Mayor Bloomberg’s push to transform the area around Grand Central Terminal may or may not be the sort of legacy project that chief executives embrace on their way out the door.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what the mayor’s motivations are. What matters is that it’s a visionary proposal to bring the eastern portion of Midtown into the 21st century.
If the City Council approves the mayor’s rezoning plan, an area bounded by 39th Street and 57th Street east of Fifth Avenue will be transformed over the coming years. The neighborhood’s aging buildings will be replaced by towers that will soar higher than some of the East Side’s iconic landmarks, including, perhaps, the Chrysler Building. The rezoning plan would rewrite current rules that have limited the height of buildings in the areas.
Potential construction projects could add enough office space to house 16,000 additional workers and would bring a 21st century look and feel to a district that threatens to become tired and outdated in the coming decades. The mayor would like to have the plan in place by the time he leaves office at the end of next year, but that would require City Council approval by next October.
There’s no guarantee that Mr. Bloomberg will get his way on this, but the council’s rejection of the plan would be unfortunate. Critics are concerned about myriad issues, ranging from subway capacity to sanitation. That’s fine—no project of this scale should be without critics and skeptics. The problem is when critics become obstacles simply because they prefer the status quo and when skeptics become cynics who see political agendas lurking behind even the simplest construction project.
Neighborhood residents, building owners and other interested parties should have every opportunity to weigh in on the zoning overhaul. And it surely is important to make sure that infrastructure, including subway capacity, keeps up with the mayor’s ambitions for the neighborhood.
But still, it is important to remember that one of Michael Bloomberg’s enduring legacies is not, in fact, this project or any one project. It is the sense that the city really is moving ahead after decades of crisis management, retrenchment and stabilization. Projects like the East Side rezoning and the Hudson Yards redevelopment project were beyond the city’s ambitions as recently as a decade ago. Under Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure, the city has gotten back to the idea of big dreams and visionary planning. That’s no small achievement.
Other cities around the world are embracing the changes needed to compete and prosper in a century that will be defined by technological change and sustainable development. Mr. Bloomberg has insisted that New York can not remain locked into a 20th century mind-set, whether the issue is outdated zoning regulations or archaic work rules.
The transformation of the East Side would be yet another sign that New York is prepared for today’s challenges—and tomorrow’s.