Monday, July 02, 2018

Dinosaur media finally notices cities are being hollowed out.

Here we have a liberal bemoaning "The Death of a Once Great City".  He's whining about gentrification in NYC, and naturally blaming it all on Trump. A sample:

We have been almost a parody of multiculturalism on our little street. Black and white, Hispanic and Asian; straight, gay, and transgender; families of all kinds—extended, adopted, arranged by convenience or design. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. I would come home and see the daughters of our Sikh mailman, before they grew up, playing baseball in the halls. In the evening, I sat at my desk in a little space, in this building cubbyholed with other little spaces and held together by what was once described as "a hundred years of spit and dust," and felt as though I were poised over the center of the world. Beneath me I could hear a hive of dinnertime conversations carried on in half a dozen languages, smell cooking that came from all over the world, hear someone ringing a gong and repeating a Buddhist chant.

To me, that sounds like my worst nightmare. The sound of "a hive of dinnertime conversations carried on in half a dozen languages" means the building is an ancient firetrap with no insulation and no privacy. What I hear at my house at dinner time is frogs chirping in the pond. At noon it is so quiet here, you can literally hear a hawk glide by overhead. Shhhwsh. So I can already tell this person has zero conception of what life is like outside his teensy experience. He'd probably lose his little liberal mind here in Hooterville.

It is through all these interactions, multiplied a million times, that a truly great city is made.

No, don't think so. A truly great city is a place you can find food, shelter and a job, live peacefully and raise your family safely. NYC hasn't been that since the 1960s. Toronto stopped being that in the 1980s.

The street life—the warrens of little shops and businesses that once sustained our neighborhood in the sort of "exuberant diversity" that Jane Jacobs considered a prerequisite for a successful city—is being eradicated as well: the botanica on 96th Street that Susan, my sister-in-law, always visited to buy her healing herbs when she was in town; the Indian spice shop next to it, with the protective elephant-headed idol of Ganesh mounted outside.

This is the actual meat of the conversation, that retail stores are fleeing downtown and semi-downtown areas of large American cities, driven out by rent hikes.

These stores, like so many others in my neighborhood, have not been replaced. They are simply . . . gone. In an informal survey of Broadway, from 93rd Street to 103rd, I recently counted twenty-four vacant storefronts—many of them very large spaces, enough to account for roughly one third of the street frontage. Nearly all of them have been empty now for months or even years.

The truth is that most of the buildings in NYC are so expensive that no retail operation in existence can afford to rent them. Retail of anything doesn't produce enough income to pay for the space.  In Toronto the price of a detached house, even a falling down one, is north of a million bucks. Stores are sitting empty all over Toronto, the only ones still going are big chains who can afford the obscene rents. Which means it is a bubble. In-city prices all over North America for retail space and for housing are in a bubble.

Of course the liberal author, Mr. Kevin Baker, blames racism and the Republicans. Racists are everywhere for Mr. Baker it seems, hiding in ever closet and sewer grating, waiting to jump out. He also, hilariously, blames foreigners for buying $20 million dollar apartments downtown and not living in them most of the year. Which somehow isn't racist, because... well never mind, it just isn't.

Worth a read.


WiFi Lunchbox Guy said...

Is this article like the plea for billionaire money like there was a decade or so ago in the Atlantic?

Jonathan H said...

Like many liberals, the writer doesn't recognize that the high prices are due to liberal anti growth policies that constrain supply and due to high taxes to pay for benefits.
The empty store fronts, crowding, high prices, and economic malaise are wht the whole country would face if they had their way.

WiFi Lunchbox Guy said...

In unrelated news, the Defense Distributed people won their suit against USG.
They said they will have a new and improved site Real Soon Now.

ZZMike said...

I wonder if Mr Baker commented on the delight of used needles, trash, and excrement on his sidewalks, and if that contributed to the delightful experience of multiculturalism and multiclassism in his utopian city.

The Phantom said...

Hey Mike,

I'm sure Mr. Baker, if asked, would talk around the needles n' poo question and focus on Diversity!!! instead.

Nobody wants to talk about needles n' poo these days. Very off topic, y'know.

Anonymous said...

Your claim that retail businesses are fleeing the downtown areas of large American cities because of rent hikes, doesn't jibe with Baker's description of the problem. He claims that the businesses aren't being replaced: even years later the shop fronts remain empty. Landlords don't raise rents if they can't keep their property rented--they lower rents. So, something else has to be going on. More likely their old customers have disappeared, as a part of the 'gentrification', and the new inhabitants aren't interested in shopping in neighborhood stores, or maybe taxes have been raised to the point where all the businesses have been forced to relocate to the other side of the city limits to remain competitive. Whatever it is, it can't be sky high rents that are driving the businesses away--not with 1/3rd of the storefronts remaining empty after the businesses depart.

The Phantom said...

" can't be sky high rents that are driving the businesses away..."

Except that in the story, landlords -are- jacking rents to stratospheric heights, and they -are- leaving the stores empty. You can't have 1/3rd of the stores in an area empty if the rents are affordable.

If a building's value is continually rising in a bubble, the rent has to rise with it. If the building is ten-times over valued, then the rent will be ten-times its proper value too.

What we're looking at is a multi-variable system with several of the variables being pressured. Clearly if the stores are staying empty,somebody figured out a way to make money out of an empty store.

The other thing left unsaid in the article is the Amazon Effect. Retail stores are becoming increasingly unprofitable as a business model, because everybody is buying online. Sears is gone. Toys R Us is gone. Part of the reason for that is the cost of retail space. Amazon, Wayfair etc. only have warehouse space, which is by definition cheaper.

ZZMike said...

"Landlords don't raise rents if they can't keep their property rented--......."

The other explanation is that it's more profitable to leave the place empty and take the depreciation as a tax writeoff.

Anonymous said...

Side note: NYC actually got safer during the 1990s and early 2000s, once city authorities actually got serious about dealing with crime. Of course, thst might be changing now with de Blasio at al., but used to be you could hear certain persons whine about how touristy and safe the city had become and it just wasn't the same.