In 10 years, officials lifted city from post-9/11 gloom and gave it new life
By Robin Chan
IN 10 YEARS, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his team of city officials raised New York City from post-9/11 gloom to new life as a vibrant global city.
Their efforts have won them this year's Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, awarded by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Centre for Liveable Cities.
In a lecture to mark the occasion, Mr Bloomberg recalled that on the day after the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001, the conventional wisdom was that no one would want to live in New York City, most businesses would want to move people out and that the city's economic future was not bright at all.
'In fact, the exact reverse has happened,' he told an audience of government and industry leaders yesterday at the Raffles Hotel.
'In the last 10 years, we have redone all the infrastructure downtown... We used this opportunity to dig up every street downtown... when companies did move, to convert the old office buildings into apartments.
'So today, downtown, double the number of people live in lower Manhattan than they did before 9/11. Today, you see baby carriages on the streets, at night and on weekends.'
The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize honours outstanding contributions to the creation of vibrant, liveable and sustainable urban communities. This is the second time it has been given out. In 2010, the prize went to the Spanish city of Bilbao.
This year, the New York team beat competition from 62 other cities after two rounds of reviews by 12 high-profile panel members. They included Temasek Holdings chairman S. Dhanabalan and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dean Kishore Mahbubani.
The citation for Mr Bloomberg and New York City's Departments of Transportation, City Planning and Parks and Recreation, noted the remarkable transformation they led over 10 years.
Their achievements include the planting of more than half a million trees, the creation of 450km of bicycle lanes, the building of 283ha of parks and open spaces and a 35 per cent reduction in the crime rate.
Professor Mahbubani described New York, a city of 8.4 million people, as an 'inspiring story of rejuvenation' that came about through 'bold vision, strong leadership, sheer determination and excellent partnership between government and citizens'.
In his lecture, Mr Bloomberg highlighted three projects that showed how he and his team injected fresh zest into the city by reclaiming derelict infrastructure for new uses.
They redesigned roadways to reclaim space for pedestrians and cyclists. They built the Brooklyn Bridge Park at the site of six abandoned piers along the East River. They redeveloped the West Chelsea High Line - an abandoned, elevated railway line slated for demolition - into an aerial park that has attracted US$2 billion (S$2.5 billion) of private investment into the city's former meat packing district.
In the process, they experimented with ideas, including one that Mr Bloomberg himself initially found 'crazy'. That idea came from the city's commissioner for transportation Janette Sadik-Khan. She wanted to close 10 blocks of Broadway, the major roadway through Times Square, to cars. The idea worked and has helped Times Square emerge as one of the world's top 10 retail locations.
Mr Bloomberg has also drafted a blueprint to take the city up to 2030, well beyond his own mayorship. It addresses challenges such as accommodating another one million residents and preparing for climate change.
In accepting the prize, Mr Bloomberg, 70, said Singapore and New York are alike in many ways.
'Both are crossroads of commerce and homes to many cultures. Both are energetic, restless and forward-looking, constantly in motion, and constantly rebuilding themselves,' he said.
He also praised the man for whom the prize is named.
'There are people in the world that you're going to look back and say they were those transformative people that really changed not just their country, but changed society, and Lee Kuan Yew is one of those,' he said.
Mr Bloomberg said he had dinner with Mr Lee three or four months ago in the home of former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
The billionaire businessman, who was first elected mayor in 2001, said he would not try for a fourth term.
'I'll never have another job in government that will... be anywhere near as exciting as the one I have,' he said, but added that '12 years is enough in government'.
Before being mayor, he worked in Salomon Brothers and then founded Bloomberg LP, now a global media company.
'I've looked forward to going in to work every single day, in every job I've ever had. I'll find something else to do,' he added.