The Big Apple’s architecture, infrastructure and public realm have been transformed by Michael Bloomberg

Andrew Whalley

It seems hard to believe that we have only had a mayor in London since 2000, and of course in that time we have only had two mayors, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson; Labour then Conservative. It seems strange, on reflection, that Europe’s largest and most powerful city had no overarching leadership since Margaret Thatcher dissolved the GLC in 1986. A great deal has changed in London over the last 14 years, but how much of that can we credit to our current mayor and what will be his legacy to London?

Mayor Johnson made a statement in his first manifesto to make London the “greenest city in the world”, but there is little to show for it. There are numerous projects transforming the city at all scales, from Crossrail to better pavements, but these are not part of our current mayor’s actions. In fact there is a lack of tangible impacts on the urban fabric of the city that could form part of a lasting legacy for the mayor. Instead, a great deal of time and effort has been spent on what is probably a white elephant, the Thames Estuary mega airport.

Possibly no other mayor has had such an impact on a city by concentrating on architecture, the public realm and the city’s infrastructure

During most of the tenure of both Livingstone and Johnson there has been just one mayor in New York, Michael Bloomberg, who has just completed 12 years in the city’s top job. A great deal of analysis has been written over the last few weeks on how effective the Bloomberg administration has been. After reviewing his impact on the city, I think there could be some useful advice from the city where Boris was born.

Possibly no other mayor has had such an impact on a city by concentrating on architecture, the public realm and the city’s infrastructure. Examples range from large scale undertakings, including a massive new water treatment and distribution system, to new parks from the conversion of the disused High Line and a new river front park on the Hudson down most of Manhattan’s western edge, to a series of small endeavours including new street furniture, park benches and a multitude of micro parks throughout the city. Bloomberg has also overseen the planting of a million new trees across all of New York. As he is highly successful entrepreneur, this was of course all done to a carefully thought out business plan. Titled PlaNYC 2030 the document tracks a very ambitious plan to make New York a world-leading green city.

There has also been a measurable impact on the city’s built environment through the Department of Design and Construction’s Design Excellence Program lead by the British-trained architect David Burney. This has enriched a whole swathe of new buildings across the city, large and small, including humble infrastructure and utility buildings, fire stations, police precincts and many new libraries for a thriving public library system.

Some of the initiatives have already made it across the pond. In 2010, a new set of “Active Design Guidelines” was launched so that our built environment could make us all more active, encouraging exercise in healthier environments. Initially supported by the City and the American Institute of Architects, this has now become the Center for Active Design an NGO consultancy group, that launched its first international conference last year at the GLA in London.

But perhaps there is a more direct way for Johnson to pick up some future city planning tips from Bloomberg. Leaving a lasting legacy in New York is not enough for his ambitions or vision. As the sun set on his mayoral tenure, mayor Bloomberg announced a new consulting group, Bloomberg Associates. A team that draws upon many of his most experienced City Hall leaders. Described by the New York Times as resembling a government in exile, the group will lead a global consultancy with a focus on urban issues. They offer to bring their 12 years of expertise to make cities sustainable, healthier and better places to live. And if that’s not enough of a reason for Boris to pick up the phone, perhaps the fact that all of this consultancy work will be offered at no charge might just clinch it.

Andrew Whalley is deputy chairman at Grimshaw