Bloomberg Bets On the Future

Over the next 20 years, New York City is expected to add one million residents. Imagine airlifting the entire populations of Boston and Miami into the five boroughs, and you’ll have some idea of the massive strain which will be placed on the city’s infrastructure, from its subways and streets to our schools, parks and housing.

Fortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to confront this challenge directly. No Mayor in recent memory—or even distant memory—has insisted upon such a comprehensive and nonpartisan assessment of where the city stands, and what has to happen to make sure New York doesn’t fall victim to its own popularity.

It will, of course, cost billions. Mr. Bloomberg’s goals include creating housing for those million new New Yorkers; expanding mass transit; reducing global-warming emissions by one-third; opening 90 percent of the city’s waterways for recreation; instituting pollution controls to give New York the cleanest air of any city in the country; addressing an expected shortage of adequate power supplies; making sure all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park; and building nearly 100 new playgrounds.

But the cost of not taking these steps would be even greater. Yes, New York has fought its way back from the economic and psychological aftermath of 9/11, holding on to its status as the safest large city in the nation, while achieving an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent and capturing the world’s imagination as a showcase to visit and a wonderful and stimulating place to live. But just a few months or years of perilous overcrowding, combined with a decaying infrastructure, unchecked pollution and an unexpected spike in the crime rate, could return the city to the bad old days of the 1970’s, when City Hall was reduced to asking for federal handouts to pay its bills and residents saw the value of their homes plummet and their neighborhoods atrophy.

Making a significant and unprecedented investment in the city’s economic, social and cultural foundation now will ensure that New York remains vibrantly competitive in the world marketplace. To make all of this happen, the Mayor has created an Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability—essentially he’s locking a smart bunch of city planners, engineers and scientists in a room together and asking for results. Over the next three months, Mr. Bloomberg says, he will offer specific solutions and propose a way to pay for them.

With similar foresight, the Mayor has also announced an anti-poverty plan that would spend $150 million annually, in private and public funds, with much of that money going toward experimental measures, child-care efforts and self-sufficiency enticements.

Clearly, the city will need enormous help from Albany to achieve many of these goals, but the incoming Governor knows, as his predecessor did not, that what’s good for the city is good for the state.

Meanwhile, one hopes that those on Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs and elsewhere, who are currently enjoying record multimillion-dollar bonuses will take a page from Mr. Bloomberg and understand that it is not sufficient to make money—one must also create the conditions for others less well-off to participate in the larger economy. The city’s future depends on it.

A New Face at Ground Zero—But Will We Get A New Tower?

With the dawn of a new administration in Albany comes the beginning of a fresh approach to reconstruction at Ground Zero. That’s the message that Governor-elect Spitzer is sending these days. One hopes that his appointment of Anthony Shorris to be executive director of the Port Authority will help speed the process, rather than slow it down even more.

Mr. Shorris isn’t a newcomer to the sprawling, two-state bureaucracy that is the Port Authority. He served as a top official at the P.A. for five years during the 1990’s, picking up valuable experience. After leaving the authority, he served as a deputy schools chancellor during the first years of the Bloomberg administration. He is, therefore, a bona fide government insider who knows how the process works, and who has impressed hard-to-impress people like Mr. Spitzer. The question is, does he understand how to get a bureaucracy moving after years of lethargy?

Given the special priority that will be placed on the renewal of Ground Zero during the new Governor’s honeymoon period, and the high visibility attending it, we are confident that Mr. Spitzer has full faith in Mr. Shorris’ abilities. The outgoing Pataki administration has managed to make a mess of Ground Zero, shattering hopes for a heroic reconstruction of that sacred space. At one point, Mr. Pataki seemed to believe that a rebuilt Ground Zero would serve as his legacy.

The new Spitzer team has vowed to conduct a sweeping review of Ground Zero, questioning cost estimates, lease projections and even the proposed height of the Freedom Tower. Mr. Shorris’ role in the review and reconstruction will be critical. He has promised to bring “a fresh look at the whole thing” and confirmed that Mr. Spitzer is determined to “get Ground Zero moving.”

Getting that job done will require the energy and fresh approaches that only a new administration can bring. The Governor and Mr. Shorris have to create a sense of urgency downtown. Ground Zero is not just another government project—it represents a vast web of interests. Mr. Shorris will have to be more than just a skilled insider. He’ll have to become a real-estate mogul, a diplomat, an engineer and a transportation guru.

The resiliency which New Yorkers have shown since that terrible day in 2001 should serve as an inspiration for Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Shorris. New Yorkers deserve, and are demanding, action at Ground Zero.

A Holiday Note

As New Yorkers gather for the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year holidays, the mad rush of the season is only a distraction from the real opportunities on offer: the chance to connect with family and friends, the spirit of altruism which makes one reach deeper to give to charity, and some time to reflect on the year to come.

New Yorkers have much to be grateful for as 2006 draws to a close. There is a palpable shared focus and purpose, a sense that New York is a truly governable city which is on the upswing, with safe streets, the world’s best theater and museums, and the vibrant residential development of neighborhoods that previously had been written off as beyond hope. New York’s ultimate greatness, of course, is its people.

The Observer would like to thank our readers and advertisers, and to extend our wishes for a peaceful, joyful holiday and a very happy 2007.