He also sometimes nudged the depredations along. Bloomberg let developers get away with crimes against urban planning—not, as his critics have fulminated, to help his friends get rich, but because he relied on them to pay for things that government couldn’t. He added 800 acres to the park system, but threw up his hands at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park and its soggy decrepitude. When a fellow billionaire from Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, offered to build a privately owned soccer stadium in the middle of the park and prettify its surroundings, Bloomberg responded like a puppy eyeing a pork chop.
The surprise, after a dozen years of this, is how much remains unchanged. This is deliberate. City Planning turned over vast areas to be filled with fresh concrete and steel. But the same department also downzoned dozens of neighborhoods, protecting one-family houses in Queens and Staten Island. Even as industrial neighborhoods were being transformed into luxury enclaves, the Landmarks Preservation Commission froze hundreds of blocks by expanding historic districts into areas like Sunnyside Gardens and Bedford-Stuyvesant. While many New Yorkers howled that their city was evolving frantically and beyond recognition, others complained that it was being embalmed. The real-estate world argued that overzealous preservation was slowing development, choking off the housing supply, and driving up rents. Others pointed out that for all of Bloomberg’s frenzy, the big-ticket to-do list hasn’t budged in years. Penn Station is as dismal as ever, and getting to the airport is still a slog. In a city where it can take decades to build a mile of subway, even a three-term mayor can seem like a guy passing through. Bloomberg’s accomplishments shone a high-powered beam on everything that remains undone.
In a way, the go-slow camp and the get-moving contingent were both right. New York is an elderly city, constantly trying to prevent its subways, bridges, brownstones, and monuments from crumbling even as it erects shiny new toys. Compared to Paris, say, New York has been stripping itself of history; compared to Shanghai, it’s Miss Havisham.
We’ll be living with the city that Mike built for a long time to come. Construction has barely begun on a whole slate of megaprojects, and even as the countdown clock at City Hall clicks toward zero, the administration is still churning out proposals so quickly that it takes a spreadsheet to track them. There’s Seaport City, a high-rise neighborhood that would be built on landfill just south of the Brooklyn Bridge; a shopping mall and the world’s largest Ferris wheel on the north shore of Staten Island; the world’s largest indoor ice rink in the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx. That’s not even close to an exhaustive list. The Bloombergification of New York isn’t complete yet, and won’t be for a generation.