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NYC: Is bigger really better?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was ecstatic last week, announcing that the city’s population had swollen to an all-time high of 8,336,697 as of mid-2012 Census Bureau estimates. “There’s no better indication of the strength of our city than a record high population and a net population influx,” crowed Bloomberg. “People are voting with their feet.”

I don’t mind a little civic boosterism from time to time, but not when it represents a toxic failure to balance multiple values. For 11 years now, this mayor — whom the docile New York press corps often portrays as a refined and elegant patron of the arts — has acted based on a crude, one-dimensional philosophy: bigger is better.

In general, the mayor remains completely dissociated from the many negative consequences already arising from the city’s population “boom,” let alone those that would plague us if the Bloomberg administration’s 2006 projection of the city’s population in 2030 (9.1 million) were realized.

As a life-long New Yorker, I’m not looking for a quiet, rural retreat. But I don’t think that city life is supposed to generate an unrelieved state of crowding and noise. And, you can’t walk in popular New York City neighborhoods, take the subway, or drive a car without realizing very quickly that life here is distinctly more crowded and noisy than it was just 10 years ago.

Very simply, packing more people into this city creates a variety of intensifying pressures. Were there sufficient political will, some of these pressures could be resolved with policy changes: greater funding for mass transit, for example (the mayor’s sensible but unsuccessful effort to implement congestion pricing to reduce the number of cars streaming into Manhattan business districts would have helped, too). But political will has long been lacking, and, just as critically, many pressures of a growing population are not susceptible to resolution.

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