Bring on Little London! City Mimics Congestion Pricing, Canary Wharf

New York has had a Little Italy, a Little Odessa, a Korea Town, a Little Syria, three Chinatowns and any number of other neighborhoods with their own ethnic identity if not their own ethnic names.

How about a Little London?

That would be the area of Manhattan south of 86th Street all the way to the Battery, which is the “congestion-pricing zone” that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would charge $8 for drivers to enter by car.

The whole idea came from London, after all. Sure, Stockholm and Singapore have implemented congestion pricing. But it was London that impressed members of New York’s executive class, and their progressive-urban-planning comrades-in-arms, with its civility and quiet when they took trans-Atlantic business trips to the British capital. Traffic delays decreased by 30 percent; the fees went to purchase extra buses to upgrade transit options; and the Brits even turned one of the roads surrounding Trafalgar Square into a full-time pedestrian plaza. New York has always been sort of Tory at heart. Its recent rivalry with London over financial-services business only makes the flattering attempts to imitate that much more urgent. Before congestion pricing, there was Canary Wharf, London’s satellite financial district, founded on abandoned docklands to provide the extra office space that could no longer fit in the City, which is what those charming Brits call their traditional banking neighborhood.

About six or seven years ago, Senator Charles Schumer and a whole lot of people in the real-estate industry decided that the thing that New York most needed to accommodate economic growth was physical space—modern, class-A office space to house the brain workers of tomorrow. Mayor Bloomberg agreed, and set in motion a grandiose rezoning of the West Side of Manhattan that will make room for a from-the-ground-up modern business area on the grave of the city’s displaced industrial economy. Closer to midtown than Canary Wharf is to the City, Hudson Yards out-Londons London, with an anticipated addition of 24 million square feet of office space to the redcoats’ 14.1 million of office and retail combined.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Window on the East only makes sense: As New York becomes older and more crowded than just about any other American city, it will find solutions to age and density most readily in Europe. How do you keep a city economically vibrant if its hundred-year-old buildings lend themselves more to office warrens than wide-open trading floors? How do you get another delivery truck into narrow and crooked streets that are overwhelmed by vehicles?

New York’s similarity with Europe doesn’t stop there. The landmarking movement, high real-estate prices (fueled, in no small part, by European investment against the weaker dollar), and the reduction in crime have made this most European of American cities all the more so in a haughty sort of way, too.

Like Vienna and Paris, New York’s center is becoming a refined, clean, safe and well-touristed destination where only the rich can afford to live, and to which the rest of us travel by subway. But at least it’s pretty when we come up for air.

Bring on Little London! City Mimics Congestion Pricing, Canary Wharf