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February 20, 2013
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
The scene on 02.14.13 at the State of the City Address at the Barclays Center.Rick Bell, FAIA
The scene on 02.14.13 at the State of the City Address at the Barclays Center.Rick Bell, FAIA

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Borough President Marty “Fuggedaboutit” Markowitz were both born on Valentine’s Day. But there seemed to be no particular love lost between them at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where the mayor delivered his final State of the City Address on 02.14.13 after a short introduction from the BP. Marty’s gag gift to Hizzoner was a large, Styrofoam cup – useful as a prop in the mayor’s call for eliminating extruded polystyrene containers to facilitate recycling. After describing his realized dream of seeing a professional sports team come back to Brooklyn, the Beep gave the microphone to Mayor Bloomberg with “once you think you’ve heard it all, you haven’t.”

The first English language reference to Valentine’s Day was in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, written in 1382, whose introduction speaks of a political version of heaven: “First know yourself to be immortal; and always see that you labor diligently and teach for the common profit.” Chaucer wrote of a congress of birds convened that day to win the favor of the eagle, not-for-nothing the longtime symbol of the American Institute of Architects. There were many similarities between the scene at Barclays and Chaucer’s crowded convocation: “there was scarcely room for me to stand, so full was the entire place.”

The mayor’s remarks touched on the key points of the Bloomberg Administration’s achievements, many of which, in housing, the environment, urban design, and access to the waterfront, are consistent with positions taken by the AIA New York Chapter. He noted: “Each of the five boroughs is better off than ever before and the State of the City has never been stronger.”

His list of projects, many designed by AIANY members, included, in his words:

  • Atlantic Yards – “the largest development project in Brooklyn’s history.”
  • Fresh Kills – “the largest new park since the 1930s.”
  • One WTC – “the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.”
  • Homeport – “creating housing and jobs for residents of Staten Island.”
  • Hudson Yards – “where the #7 subway line is a catalyst for development.”
  • High Line – “the third phase will soon be completed.”
  • East River Waterfront – “from Long Island City to Greenpoint and Dumbo, abandoned piers are now a spectacular park.”
  • Governors Island – “one of the most popular gateways to the City.”

He put these physical changes into perspective, saying, “We are achieving the plans, rebuilding the City for the needs of the New Yorkers of tomorrow.” More than a summary of accomplishments, Mayor Bloomberg challenged those present – including many of his Commissioners along with members of City Council – to do more in the time remaining in his third term: “But our work is not done. We have unfinished work to do and only 320 days in which to do it.” He added: “The countdown clock is not just about ribbon cuttings. We need to start projects that will shape the city for the decades to come.”

His list of changes in the offing included:

  • Roosevelt Island – “where we have set the stage for Cornell University to do the most exciting economic development project the City has ever undertaken,” showing that “never before in our city’s history has there been so much university expansion and investment in science.”
  • Culture Shed at Hudson Yards – “the most exciting project yet, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and David Rockwell. And as you can see, it is pretty spectacular.”
  • Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx and new soccer fields in Queens.
  • Willets Point – “the clean-up will bring new jobs and open spaces to Queens.”
  • South Street Seaport and the area around Seward Park on the Lower East Side.
  • Greenpoint Landing – “a new development with 5,000 homes, shops, and a marina.”
  • Domino Sugar – “will create some of the commercial space that Downtown Brooklyn needs.”
  • Brooklyn Navy Yard Media Center – “preserving historic buildings and creating new jobs.”
  • East Midtown – which, “with rezoning, will have a balance of historic structures and new buildings” allowing “the area around Grand Central to remain vibrant into the next century.”

He noted that the projects described will “create thousands of jobs,” and the “there is no time like the present to act – we will move full steam ahead.” The mayor also discussed at some length his administration’s response to rebuilding post-Sandy, noting that “we would not turn our back on the waterfront; we will build back sustainably; we will build back here.” He continued, “We are creating a more sustainable and resilient city,” and added that “forty-three people lost their lives during Superstorm Sandy and our task is to make sure that this cannot happen again.” Before listing specific initiatives, Bloomberg noted, “Sandy raised the bar, and now we must rise to the occasion.”

We heard that by the end of May, NYC Economic Development Corp. President Seth Pinsky “will deliver a report on how we can better prevent the impact of these kinds of events.” Particularly noted was the creation of “a Conservation Corps to train the next generation of park stewards.” The mayor stated that the city’s beaches would all reopen on Memorial Day this year. Rapid repairs have restored electricity and power in more than 17,000 homes, and, reportedly, “FEMA says that this is the most rapid recovery they have ever seen.” Mayor Bloomberg added that “We focused on getting people back in their houses, not into temporary housing.”

The speech discussed the importance of changing immigration policy and gun control, along with environmental quality. On that latter topic, the mayor said, “Giving New York City the cleanest air in the country is a goal that will mean that we all live longer. One aspect of that is the Bike Share program, rolling out this summer, as the largest such program in the world.”

His concluding words summarized some of the key points of the address:

  • The State of Our City is strong but much remains to be done.
  • We will construct the new housing and parks that we need today while laying the foundations for the new communities of tomorrow.
  • We will clean our air and open the waterfront.
  • We’ve never had a better chance in Washington, and together we’ve just got to get it done this year.

Invoking Robert Frost, he ended the speech with: “And in the words of the poet, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep,” adding, “This is not a half day. So let’s all get back to work and make the City the best it can be.”

Chaucer concluded his Parliament of Fowls by having Nature give those present, including the candidates, one more year to make their case, saying, “Be of good heart, and continue in service. A year is not so long to wait. And let each of you strive according to his degree to do well… and whatsoever may happen afterwards, this interval is appointed to you all.”

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