When I visited New York in January I was worried. Central Park had just recorded another record snow and the life in the city seemed to resemble that of pre-2007 – the only cyclists were delivery men, and the hordes of pedestrians on the City’s lively streets were only moving from A to B rather than spending time in the dozens of new city plazas created over the past 4 years . Few people were taking the time to soak up the atmosphere of the city and few women and office workers were seen on their bikes. Despite widespread support for the Department of Transportation’s Green Light for Midtown and ReNEWable Times Square projects, the pressure was on city leaders to defend the changing face of New York’s public realm. The issues of bicycle lanes had become especially contentious – being widely discussed and debated.
young, old, women, men, tapered jeans and dockers, as well as locals and tourists were meeting and socializing in the new public spaces of the city. Tattooed hipsters were sharing the same spaces as top-sider wearing yuppies, mid-western tourists and lifelong New Yorkers were both glued to their ipads sitting in the free tables and chairs.
Alone together, hordes of New Yorkers were enjoying time in the City. City life had transformed from a lifestyle of ‘A to B as quickly as possible’ to a more relaxed ‘enjoy the journey’ . The outdoor café life of Gansevoort had spread to the rest of the Meat Packing district – and beyond. The streets of New York have begun to rival the City’s fantastic park’s as places to spend time in the city.
From highly visible and meticulously designed projects like the High Line, to newly created temporary Madison Square Park Eats, the economic benefits of investing in the public realm and prioritizing the needs of people in the city are beginning to be understood. In fact, the High Line is heralded as an Economic Dynamo – creating thousands of jobs, boosting real estate values and spurring private investment.
As I noticed that the number of baby carriages had begun to compete with the number of leashed dogs, I realized that the city was again re-inventing itself. This time not only as a place to get rich, inspire the next Jay-Z, and visit as a tourist - but also a place to spend free time, feel healthy, and raise a family. The culture of New York City is changing.
After years of smaller west coast cities leading the charge toward high quality urban living, the Big Apple is back. NYC is again leading the charge of American cities into the second decade of the 21st century. It’s about quality of life, mobility, and happiness. It’s about a sustainable future, but also a livable today. New Yorkers get it and now they have the platform to again lead the charge.