Friday, February 03, 2006

Repeal Term Limits, Make Urban Life Beautiful

Nearly two years ago, I did a story for Metropolis Magazine about Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and everything he has been doing during his 5 terms in office to make Chicago the "greenest city in America," as he has so often pledged. His greening crucade started out modestly enough by widening street medians and planting them with a cornucopia of trees, flowers and greenery. This simple yet effective landscaping initiative had the dual effect of calming traffic and making life a wee bit nicer for everyone. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, entire neighborhoods have been transformed by Mayor Daley's greening initiatives.

When I got back from Chicago, I happened to be walking on Bowery and noticed the pathetic, dirty little median strip on Bowery and thought, "This would be the perfect place to do a demonstration median strip in New York City." Then I promptly forgot about it until my good friend Bird to the North posted about this very same topic just a few days ago:

"The median on Bowery between 4th and around Grand is just pathetic. ... The cars speed, taking advantage of the wide lanes. And there's barely any shoulder, so truck tires really do feel like they are running you down. I'm afraid that the same changes are going in for the median on Houston between Bowery and Broadyway. These are wide streets with great sidewalks! They could be so much nicer, with a boulevard effect. If only." Image from Flickr, by antiparticle.

Of course, Bowery is never going to look like the Chicago street pictured above, but there's no reason we couldn't take the principle and adapt it to our own environment ... no reason except that Mayor Daley has been in office for five terms and probably will run again. One of the points I made in the Metropolis article is that doing what Daley has for Chicago practically requires a dictator to get it done, and hey, benevolent dictators have done some great things for the world. I'm thinking we need to repeal term limits in New York City and on the condition that Mayor Bloomberg take a page out of Chicago's playbook and raise the city's consciousness about urban environments. The same way that Giuliani forever changed New Yorker's expectations of safety, so too could Bloomberg elevate our expecation of street aesthetics. If only.

The Metropolis article is only accessible to subscribers. If you are one, the easiest way to find it is to search "Sadhu", as in Sadhu Johnston, who was an assistant to Mayor Daley at the time when I did the story and is now Commissioner of the Environment.