Dec 27 10:00 AM

American cities: Thrive or nose dive?

New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg will step down Dec. 31, after 12 years in office.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Some of the United States’ major cities are waving goodbye to their veteran mayors this year.

Antonio Villaraigosa’s eight years as mayor of Los Angeles ended over the summer. Thomas Menino’s 20 years of leadership in Boston is over in January. And New York City’s Michael Bloomberg is leaving too, after more than a decade at City Hall.

Bloomberg told an audience at the Economic Club of New York last week that his city today is drastically different from the one he took over in 2002.

‘I think it’s safe to say that the golden age of the suburb is over. And it’s being replaced by a new urban renaissance that is redefining the future.’

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

New York City

Violence. Government dysfunction. Decay. In the 1970s, the Big Apple lost more than 10% of its population. It was the prime example of a growing nationwide trend of middle class residents fleeing cities for the suburbs.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bloomberg took office and plunged into recovery mode, investing heavily in a broken lower Manhattan. The entire city’s revival would eventually become his legacy — and an inspiration to other metropolitan areas across the country.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

“New York City has never been stronger than it is today, and I think it’s fair to say our future has never been brighter.”

Today crime is way down in New York. It may be due in part to a tough, controversial policing policy called stop and frisk. Though many minority residents see it as discriminatory, murders are down 65%, and shootings have been halved.

Physically, the city’s face is changing. Over 40,000 new buildings have been built over Bloomberg’s tenure. And a third of the city has been rezoned, making it easier for development. Long-term residents witnessing this rapid gentrification complain that the city is becoming a place of the superrich and superpoor. 

Echoing New York’s success, cities are now where 80% of Americans live, responsible for about 75% of the nation’s economic output.

There are still many challenges, though. Next year comes with tight budgets, ailing infrastructures and municipal employee pensions to be paid.

A recent report by the National League of Cities, an advocacy group, says U.S. cities are on the mend but some key issues still need addressing.

NLC conclusions on city needs

Fragile fiscal health

Seven years of declining tax revenues are strangling many city budgets, hurting programs like public pensions and basic infrastructure.

Affordable housing

Foreclosures and empty houses are exacerbating poor safety in many inner-city neighborhoods. But in other cases, new luxury homes in place of public housing are taking prices and rents to new highs.

Deteriorating transportation

Eroding public transportation is hurting cities’ ability to prosper, as traffic continues to worsen and outdated trains make it harder to travel and commute.

The Guest Panel

Tonight’s Insiders

David Scharfenberg, reporter for WBUR Boston

James Brooks, program director at the National League of Cities

Roberta Brandes Gratz, journalist, lecturer and author

Mark Morial, former mayor of New Orleans

View full schedule


Michael Bloomberg

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