A Conversation with Michael Bloomberg

We are excited to announce in 2015 we are launching a new feature in our quarterly newsletter, in which we hear from influential voices from around the world on issues where JPMorgan Chase & Co. is focusing its efforts. For our first installment, we sat down with Michael Bloomberg to talk about his work in cities, why they are so vital to the way America works, and what he's doing to help improve them. This is what he had to say:

Why have you chosen to focus your philanthropic work largely around cities?

Two main reasons. First, cities are home to more and more of the world's people. By 2050, it's estimated that about three-quarters of the world's population will live in cities. That's a positive development, because cities are engines of progress and centers of opportunity and tolerance. If we do everything we can to make cities stronger, safer, and better places to live and work, we'll improve billions of lives.

Second: Cities are also engines of policy innovation. Mayors around the world are turning their cities into laboratories and experimenting with new ways to confront major challenges, especially when national governments are slow to act. Our foundation looks for ways to help the best ideas take root locally – and if they succeed, to help them spread nationally and internationally.

What types of issues facing cities are you concentrating on?

We concentrate on five major areas: public health, education, government innovation, the arts, and the environment. Sometimes the areas overlap. To give you one example: Reducing carbon emissions, which combats climate change, also improves public health. We've seen how true that is in New York City. During our time in City Hall, we were able to reduce the city's carbon footprint by 17 percent. That helped make our air cleaner than it has been in 50 years, which also helped increase life expectancy by three years. At the same time, it improved our business environment, because the healthier and more attractive a city is to live in, the more attractive it is to invest in.

What do you think Mayors can teach Washington?

I've always believed in what Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said about government: "There's no Democratic or Republican way to clean the streets." When you get elected to office, your first priority should be solving problems, not winning re-election. Mayors are expected to deliver results and are held accountable for doing so, because they are in charge of services that people care about. That's not the case with legislators, who often get caught up in ideological debates. They don't have to deal with the real-world consequences of inaction – mayors do. And so mayors are typically more willing to embrace good ideas no matter which party they come from.

Why do you think it is important to foster connections between civic leaders in the United States and leaders in major global cities outside the U.S?

When I talk to mayors from around the world, I hear many of the same concerns. Cities face common challenges, and they don't have to reinvent the wheel. They can look elsewhere for evidence of what's working. That helps them target their resources and work faster and more efficiently.

When we were in City Hall, our Administration often borrowed great ideas from other cities. We learned from Copenhagen's work making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. When we were starting to roll out our bus rapid transit routes, we studied what had been successful in cities like Bogota. At the same time, cities around the world have learned from some of the things that we were able to accomplish in New York – not only on the environment, but also in other areas, including our success reducing tobacco use.

If you could solve one issue in cities with a wave of your hand, what would it be?

Some people say we'll never fix education until we fix poverty, but it's exactly the other way around: we'll never fix poverty until we fix public education. That's true in America and it's true around the world. It's going to take a lot more than a wave of the hand to fix our education systems, but we know what works: higher standards, more accountability, more quality choices for students, and more support for teachers and principals. That approach helped us raise graduation rates in New York by more than 40%, while cutting the dropout rate by more than half. My foundation is supporting education reform efforts around the country. We're making progress, but there's a long way to go.

What/who are you reading these days that helps inform your work?

I read various newspapers – on paper – and of course I read Bloomberg's news and publications. Our media business is growing and evolving, and John Mickelthwait, the longtime editor-in-chief of The Economist recently joined Bloomberg as Editor-in-Chief. I've always enjoyed The Economist, and we're excited about what John will bring to the company.