The world’s other English-speaking capital, London, took a keen interest in New York’s mayoral race. Bill de Blasio’s election is a “dramatic development,” the Evening Standard newspaper opined. “ ‘Socialism’ is no longer a bogey word in New York,” the paper’s Matthew d’Ancona wrote.

But de Blasio’s landslide victory matters to London—and the rest of the world—not because de Blasio will move the only global American city radically leftward. The win matters—in New York, too—because de Blasio could move New York inward, curtailing Bloomberg-era gains.

Throughout the Mike Bloomberg era London and New York have learned from each other, even as they competed.

Both cities have the same problems, including “good” problems—e.g., that nearly everyone in the world wants to live in one of the two cities. London added nearly half a million people, or 5.9 percent, to its population over the first decade of the century. New York added 200,000 more souls to a city already twice as dense as London.

The challenge has been how to grow without sprawl—and that means more density. The critical part of density is better transportation. Bloomberg, as well as London mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson—presumably on the left and right, respectively—embraced that approach and learned from each other.

Bloomberg lives in both cities—he has a home in London’s Cadogan Square—and it shows. Bloomberg has said that London’s construction of the Jubilee Line subway extension to encourage Canary Wharf development far from the center of London was his model for extending the No. 7 subway train to Manhattan’s far West Side. The No. 7 extension has helped spur 18 percent population growth in that part of Manhattan over the past decade—before it opens next year.

Both cities have learned from each other, too, in how better to manage aboveground street space. Bloomberg tried to copy London more than half a decade ago in implementing a congestion charge on private vehicles coming into the densest parts of the city and using some of the money to fund better bus service. The mayor’s billions, though, could not get the proposal through New York’s car-focused state Legislature.

Undaunted by the loss, the mayor used architecture, rather than economics, to change New York’s streets. (The mayor can’t charge drivers to use a street, but he can close off that street, or part of it.)

Bloomberg took away street space from cars, building 31 miles of bike paths protected from faster motor vehicles by raised curbs or other physical barriers and encouraging 40,000 New Yorkers to take to our five-month-old bike-share program each day. Protected bike paths alleviate pressure on the subway system, already stretched beyond capacity.

Bloomberg likely would not have embraced bicycles had he not seen other global cities, including London and Paris, roll out bike-share programs over the past decade to great demand.

Before the election Bloomberg noted at the CityLab global cities conference—an event he supported philanthropically—that bike-share “was started in Lyon, went to Paris, went to London … and then came here. We’ve borrowed from around the world and things go in the other direction.”

On public health initiatives, including banning smoking in restaurants, he noted that though New York was a pioneer, “all of Western Europe is now smoke-free.”

De Blasio’s City Hall likely won’t have such a global cities approach. The advantage of having a billionaire mayor with a private jet is that learning from London, and vice versa, was a casual, almost unconscious act. “I was in London two weeks ago just for a day,” Bloomberg mentioned offhandedly last month in discussing bike-share.

De Blasio, an old-fashioned Democrat who came up through local politics, not through global business, won’t be able to say that.

Indeed de Blasio’s pre-election focus on redistributive politics—taking a bit more from the rich to give to the poor—shows he’s more interested in moving around the money New York already has than competing globally through better infrastructure and better quality of life (issues he has rarely mentioned).

New York could lose out—and so could other world cities.


Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas on Twitter) is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.