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Michael Bloomberg has been the mayor of New York since 2001, a period that has seen the city become safer, cleaner, greener and fiercely anti-smoking. Bloomberg may be one of America’s richest men but he has tapped into the desires of average New Yorkers keen to see the quality of life improve in their city. He was recently in London and monocle met up with him to ask how New York is changing and what the future holds for the American urban model.

Monocle: What are you most proud of changing since you’ve been in power?
Mayor Bloomberg: You have to start with crime. Crime now is so low that a woman can walk in any neighbourhood in New York at night. If you are murdered in New York you are either a drug dealer or a victim of domestic violence. We used to have 2,200 murders; this year we’ll have fewer than 500. Then we focused on tax revenues and improving the school system. People now don’t leave the city when their kids become school age. People in some of the outlying counties are lying about where they live just to send their kids to the public schools in New York City because the schools are good and free. Cultural institutions: we focused a great deal on tourism. This past year we had 50.5 million tourists. We’re up to 90,000 hotel rooms. Big records. The other thing that’s different from a fundamental point of view is that the average life expectancy has grown so that it’s three years longer than the average in America. Just think about that. So if you have friends elsewhere in America, statistically, they should move to New York.

M: You have made strong speeches in support of immigration. Why?
MB: The solution to America’s problems is getting immigrants from around the world who come in and start businesses with a work ethic that is almost always better than the people who have been there for multiple generations, because we all get comfortable. Immigrants are self-selected. They are people who want to make it better. And anyone willing to give up their friends, family, culture, housing, everything they know, to take the risks – those people work harder almost by definition. And that’s what you need to encourage those who have been there for generations, to challenge them and make them understand that they gotta do it too.

America has a terrible immigration policy. If anybody gets through that, New York is probably where they want to come and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to create jobs. Our cuisine, our culture, our language, everything is all mixed together in New York. And the other thing is that New York City lives as a mixture and so in the ultimate Irish Catholic neighbourhood of Bay Ridge, for example, there are probably more Muslims per capita than anywhere else. New Yorkers mix in the streets, they stand next to each other at Starbucks, buy a newspaper at the same kiosk. Strangers look different, sound different, smell different, act different but they become non-threatening just because of proximity. You are with them all the time. Even if you don’t build personal relationships or go and break bread together, you can still live together and that is New York’s great strength.

M: Do you think these ideas would work elsewhere in the US or is New York unique?
MB: I have said that the federal government should have a programme where they give visas to people with their families to come but assign them to a city. I’ll use Detroit as an example. The deal would be that you agree to take no federal, state or city monies. You can do anything you want to make a living but you gotta live in Detroit for seven years with your family, and if you survive seven years we’ll give you your citizenship. What would happen is that they would buy those derelict houses and fix them up by hand, they would send their kids to public schools and force the schools to improve because people would value education as opposed to the people left in Detroit who are poor and don’t understand the value of education. The carrot of offering the potential of being an American citizen is so great that you would get people to go to Detroit who would never otherwise go. The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, once said, “Bloomberg doesn’t understand. We don’t have enough jobs here.” Yes, he’s right. They don’t have enough jobs and they never will unless they do something like this.

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