The air is cleaner, the food is healthier and the environment is greener than ever before in the modern era in New York City. And the credit for that goes to Mayor Bloomberg more than to any other individual.
Bloomberg, whose very name suggests an unspoiled environment — it means “flower hill” in German — has from the start of his administration done everything possible to encourage or outright force people to live healthier lives, while at the same time making the world around them healthier too.
One of his first signature achievements was the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor venues. Critics fought it vehemently, claiming it would hurt businesses and violate their right to decide what goes on in their establishments. But bartenders and waitresses who had to inhale secondhand smoke day after day disagreed, as did the medical professionals who said they were being harmed. Now it seems bizarre there was ever a time when people could smoke in public establishments. The ban has since been extended to city parks, and may eventually include multifamily buildings too.
Then there was the ban on trans fats in restaurants. The artery-clogging oils were used to cook everything from doughnuts to french fries when the city began phasing them out. The market adjusted by using healthier cooking oils, and french fries are as tasty as ever, but much less harmful.
Calorie counts and the restaurant grading system are other fine health achievements. Go into a fast food place in New York and the number of calories each meal contains is right there on the menu, and every restaurant’s level of cleanliness is shown in a nice, simple grade anyone can understand. Every restaurateur wants to earn that A rating because every diner wants to eat in a grade-A establishment.
Bloomberg has also pressed for healthier living through more exercise, installing bicycle lanes all over the city and starting the CitiBike program to encourage riding.
All these measures are among the reasons New Yorkers are living longer than ever before, and longer than people in most other parts of the country.
And they’re living in a healthier and more pleasant environment. Bloomberg has placed great emphasis on improving and expanding parks, with Elmhurst Park being a perfect example of a once-blighted area turned into something beautiful under his leadership. He set out to plant a million trees around the city and has gotten more than 800,000 in the ground. Pedestrian plazas are springing up all over.
The record is not perfect, of course. While Queens got Elmhurst Park, we nearly lost a big chunk of Flushing Meadows Park that Bloomberg wanted to give away. Bicycle lanes and CitiBike kiosks have often been installed against the wishes of area residents and businesses. While the city has been good at planting trees, it’s been less good at watering and maintaining them. Also, the development the mayor has encouraged in places such as Western Queens has often outpaced the installation of infrastructure to go with it.
And not all Bloomberg’s initiatives have been successful. When he tried to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces, a court blocked the move because it was done without the City Council and would have applied to some stores but not others that might be direct competitors. And he just couldn’t get the state support needed for his congestion pricing plan, which would have reduced the emissions produced by cars.
Overall, however, Bloomberg’s policies improved the health of both New Yorkers and New York itself, great achievements that are hallmarks of his legacy as mayor.