21 March 2012
Speech by Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York, Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2012 Laureate Lecture, 21 March 2012 at Jublilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, 10.00am
“Thank you, Kishore, for those kind words, and for this great honor. I also want to thank the Republic of Singapore for its warm hospitality.
“Singapore is like New York City in so many ways. Both are crossroads of commerce and homes to many cultures. Both are energetic, restless, and forward-looking, constantly in motion, and constantly rebuilding themselves.
“It’s that spirit that a famous American writer captured when he joked about New York that, ‘It will be a great place – if they ever finish it.’
“And Singapore has that same vigorous, dynamic outlook – as well as a strong commitment to sustainability that can be traced to the leadership of the remarkable man for whom this prize is named:
“Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
“The last time I was here was 2005, for a meeting of the International Olympic Committee. They were deciding where to hold the 2012 Summer Games. New York was a finalist. We lost, however; London won.
“But now with this wonderful prize, I feel that New York has truly won the Gold Medal. So thank you once again.
“In the Olympics, or in any major competition, no one wins by his or her efforts alone. That’s certainly true of this World City Prize.
“Teamwork has been the key to realizing each of the projects that have been acknowledged in awarding us this prize.
“So let me now salute the members of New York City’s team whose work has made those projects become realities: The New York City Department of Transportation, and its commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who have made New York City’s streets safer for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists than they’ve ever been since records have been kept… In no small part through the projects we celebrate today.
“The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, headed by Commissioner Adrian Benepe. It operates the biggest, and best, municipal park system in the United States.
“And it is now helping create some of the most imaginative and exciting new parks anywhere in the world. And our Department of City Planning, and its director, Amanda Burden. It has overseen the most extensive re-shaping of our city in more than 50 years…A process that is making New York City more economically competitive, more attractive, more affordable for an ethnically and economically diverse population and also more sustainable.
“The efforts of those departments, and of dozens of other City agencies as well, are all blended to achieve the goals of what we call PlaNYC: Our action-oriented agenda for creating a ‘greener, greater New York’ – an agenda overseen by my Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
“Such long-term planning is vital in New York City, and in other cities, too. Because with more than half the world’s people now living in cities and with three-fourths of the people on Earth expected to be city dwellers by mid-century, cities around the globe, including New York, must confront all the effects of this urban growth: In transportation, housing, public health, public safety, education, and in so many other areas.
“We also must work to enhance what gives city life its zest. Attractive public parks. Innovative public plazas. Exciting public art.
“By doing so, we can, as we’ve demonstrated in New York, reclaim outdated and derelict infrastructure elements for recreational use.
“Such projects can also be catalysts for private sector investment, creating jobs and producing greater prosperity for all our people.
“So let me turn briefly to each of the three ‘demonstration projects’ that I think very rightly caught the attention of the judges in this year’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize competition because of the way that they are accomplishing these goals.
“The first is Brooklyn Bridge Park. New York, as you may know, is a city of five major sub-districts, or boroughs – and with some 2.5 million people, Brooklyn is the most heavily populated of our boroughs.
“In fact, if it were a separate city – which it was until 1898 – it would be the fourth-biggest city in the United States. Brooklyn Bridge Park, the first portions of which opened two years ago, is one of the most significant new parks to be developed in Brooklyn in some 140 years.
“Just as importantly, it’s one of the most innovative parks created in any city in recent years. Here’s what I mean by saying that: Traditionally, city parks have attempted to remove park-goers from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
“Brooklyn Bridge Park does something radically different. It brings park users right to the edge of one of the greatest, busiest harbors in the world – framed by Manhattan’s dramatic skyline and by the classic elegance of the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge itself.
“It gives them a front row seat to take it all in – as well as a wide variety of ways to enjoy themselves at the harbor’s edge.
“And it’s doing that by creatively reusing what had become relics of Brooklyn’s maritime past: Six abandoned piers along nearly a mile and a half of the borough’s East River shore.
“Once they were part of a thriving working waterfront. But a cargo ship hasn’t docked at them in more than a quarter-century.
“The slide you’re looking at gives you an idea what the area looked like just three years ago. And this shows you what the same spot looks like today.
“I could easily spend the rest of my time today describing all the striking and subtle ways that the design of the park accentuates this theme of adaptive reuse: The way it captures storm water to irrigate its landscape, for example, or the way materials found on-site were recycled for use in the park.
“Let me just summarize by saying that Brooklyn Bridge Park – the rest of which will be built out over the next few years – succeeds spectacularly in realizing a new vision of what a park in an intensely urban setting can be.
“The same can be said, enthusiastically, about the second project for which we have been awarded the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize: The High Line.
“It was an elevated railway running for about a mile and a half along Manhattan’s West Side. Once, it served warehouses and industries in this area, which is still referred to as the ‘meatpacking district’ – even though today, far more painters and software engineers work there than butchers do.
“Like the piers we just described on the Brooklyn waterfront, however, the High Line hasn’t been a working rail line since 1980.
“After decades of disuse, the opinion of many was that the High Line was an eyesore that was impeding the area’s redevelopment, and had to be torn down – the sooner the better. Incredibly, when our Administration took office in 2002, it was just a single court decision away from demolition.
“Thankfully, a different vision for the future of the High Line prevailed: And through a combination of private activism and funding, and public investment and zoning action, the High Line has now been re-born as New York’s first aerial park.
