Magazine article The Spectator

The New 'Special Relationship': Between London and New York

Magazine article The Spectator

The New 'Special Relationship': Between London and New York

Article excerpt

'This is the Conservative party's candidate for mayor of London?' That was the first thought that ran through my head when I met Boris Johnson at the party's annual conference last year in Blackpool, which I attended at the invitation of David Cameron. Boris certainly didn't look or sound like a politician -- but then again, neither did I when I first campaigned to become mayor of New York in 2001.

Back then, the pundits had a field-day lampooning my campaign. They said I was inexperienced, which was true. They said I was a walking verbal gaffe, which was no less true.

And they said I had no chance of winning, which certainly seemed true.

But New Yorkers in 2001, as with Londoners in 2008, were more sophisticated than they were given credit for by the chattering class.

In each case, voters looked beyond superficial tabloid stories and marked their ballots for the candidate they believed most capable of fresh leadership on a host of critical issues, including a struggling economy and the spectre of rising crime.

The similar circumstances surrounding the improbable victories of Bloomberg and Johnson -- and the similar issues that defined our campaigns -- underscore how much New York and London have in common. While we traditionally think of the 'special relationship' between the US and UK as an alliance between two national governments binding the White House and Number 10, more and more there is an increasingly important economic, cultural, and intellectual partnership binding these two cities -- almost like the great city states of the Italian Renaissance.

That seems only natural. We are -- and here, please forgive the modesty of a New Yorker -- the two greatest cities in the world.

Some may argue that there are more romantic cities (Nous aimons Paris) and more historic cities (Viva Roma! ), but of one thing there is no doubt: no two cities combine such staggeringly rich and diverse economic and cultural opportunities as New York and London. Yet it wasn't long ago that the experts were saying that New York's best days were behind it.

When I first took the oath of office on the steps of City Hall, I could see smoke still rising out of the World Trade Center site, just a few blocks away. It was three months after the attacks of 9/11, and in that time, New York City had lost 100,000 jobs, the city's economy had sunk into recession, and our unemployment rate was up to 8.2 per cent.

There was great uncertainty about the future, and great concern that, as bad as things were, the worst was yet to come. Instead, we turned the city's $5 billion budget deficit into a $5 billion surplus; our unemployment rate is now lower than the national average, while our life expectancy has grown higher than the national average; we have cut crime by more than 20 per cent -- to its lowest level in more than 40 years -- and we've raised high school graduation rates by 20 per cent.

Notwithstanding this success, we continue to face the usual list of urban problems, just as London does. Traditionally, in both the US and the UK, cities looked to the national government to solve these problems. No more. We have learned that devolution of power coupled with local innovation can be an enormously effective force for progress. More and more, cities around the world have become incubators of innovation, and it is the mayor's role to ensure that the city -- like any successful company -- is always looking outward at the world, always keeping an eye on the best new ideas.

In New York, for instance, when we were working to develop our long-term agenda for environmental sustainability, we stole the best ideas from Bogota to Berlin to Tokyo -- and we worked to adapt and improve upon them.

While much attention has been paid to how we also sought to adopt a London-style congestion pricing plan, we have studied many other areas of London's experience, especially the rise of Canary Wharf, which has provided a model for our efforts to revitalise Manhattan's Far West Side, currently home to train yards and warehouses. …

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