London Calling. Are New York’s Leaders Really Listening?

London officials closed the northern side of Trafalgar Square to traffic creating a vibrant new public space.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Chuck Schumer argue that New York City risks losing its place of global pre-eminence in a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday. The editorial is a response to growing conventional wisdom that says London is overtaking New York as the world’s leading financial capitol. In the editorial, available online only to subscribers, Bloomberg and Schumer say that there is much the city can learn from its British counterpart.

One lesson not mentioned in the editorial, which reads mainly as a push to reform the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, is the role that long-term urban planning, quality of life improvements and agressive traffic reduction measures have played in London’s ascent.

For London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone, projects like congestion charging, banning cars from Trafalgar Square and the creation of the London Climate Change Agency, aren’t just about altruistic environmentalism. "Ken’s a very savvy marketer. He knows that these initiatives make London a more attractive place for big companies to set up shop and attract employees," an official at Transport for London told me.

Today’s Guardian reports that macro environmental issues now inform everything that London’s Mayor does:

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, is these days possessed of one great idea. Climate change, and how to avert it, consumes him. It now informs all his decisions on transport. It is top of his agenda for social housing and new building developments. He reads about it in his spare time. He talks about it to anyone who will bend an ear and he will travel to the ends of the earth if necessary to cut deals with other politicians, to steal the best ideas from other cities and to communicate with anyone the urgency and scale of the problem.

Though Livable Streets issues weren’t mentioned in the Bloomberg-Schumer editorial, New York City’s business community is increasingly aware of their importance. As Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City has said, "The gridlock on New York City’s streets has become a brake on the city’s economy. She warns, "It is going to be increasingly difficult for New York to market itself as a place where you can get the most done in the least period of time with the best workforce if we’re not able to solve the congestion problem."

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a possible 2009 Democratic mayoral candidate, is off to visit the World Travel Market expo in England to sell UK travel groups on package tours that include a trip to Brooklyn. Marty told the Daily News, "Tourism is one of Brooklyn’s biggest and most vital growth sectors, and I’ll do whatever it takes to show the world the beauty of our borough."

marty_suv.jpgThere are a couple of things, of course, that Marty won’t do to enhance the beauty of his borough. He won’t support London-style traffic reduction measures. He won’t stop parking his SUV and about a dozen other vehicles on the pedestrian plaza, technically park land, outside of historic Borough Hall. And he won’t push the city, state and developer Forest City Enterprises to do smart, thoughtful, long-term planning around the massive "Atlantic Yards" project.

Welcome to Brooklyn, Brits. Perhaps the traffic congestion will remind you of what it used to be like in London. Don’t forget to look to your left when you step out into the street.

5 thoughts on London Calling. Are New York’s Leaders Really Listening?

  1. Marty needs to start matching words with deeds. He likes to talk a good environmental and green record, but he will not support ANYTHING that begins to infringe on the car driver. The momentum in the city no matter where you go is to overwhelmingly do some positive things on Transportation – things which his office will be in direct oppostion to.

    It is probably the main thing that should he seek to run for Mayor will be his major downfall. Unless he learns. Fast.

    And stop parking that thing on the sidewalk, that would be a ticket for me when I rent a car and park it.

  2. This story and that license plate make me picture Markowitz all decked out like some hip hop poseur, saying things like “that’s how I roll.”

  3. I think it’s safe to say that BP Markowitz has done an incredible job being a booster for Brooklyn, but a terrible job in terms of real issues. He seems really detached from actual policy and that leads me to think he’d be a pretty bad mayor.

  4. Could be too that Mr. Livingston is planning for higher future oil prices. Something that would maximize value for the North Sea fields as well. Maybe NYC should wake up and notice that we don’t produce oil. Texass and Saudi Arabia do. They tax oil at extraction, and we pay those taxes for them. Nice of us.

  5. The grass always looks greener on the other side.
    Mayor Livingstone and his deputy Nicky Gavron talk endlessly about climate change but completely disregard it when actually making decisions.
    Between 30% and 40% of London’s energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions, are from construction.
    New large developments in London invariably involve large scale demolition and trucking away of wastes and use of high ’embodied energy’ products in construction. Environmental Impact Assessments in the UK only ever consider the energy that will be used in running a building once it is constructed, never looking at the full picture. Livingstone has the power to insist on clarity in EIAs but refuses to do so.
    In September I asked Livingstone’s Head of Environment Shirley Rodrigues whether the Mayor would insist on greater transparency in this regard. Her only response was “We are not going to stop building housing”.
    Oh, and not only do we still have traffic congestion in London but car use in the suburbs, within Ken Livingstone responsibility, is not only increasing but if he gets to build his Thames Gateway Bridge will increase even more.
    Finally, Trafagar Square was a vibrant public space long before Livingstone closed the north side, screwing up longstanding arrangements for night buses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


New York City 2030. London Today.

On Thursday, as New York City’s highest ranking transportation officials argued before City Council that the city’s increasing traffic congestion and automobile dependence is "an indication of the vitality and the growth of the city of New York," London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone was in Davos, Switzerland announcing that he aims "to make London the world’s […]

File Under: No Wonder New York City is Falling Behind London

While New York City inexplicably continues to open up Central Park to motor vehicles from Thanksgiving to New Year’s as a "holiday traffic mitigation," London transformed its most popular shopping area this weekend into a car-free pedestrian zone for holiday shoppers and visitors. Stretches of Oxford and Regents Streets were made into car-free zones this Saturday, December 2 from 10:30 am […]

An English Plan in New York

The once traffic-filled street between Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery is now a thriving plaza. Climate change is a greater threat to London than terrorism, one of the city’s top planners said yesterday. Debbie McMullen (right), a one-time New Yorker who heads implementation of the "London Plan," made this matter-of-fact announcement at a Tuesday […]

Pricing Advocates Call for Impact Study and New Parking Policies

Congestion pricing advocate Carolyn Konheim and consulting partner Brian Ketcham are advising the Bloomberg administration to drop its resistance to a congestion pricing Environmental Impact Study. The two say a study is needed to head off "likely 11th hour litigation" aimed at stopping the three-year pilot program from taking effect, a possibility Streetsblog alluded to […]

Mayor Bloomberg Sustainability Speech Tomorrow

At an event hosted by the League of Conservation Voters, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will deliver a major speech outlining sustainability challenges and goals for the City of New York through the year 2030. This will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw. When Tuesday, December 12th, 2006, […]