Fall 2001, p.3

Publisher's Letter: The View from 30th Street

It's been a month of glancing south, and there is still nothing but rooftop water tanks. Some called them "banal", but from here the towers that used to stand there were a giant, sparklingly presence. During some summer sunsets they glowed a liquid gold and red. In winter, their office lights lit up in random patterns, or occasionally a giant "Z" or "M."

Of course, that and much more changed September 11. This issue we devote special coverage to some of those changes and the new opportunities raised by the changes in mindset stirred by the cataclysms. By the time you read this we'll have a new mayor. Either Mike Bloomberg or Mark Green will face a heap of problems and some chances to make the city a better place. But the challenges are huge. According to a comptroller's report, NYC took a $120 billion hit from the terror attack. To date, only $20 billion is slated to be covered by Federal aid, and maybe another $50 billion from insurers. Worse yet, the city faces a $4 billion budget shortfall in 2002 and in every subsequent year. Simultaneously, the police officers, firemen, teachers and municipal unions expect major raises - which are not included in the budget projection. Lastly, because of term limits, the new mayor has a new, inexperienced, City Council to work with. All of this adds up to some very tough times. T.A. will keep these challenges in mind, and work hard to help Bloomberg or Green. Fortunately, many of our goals are very inexpensive; take car-free Central and Prospect Parks for example.

And what of Mayor Giuliani? He did a tremendous service to NYC when he knocked crime down so far that people were once again comfortable walking about their neighborhoods, taking the subway and doing business in the city. Indeed, despite the mayor's authoritarian instincts, the reduction in crime produced a flowering of civic activism in neighborhoods like the south Bronx and Bed-Stuyvesant. There, and in high crime neighborhoods across the city, people felt safe getting together for night meetings for the first time in a decade or more. Giuliani's crime fighting also allowed New Yorkers more time to think and work on other pressing issues. In the 1980's high crime rates dominated the public debate and crushed discussions about the use of public space, the role of the car in the city, and the importance of cycling and walking to a better city.

Unfortunately, for all of Mayor Giuliani's strengths - his strong will and single mindedness among them - he was never a great urbanist. His only vision of the future seemed to be new stadiums. Indeed, the great tragedy of his administration is that he squandered a long period of tremendous prosperity - due in part to the biggest stock market boom in history - and low crime. In an era of budget surpluses the city built nothing of note. This failure is to act is especially glaring when it comes to the city's overburdened transportation system. No new subway lines were built, no light rail added and no transportation reforms undertaken. Truly, a golden moment that was lost. There is much talk about making Mayor Giuliani a "Reconstruction Czar." This would be a huge mistake. Rebuilding the city will require a vision about a better future and the ability to bring together experts from transportation, urban planning and architecture to meld ideas and perspectives. This creative collaboration is not the mayor's strength.

The view will never be the same out of my window on 30th street. Nor will New York City. The pace of change has accelerated many fold, and new ideas are springing forth in the circles of power. Our work is to ensure that these new ideas include a vision of New York City as a greener place, rooted in cycling, walking and public transit.