On Friday morning, Michael Bloomberg boarded the 7 train for a ride that lasted a single stop and cost the city $2.4 billion dollars. Where he got off on the far West Side, there is now nothing. In a few years time, there will be condos.
When New Yorkers elected Bloomberg in 2001, they were voting for a cool-headed centrist who would lead the city through a recession and help rebuild downtown New York. Instead, over the course of twelve years, they found their mayor to be a tone-deaf nanny who saw almost every single one of his signature policy goals fail.
Running as "the education mayor," Bloomberg's insistence on testing and school closings further segregated an already unequal school system, while his plans to relieve congestion in New York City never even made it past Albany. His ideas about homelessness resulted in a record amount of homeless families, and his proposals on the regulation of the consumption of sugary drinks failed to be constitutional. His defense of the "stop and frisk" policing tactic was struck down by a federal judge, while his plan to rezone Manhatan's Midtown East were batted away by the city council. His 2012 Olympic dreams failed to live anywhere but inside Dan Doctoroff's mind. Today, New York City is more unequal than any time in recent history.
But Bloomberg's administration did succeed in getting the private sector to pay for parks and bicycles! Unfortunately, these are unsustainable revenue streams and completely contingent on the welcoming environment Bloomberg created for corporations that dislike paying taxes and enjoy ripping off the rest of America.
Most damning of all however, is that Bloomberg has failed to negotiate new contracts with city employees, creating a ticking bomb that the new mayor will have to deal with immediately. In October, the city's comptroller told me that "it's unbelievable what a fiasco the contract situation has been for the Bloomberg administration.... He campaigned on his management prowess, necessary in this time of crisis, and goes an entire four year term without resolving one of the most basic management responsibilities, which is your personnel cost."
Perhaps Bloomberg's tenure has been viewed as a success because New York City has so far avoided the labor and pension situations that have ravaged other American cities. The truth however, is that the mayor has simply been ignoring them.
While almost all of his policies have failed, there is a single one, in fact, the most important one, that has succeeded: The rezoning of New York City. Since taking office, Bloomberg has rezoned nearly 40 percent of the city, transforming industrial spaces to residential ones, low-rise neighborhoods to ones with gleaming office towers. Rezoning was a long time coming, cities inevitably change, but the scale on which the forces of development were unleashed on New York City has been staggering. In just over a decade, whole neighborhoods have changed, and, demographically speaking, been upscaled. The luxury city of which Bloomberg spoke has been realized, albeit not necessarily complete.
When Michael Bloomberg exited the subway station on Friday, he was staring at a pit in the ground on which office and residential towers will rise. Those are pretty much a done deal, but for many other development fantasies, for many other projects that cater only to Bloomberg and his cronies, there's still a chance to stop them.
If you look back at the latter history of the Bloomberg administration, you'll see an almost stinging rebuke of major zoning efforts (and actually, most policy) by a plurality of New Yorkers. New Yorkers were witnessing his vision, and didn't like it all. In his final months, the East Side rezoning was defeated, attempts to build a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Park were thwarted, and a sweetheart deal to a Saudi prince was exposed. Building subways is great, but Bloomberg built a train stop that serves a now-imaginary neighborhood instead of a real one with real people who are already underserved by New York City's transit infrastructure.
After Bloomberg, New York is now nowhere. The fabric has changed too much in the past twelve years for there to be any connection to what it was before Giuliani, 9/11, Bloomberg — before it all. But being nowhere is good, because nowhere is still short of that luxury city Bloomberg dreamed. The time of autocratic rule, or the illusion of such, is over for now in New York City. Maybe a new city, one that actually represents what people want their city to be, can now happen.
And Bloomberg will always have Bermuda.