THE BLOG

Bloomberg Is Going to Teach Other Cities What?

12/17/2013 09:50 am ET | Updated Feb 16, 2014
  • Matthew Chapman Writer/director, 'The Ledge'; Author, Trials of the Monkey'; President, ScienceDebate.org

One of the downsides of traveling a certain amount is that listening to Americans talking about how America does everything better than everyone else can become almost unendurable.

Public education here is terrible and the health care system still sucks; homelessness, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gross inequality, and gun violence remain endemic, far worse than in most other developed nations; the political system has completely corrupted itself by changing its campaign finance laws -- and yet, "this is the greatest country on earth," etc., etc., etc.

Now Bloomberg is doing the same thing with New York City. He is so proud of his achievements he is forming an organization to advise other cities on how to do the same thing. But if New York is so happy with Bloomberg, why did it just elect someone who is his polar opposite, a tall lefty?

The truth is that despite pumping his own money into the system, Bloomberg has done a merely adequate job.

This isn't to say it was all bad, it wasn't, and he should get credit for several things. He tried to get New Yorkers to eat better and smoke less, and did a pretty good job of it. He was anti-gun in a nation awash with guns and did his best to stop New Yorkers getting guns and shooting each other with them; but he had little sensitivity to minority feelings and oversight of stop and frisk was third-rate at best. To his credit, he's secular, rational, and pro-science, which is great, but in most of Western Europe these are just the minimum attributes you need to qualify as an adult.

What has he actually done that's original?

Bike lanes and rentable bikes? Paris was decades ahead. Congestion? London does it better. Redeveloping the waterfront? Many cities have done this for the benefit of the general public. Bloomberg gave New York's waterfront to luxury condo developers along with tax incentives, and then spent city money to "beautify" their views. Okay, that's a little unfair, but nothing about his over-development zeal is visionary or original. He's now spending his last days in office ramming through even more tax-incentivized real estate deals so that stopping them will be more difficult for de Blasio.

When it come to homelessness and the environment, Bloomberg has little to boast of. Manhattan is the most polluted borough, but all the boroughs suffer to one extent or another and not much has improved. While San Francisco recycles 80 percent of its waste and is aiming for 100 percent, Bloomberg only got New York to about 15 percent, and his "barge it out and burn it elsewhere" plan is so outdated it verges on environmental negligence.

According to the latest census, New York is the most unequal city in America. At one end of the spectrum, at least 50 billionaires live here, but at the other end there are 50,000 homeless people, more than when Bloomberg took office, and 22,000 of them are children.

Bloomberg should put the foundation on hold and take a long reflective vacation -- abroad.

He might be surprised to learn that there are cities where an ordinary working person (a cabbie, for example) can take a piss without having to buy an expensive cup of coffee at Starbucks. Many European cities have had public toilets for over a hundred years. Furthermore, a London cabbie will not only be at peace with his bladder, he'll possess a solid cab and know just about every street in the city. Even the cabs in Rio are better than New York's, which have in many ways gotten worse under Bloomberg.

He might notice that in Paris and London environmentally friendly motorcycles and scooters have dedicated parking areas where you can lock them in place. In New York, as I know from long experience, you have to park by squeezing between two cars and hope you don't get knocked over, or park on the sidewalk and risk a hefty fine. In several European cities there are numerous places to charge electric vehicles -- not so in New York. Women's health and safety, prenatal care, childcare, pre-K, all these are done better in various other cities. These are just a few things I personally have seen in my limited travels, I know there are many more -- and I hope people from other cities will write in and inform us of them.

To continue with this (no doubt unpopular) idea, if I was an incoming mayor of any city in America, including New York, I wouldn't listen to Bloomberg, I'd give $5,000 or $10,000 to 20 bright students and send them off to 20 foreign cities to find out what they do better. Pride often comes before a fall, but research and an open mind are always at the heart of innovation and progress.