While Toronto’s mayor continues to spiral out of control, Azure’s editors name the top 10 leaders who are changing their cities, for the better.
It’s not only Rob Ford’s abysmal personal habits – the gift that keeps on giving for late-night talk show hosts – that makes him such a liability for Canada’s largest city. It’s also his retrograde, anti-urban policies. These include cancelling a fully funded transit plan that would include LRTs, in favour of building subway lines to the suburbs; ripping up bike lanes; and lobbying for a casino to be built in the downtown core.
In our roundup of mayors doing good, we acknowledge that not all can take full credit for the greatness of their cities. London, New York and Copenhagen have long been world-class. But these mayors are proponents of progress, following through on sound social-economic policies set forth by their predecessors, while introducing forward-looking plans of their own. They champion better public transit, they support the creation of bike paths, and they throw their weight behind smart development, including new libraries and visionary architecture projects.
1 London’s Boris Johnson
Criminals of London beware. In 2009, Mayor Boris Johnson intervened in an attempted mugging while on two wheels, then proceeded to cycle after the perpetrators – just one of many shining examples where BoJo has put his two-wheeled enthusiasm toward good. Praised by media as “daring to think big about cycling,” Johnson is responsible for expanding the Barclays Cycle Hire program (commonly known as “Boris Bikes”), even vowing to change his name to Barclays Johnson should the bank contribute additional funds toward the scheme, which now includes e-bikes. This year, he announced plans to invest one billion pounds into infrastructure that will include a 24-kilometre segregated cycle track across Londontown. – Diane Chan
2 New York’s Bill De Blasio
Taking over in the shadow of Mayor Bloomberg won’t be easy for De Blasio – especially with fear-mongering about his left-leaning tendencies. But New York’s new mayor is a big proponent of real estate development and the allocation of affordable housing. His “inclusionary zoning” would set aside 220,000 such units, rather than give developers tax breaks as incentives. While he’s been criticized for not following through on his commitment to social housing when it came to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project, he might soon be vindicated. The development has a prefab tower now in the works, with a chunk of its units designated as affordable. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo
3 Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi
Sure, Mayor Nenshi supported the Keystone Pipeline at the recent World Economic Forum, and he has recognized that Calgary’s oil boom is leaving a lot of low-income earners in the dust, as prices for everything from groceries to rents hit new heights. But the 41-year-old is also a big ideas guy, and he based his election campaign on 12 forward-looking objectives, including adding 30 kilometres of bike paths to the city centre. He is also a leader of the RouteAhead public transit vision, which would include new and refurbished LRTs. And, Nenshi likes libraries! He supports the building of a new central library; recently, Snøhetta and Dialog won the competition to design it. This world-class project joins Calatrava’s Peace Bridge, Foster + Partners’ Bow building and Allied Works’ National Music Centre (now in-progress) as stellar examples of the city’s global vision. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo
4 Seattle’s Ed Murray
Call him the tech mayor. Ed Murray, who just took Seattle’s helm, has a 10-point plan – much of it devoted to syncing up city services in the Cloud and the smart grid. He is also devoted to creating zero-energy neighbourhoods. In this, he follows in a long line of Seattle leaders, including predecessor Michael McGinn, who was elected into office in 2009 by courting the support of young voters, bicycle advocates and environmentalists. Along with Cleveland, Pittsburg and L.A., Seattle signed on in 2007 to Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030 challenge, initiating the Seattle 2030 District, a part of the city where all buildings – new and existing – will be built and refurbished to aim for carbon neutral status, just like the city’s recently completed Bullitt Center. – Nina Boccia
5 Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel
After his stint as Chief of Staff to Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel was elected Mayor of Chicago and got right to work. Since inaugurating the Divvy bike-share program, he has promised to create 160 kilometres of protected bike lanes in the next two years. He also spearheaded a program to refurbish 500 parks and playgrounds over the next five years; and earlier this month, construction began on the revitalization – which will include new boathouses – of the Chicago River. As for other green initiatives, Emanuel launched the Chicago Neighbourhood Energy Challenge, which will reward $25,000 to a multi-unit residential property with the biggest cuts to electricity, gas and water usage. And through his Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which seeks $1.1 billion in private investment towards smart-grid technology, he’s planning energy-efficient renovations to 75 Chicago buildings. – Nina Boccia
6 Copenhagen’s Frank Jensen
Ah, Copenhagen – how rosy that city seems, especially for Torontonians who can no longer count the ways their top city official has failed them. Let’s start with bikes. While Toronto’s transit system and streets are continually clogged, 36 per cent of Copenhagen’s citizenry glides to school, work and home on two wheels, utilizing over 400 kilometres of bike paths – regardless of cold weather. But Lord Mayor Frank Jensen (inaugurated in 2010) still isn’t satisfied. Last year, the municipal council initiated the City of Copenhagen Bicycle Strategy, which will ensure that percentage rises to 50 or more by 2025.
– Catherine Osborne
7 Melbourne, Australia’s Robert Doyle
Since Robert Doyle donned Melbourne’s livery collar in 2008, the city has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Most Livable City” list three times. Some of Doyle’s city-improvement schemes seem a bit dubious, like his plans to return traffic to Swanston Street, a popular district whose pedestrianization began over 20 years ago, or his vow to rid the city of its “bogans” and “untalented buskers.” But other initiatives, like a campaign to support tourism and retail by lining Melbourne’s alleyways with cafes, shops and restaurants, have fostered a more walkable city. Now, if only Doyle could sort out the ongoing strategy for revitalizing the Melbourne Docklands, which he criticizes for a total lack of “social glue.” – David Dick-Agnew
8 Vienna’s Michael Häupl
Although it was first runner-up to Melbourne in the EIU’s report, Vienna has dominated the biannual Mercer Quality of Living Survey since 2010. Maybe it has something to do with Mayor and Governor Michael Häupl, who has been at the helm of the Austrian capital since 1994. Given his training as a zoologist, it should be no surprise that Häupl has made environmentalism one of the city’s key priorities. With his support, a 36-point climate protection plan has expanded public transportation, doubled subsidies for solar energy – a new program provides incentives for citizens to purchase PV panels – and helped to fund improved insulation in residential buildings, leading to greater energy efficiency. The result: Vienna boasts the lowest per-capita carbon dioxide emissions in the country. – David Dick Agnew
9 Seoul’s Park Won Soon
Before Park Won Soon became mayor of Seoul in 2011, his predecessor, Oh Se-Hoon, promoted design as key to his city’s future – a worthy investment, considering some 25,000 Korean students graduate from design school every year (second only to China). Park’s legacy, on the other hand, will likely be tied to social wellbeing and good environmental practices. Before going into politics, the 57-year-old was a human-rights lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner. He is known as a defender of small businesses, and has ordered big box stores like Costco to close their doors at least one day every two weeks. He also initiated the Half-Price Restaurant scheme, to ensure no one living in the second-largest metropolis on the planet goes hungry. As for sustainability, Seoul is among the most eco, according to the World Mayors Council, with its plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. – Catherine Osborne
10 The ghosts of mayors past
Some of the best mayors are no longer at the helm of the city’s they loved, fixed and nurtured. We’d like to salute our three favourites: 1. Former Bogotà mayor Enrique Peñalosa, and his New Urbanist ideals; 2. Toronto’s David Miller, who biked through the city and bolstered its arts scene; and 3. Outgoing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who championed the High Line, while trying to make his fellow citizens healthier.
Is your mayor worthy of this list? Let us know.