I thought these two articles, written a week apart, are kind of amazing. Here’s the NYT on NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is in his (hopefully?) last term as mayor:
In a speech on Wednesday in Singapore, where he received a prize for urban sustainability, Mr. Bloomberg spoke about the difficulties of leading a city into the future amid a political culture that is often focused on the short term.
The mayor noted that technology, despite its benefits, can add new pitfalls to an already grueling process. “Social media is going to make it even more difficult to make long-term investments” in cities, Mr. Bloomberg said.
“We are basically having a referendum on every single thing that we do every day,” he said. “And it’s very hard for people to stand up to that and say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do,’ when there’s constant criticism, and an election process that you have to look forward to and face periodically.”
Later, Mr. Bloomberg noted that long-term urban planning “requires leadership, and standing up, and saying, ‘You know, you elected me, this is what we’re going to do,’ and not take a referendum on every single thing.”
And then, a week later, we have another article on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
At a time when the nation is only beginning to pull itself painfully and delicately out of a deep recession, and when cities and states are cutting essential services and wondering how to keep the courthouses open and the lights on, an infrastructure proposal for a single city with an estimated cost in the billions — with a “b” — is audacious. Mr. Emanuel, in an interview, suggested that nothing less than this “integrated, comprehensive approach” will do for what he calls “building a new Chicago.”
With the plan, Chicago is taking a leading role among cities and states struggling to keep their infrastructure from crumbling further but frustrated with legislative gridlock in Washington, said Robert Puentes, director of the metropolitan infrastructure initiative at the Brookings Institution.
“There is tremendous interest in doing something different — people aren’t waiting for the federal government to raise the gasoline tax or pass the carbon tax and have money raining down,” he said. He cited successful campaigns in “can-do states” that include Colorado, Washington, Arizona and Virginia to finance economic development projects with public-private partnerships, and Los Angeles’ vote in support of a major transportation referendum in 2008.
IMHO, Emanuel comes out looking much better that my current mayor. Bloomberg looks like a guy who is more worried about critics than actually having a plan for the city (which is, not surprisingly, a consistent criticism of him as mayor). But whatever your politics, it does seem amazing that we are currently at a place where we can do amazing, long-term planning; and also a place where we can’t possibly do anything.