Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was in town on Tuesday, July 6, for the first time since 1976. One wonders: What memories did she carry with her as she passed through midtown on her way to the United Nations, and then downtown to ground zero, where 67 of her subjects lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001?
When last the queen visited, New York was at a low point in its history. Bankruptcy had been narrowly averted not long before her arrival, and the effects of dramatic budget-cutting were evident. Her host, Mayor Abe Beame, was an amiable enough man but had none of the leadership skills a great and wounded city required. Crime was bad and disorder was worse. The subways bore the marks of vandals who now, in our safer and more ironic era, are celebrated as artists. Entire neighborhoods were in the midst of dramatic transformation, and few of the changes were good. If she peered out her limousine window in search of hope, she looked in vain.
Yesterday, as the 84-year-old monarch toured New York for perhaps the last time, she no doubt was astonished by the changes she saw and sensed. A city left for dead in the mid-1970s has revived beyond anyone’s imagination. A generation of strong, competent mayors made changes and difficult decisions that have benefited every New York neighborhood. Private industry has joined hands with the public sector to create new partnerships unheard of in 1976.
The queen no doubt saw more than she could be expected to absorb in so short a stay. But her visit, brief though it was, provided us with a moment to reflect on the breathtaking changes we have witnessed since last we saw her. New Yorkers tend to look ahead rather than behind. But on a sultry July day in 2010, we had a chance to think about how far we have come. We have the queen to thank for that.