THE BLOG
12/18/2013 10:42 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

What Makes a City Great?

Fear of change keeps many New Yorkers on tenterhooks, as we slide into a Bill de Blasio mayoralty. After 12 years of Bloomberg, we've come to live in a very different New York City than the still-smoldering New York that Mayor Mike took over from Rudy Giuliani back in January of 2002.

Today, I am reminded by friends: We have bike lanes! Subway timers! Smoke-free restaurants! Spruced up parks! Fat and calorie counters at restaurants!

For goodness' sake, we've now got a Whole Foods in Gowanus with nine dollar containers of marinara sauce!

Our city is so great, so prosperous, so ideal, that Bloomberg created a consulting group so that lesser municipalities might learn from New York's best practices under his administration.

Many New Yorkers are comforted by such amenities, even as friends of ours are being priced out of their own neighborhoods. Their feeling of unease about the coming administration comes not only from the growing disparity between rich and, basically, everyone else.

It stems from the concern that, with Bill de Blasio will come a return to the overwhelming, scary, senseless crime that was the hallmark of the 70s through 90s in this city. Further, there is fear that the grotesque Wolf of Wall Street prosperity, enjoyed by a select few, will evaporate, leaving us all mired in another "Ford To City: Drop Dead" financial fiasco.

And so, you hear it every day: "Do we want to be another Detroit?"

Time out, people. Let's consider, fully, the de Blasio Tale of Two Cities narrative, which resonated with such a majority.

In fact, the author of that phrase, Charles Dickens, visited New York City during the early part of 1842, nearly 172 years ago. He documented his findings in his American Notes -- a book that held a mirror to our New Yorker, and American, ways.

What was seen, through his eyes, was not pretty. Dickens, "that foreigner," dared to chafe publicly at the unwarranted boasting about our city, and our hypocrisy, and our naïve faith in a still-better tomorrow, that can simultaneously be a most charming, and most pathetic, attribute. New Yorkers and Americans pushed back hard against Dickens and his writings.

Charles Dickens saw the swells and the theaters, and plenty more. He saw the fecal filth of the Five Points. He slogged through lanes, knee-high in mud, clogged with animals of the four and two-legged variety. The city was rife with crime and depravity, and Dickens did not mince words in his reportage. And, largely, New Yorkers turned their heads away from the reflection in Dickens' mirror, maybe as much in shame as in contempt for the messenger of those graphic descriptions.

New York is always changing. That's our one constant -- change.

Perhaps, however, our New York pride prevents some of us from admitting much of what de Blasio shone his harsh light upon during his campaign. Even for a city that is all about achievement and success, let's agree that the income disparity has gotten out of hand. Let's consider that it's time for the very wealthiest of us to give back a bit so that others can gain a foothold -- a fighting chance.

What makes a city truly great? Is it all about words, symbols, mere amenities -- or is greatness built upon actual deeds?

Let's pledge -- as the New Year looms ahead -- to recalibrate our morality and sense of priorities to the point that, when it's our turn to look in the mirror placed before us, we are pleased with our reflection, and not horrified at the face of Ebenezer Scrooge.