Clearing away regulatory barriers and committing to infrastructure investments were the first two big pieces of our land use and rezoning strategy. But the third piece was just as important: involving the community in the process, and getting all the key City agencies to work together as a team. If we’re going to redraw plans for communities, we should recognize that government doesn’t always know best, and the community’s voice has to be heard. And if we’re going to invest in public infrastructure, we had better be sure that we’re putting our money in the right places – and that all agencies are working together to get it done on-time and on-budget.

“Autocratic urban planning has the virtue of speed, but it also leads to arrogant mistakes. When Robert Moses wanted to level a neighborhood he’d just send in the bulldozers. At least 200,000 people were displaced by his ‘urban renewal’ projects alone. That’s not the world we live in anymore, and our work shows it. Both Dan Doctoroff and Amanda Burden deserve enormous credit for the way they have worked with community leaders, built consensus, and gotten our re-zonings adopted.

“Just consider this: Since 2002, we’ve taken 78 re-zonings through the U-LURP process. We haven’t lost a single one of those re-zonings – not one. And this is New York, where if you ask five people a question you’ll get six answers. Reforming regulations, making smart investments, and working collaboratively to make it all happen.

“Those are the elements that have defined our approach to land use – and you can see them all in our recent efforts in Jamaica: Last month, the City Council approved a rezoning covering almost 370 blocks in this part of Southeast Queens—the biggest single rezoning that our Administration has done, or will do, and one of the largest in the city’s history. The vote was the result of an enormous amount of work.

“I remember walking into a meeting on Jamaica last July. There were 42 people in the room from 15 agencies, and each one of them was describing their responsibilities in this community: sewer upgrades, streetscape improvements, extending Atlantic Avenue, building sidewalks and pedestrian walkways, improving street lighting, planting trees, and creating additional street parking. All of this work, combined with the rezoning, will set the stage for development of three million square feet of new office, retail, and hotel space; 9,500 new jobs; and also 5,200 new homes in a community that is superbly served by mass transit. It will clear Jamaica for take-off as a thriving business district linked to our busiest regional airport—the kind of airport business hub that most of the world’s other great cities already have.

“Jamaica is not a unique story. Across the city, we’ve taken the same approach to creating the conditions for major new infusions of private investment. Hudson Yards will be the future location of 100,000 Midtown jobs; 14,000 apartments; and more than 20 acres of new open space.

“In Greenpoint-Williamsburg, some 2,400 units of new housing are underway, or on the way, in the areas that were rezoned in 2005, with thousands more to come. In Queens, Long Island City is finally beginning to grow into its potential. So is Flushing. So is Downtown Brooklyn, and West Chelsea, the home of the High Line.

“In each of these neighborhoods, the City didn’t merely re-draw the zoning regulations: we’re investing in the public infrastructure that attracts private capital, and we’re making those investments based on a vision that is shaped by the community. In every case, we’ve encouraged growth in areas that have good links to mass transit—a trend that will become more pronounced in the years ahead.

“In line with that vision, within a few weeks, we’ll outline a rezoning recommendation for Coney Island that will take full advantage of the wonderfully redesigned and rebuilt Stillwell Avenue station there: and Similar rezonings are set for areas of the South Bronx; along 125th Street in Harlem; in Queens West; and St. George on Staten Island. And our PlaNYC vision for creating housing for our growing city projects that 95 percent of that housing will be built within a half-mile of a subway, compared to less than 70 percent of our housing today. And from Riverdale to Bedford-Stuyvesant, and from Maspeth to the South Shore of Staten Island, even as we’ve worked to create new housing and commercial opportunities, we’ve also acted to protect neighborhood quality of life and property values.

“By fundamentally re-thinking how we use our land, we’ve been able to disprove the conventional wisdom that you just can’t get big projects done anymore. When the West Side Sports and Convention Center didn’t win State approval, it was popular to say that the conventional wisdom was right. But it wasn’t.

“Just look around the City; you’ll see big things being built in all five boroughs. Not just two new baseball stadiums, one in the Bronx and one in Queens. Not just a new basketball arena and apartment towers in Brooklyn; and not just the historic redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. These projects form only one small part of a much larger picture.

“From a distance, they’re what jump out to the casual observer. But if you look more closely, you’ll see the fine-grained, block-by-block, rezoning of communities across the city. Taken individually, some of them may seem relatively small in scale, and if they’ve been reported in the news media, they’ve usually been treated as neighborhood stories. But add up those increments, and you see something dramatic.

“We have secured approval for the rezoning of nearly 6,000 city blocks. That’s nearly one-sixth of the area of New York City—more rezoning in the past six years than had been achieved since 1961, under the past six mayors, combined.

“When you add in the 18 Industrial Business Zones’ that we’ve reserved for manufacturing and warehousing employers throughout the five boroughs, the cumulative impact is even greater. The result is that since 2002, we’ve created the capacity for up to 40 million square feet of new commercial development—approximately the equivalent of Downtown Houston— and up to 45,000 new houses and apartments (about enough to house 120,000 people).

“What’s more, by 2009, rezonings initiated by our Administration will have cleared the tracks for creation of tens of thousands more housing units. Our re-zonings, combined with other regulatory reforms, combined with public infrastructure investments, have helped fuel an incredible construction boom. But the only thing more incredible than the amount of building that is going on is the quality of design that has made New York City the place to work for nearly all of the world’s best architects.

“All great cities have great architecture – and great architecture attracts not only the best and brightest who want to live among it but visitors who want to experience it. Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Rafael Viñoly, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro; those are just a few of the bright stars in a dazzling constellation of architects working in New York today. They’ll leave an aesthetic legacy that will add value to our economy for decades to come.

“Doing the hard work on land use to maximize private investment doesn’t have the political appeal of cutting taxes but it can have a far greater economic impact. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t do both, which is why we’ve eliminated the City sales tax on clothes and shoes, and it’s why we’re working right now to convince Albany to reduce the S-corporation tax, which would cut taxes for small businesses.

“Whether it’s cutting taxes, or modernizing the building code, or assuming the burden of environmental reviews, or pro-actively conducting re-zonings. We are always working to reduce obstacles that stand in the way of private investment so that New York will continue to grow; continue to change; continue to lead.

“In closing, I thought I would leave you with a quote from someone who knows New York as well as anyone: Pete Hamill. In his book Downtown, he wrote: ‘In New York, the present becomes the past more rapidly than in any other world city.’ When that stops being true, New York will cease being the greatest city on earth.

“But I can assure you: It’s not going to happen on my watch. Our city’s future is bright with promise; and New York’s best days are still to come. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the program.