“To quote the architecture critic Paul Goldberger: ‘Walking on the High Line is unlike any other experience in New York. You float about 25 feet above the ground, at once connected to street life and far away from it.’
“Like the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the High Line plunges visitors into the very heart of a dense urban environment.
“Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, it also reclaims an artifact of the city’s recent industrial past, and reinvents it for the 21st century.
“None of this would have been possible without the ingenuity of a rezoning that gave property owners under the High Line value for their land. It convinced them that, far from being a blight, a re-designed High Line could become the organizing principle of a new neighborhood.
“And that has, in turn catalyzed, some $2 billion in private sector investment, transforming this neighborhood into one of the hottest stretches of real estate in the entire city.
“The third of the three projects that has earned New York the World City Prize involves ‘re-purposing the public right of way’: In other words, our new approach to using much of our 10,000 kilometers of streets and roadways.
“It’s based on our Administration’s strong commitment to dramatically shrinking the city’s carbon footprint… to clearing our air of the harmful pollutants produced by auto exhaust and also to encouraging a safer and more vibrant street life.
“For those reasons, we’ve begun re-designing roadways to provide greater space and safety to travelers who aren’t in cars: Specifically, to cyclists and to pedestrians.
“Bicycling has become increasingly popular in New York. In fact, the number of New Yorkers who bicycle to work and school has doubled since 2007, and quadrupled in the past 10 years.
“We expect the number of cyclists on our streets to continue growing – in part because later this year, we’ll inaugurate the largest ‘bike-sharing’ program in the Americas.
“To increase safety for cyclists, since 2007 we’ve installed more than 430 kilometers of bike lanes in our city. We have, for example, established the first “protected” bike lanes in the United States.
“They move cyclists out of harm’s way, putting them between street curbs and a new parking lane for cars. And because some auto lanes were narrowed in the process, drivers are more cautious, increasing traffic safety for everyone.
“We’re also reclaiming more public right of way for pedestrians. The most celebrated example is our famous Times Square, which, on average, more than 365,000 people use every day.
“Traditionally, pedestrians only had about 11 percent of the available public space even though they comprised 86 percent of the traffic.
“This created an unbearable crush on the sidewalks – and also a big spillover of pedestrians into some of the city’s busiest streets.
“And that contributed to a level of traffic injuries and fatalities more than 50 percent greater than on nearby streets and avenues.
“So three years ago, we took the somewhat controversial step of closing the major roadway through Times Square – our Broadway – to auto traffic. The results: Traffic in the entire area now moves more smoothly.
“Pedestrians, who now have more than 41 percent of available public space in Times Square, are far safer. And there’s also now an exciting new public space where only congestion and chaos existed before – a big plus for everyone.
“That includes economic benefits – because the new Times Square plaza, like the High Line, has greatly increased property values. In fact, since 2009, rents for street-level stores along the plaza have actually doubled – despite the effects of the national recession— and Times Square was recently named one of the top ten retail locations in the world.
“And Times Square is only the tip of the iceberg. We have 50 new neighborhood plazas in development throughout the five boroughs that will transform underused local streets into vibrant public spaces.
“As I said earlier, all three of these projects are elements in our far–reaching PlaNYC agenda for a greener, greater New York City. Implementing that agenda also includes everything from: Developing thousands of new apartments, as well as new parks, on formerly industrial sites on the city’s 520 miles of waterfront, some of it complete and some of it still to come.
“It includes continuing to improve the quality of our waterways – already cleaner than they’ve been in a century so that they become a more inviting resource for recreation, and also a home for the wildlife that reminds us that as humans, we share this environment with other living things.
“We’re making New York an even more public transit-oriented city than we already are, by making our city bus system faster and more efficient and along several corridors, showing how streets can safely and harmoniously accommodate buses, bikes, cars, and pedestrians
“We’ve also funded from the City’s own treasury the first major extension in decades to New York’s famous subway system:
“A project that will transform the last major undeveloped stretch of Manhattan into the largest new transit-oriented business and residential development in the United States.
“It will accomplish for this district what the extension of London’s underground did for the now bustling Canary Wharf area.
“We’ve also initiated more new public spaces like those I’ve described today, projects that not only create a more environmentally sustainable New York, but that also make our city more livable, more attractive, more exciting, and more economically competitive.
“All these cutting-edge projects add to New York City’s reputation for creativity and innovation.
“They make us a place where people want to come; especially people who are creative and innovative themselves.
“Talented people want to live in the cities that not only give them the greatest opportunity, but that also offer the best quality of life.
“Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit published an exhaustive study on ‘global city competitiveness.’
It named New York City Number One in the world – just narrowly ahead of London and then Singapore, let me add.
“The talent of our people, the study said, is what gives us our competitive edge. The projects like the ones you’ve honored us for today as well as the ones like it that I’ve given you a brief glimpse of just now bring talented people to New York, and convince them to stay.
“And because that’s what’s going to give our city a bright future in the decades to come and because we hope that our example inspires other cities to become more sustainable and livable as well, on behalf of our Administration, and the 8.4 million people of the city of New York: I’m honored to accept this prestigious prize.
Thank you, once again.
For media queries, please contact:
Corporate Communications Manager, Urban Redevelopment Authority
Tel: 6321 8129