Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NYC 1977: The Coolest Year in Hell

Where have you gone, LIC?

In NYC, real estate rules. How much space you have and how much you pay for it is the very essence of the Social Darwinism of this town. Forget the government - the real estate industry is the ultimate power here.

And its a maxim in the industry that real estate is all about location, location, location. Being the geographic and business center of the city, Manhattan is obviously the prime location. So you would think that a neighborhood that is only one subway stop away, literally right across the river from Manhattan, would be prime territory for people to live.

But it's not. Well, not until recently.

Long Island City is, as this article indicates, the "aging ingenue" of New York. It's been an up-and-coming neighborhood for thirty-years but has yet to attain the culture cache of neighborhoods like Park Slope. The reason is simple: it's largely an industrial wasteland. The streets are either cut up or overshadowed by the 59th street bridge, highways, and the Queensbridge housing project. There is no density in the neighborhood, no natural charm. It's stuck between Manhattan and the East River on one side and the more exciting, vibrant neighborhoods like Astoria and Sunnyside on the other.

However, as demand for apartments in NYC reaches peak demand, LIC is finally having it's moment.

Over the last decade, numerous high-rises have been constructed there and rich people are moving in, driving the prices up. The reason is simple: people want to live in NYC, people with lots of money in NYC want space, and LIC is there to service those needs. But the neighborhood still hasn't developed a real identity, it hasn't had the standard evolution of going from a neighborhood no one wanted to live in, to a cool neighborhood where hipsters, artists, and young people live, to a neighborhood invaded by wealthy Yuppies (think Soho, think Williamsburg). Instead, it's basically gone from poor to rich in less than six years. As the article says:

All neighborhoods have that golden hour, a moment in time when they are poised between one incarnation and the next, a wild kind of adolescence when the possibilities are many and nothing is decided. This moment, of course, passes. The rents rise, and residents hunker down in their apartments, knowing they will never find such a good deal again; restaurants and shops stop experimenting. Caution prevails. People start to talk about how the neighborhood isn’t what it used to be, and change becomes an enemy.

Long Island City has never quite been able to achieve this moment—it has that sense of fleeting possibility, the last mad rush before the music stops, but it has remained forever on the cusp. Quite simply, it has never had the density, the busy sidewalks and cluttered caf├ęs that make a neighborhood feel like it is the place to be at a particular moment. The party always seems to be happening somewhere else, where the people are.

Nor is it likely that Long Island City ever truly will, for the only means of achieving that density, building more high-end residential towers, is likely to wipe out that very wildness and sense of possibility. This may well be inevitable—a fate that was written by the neighborhood’s physical characteristics, the realities of the housing market and the larger economic forces that have pummeled the city. But it is, nonetheless, a loss."

I used to live near LIC and I can say, this is all true. And its sad, since LIC should be every bit as fun and funky as Williamsburg. This is one of the legacy's of Bloomberg's NYC: real estate ruling over community, money bludgeoning culture.

That's why its up to us to preserve and build our neighborhoods -- and not give into the powers that be. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gracie Mansion Blues

Shortly before taking office, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that he and his family would move from Park Slope, Brooklyn to the official mayoral residence of Gracie Mansion, nestled in Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side. This has re-ignited a mini-debate as to whether or not mayors should actually live in the official residence -- is it a tax-payer funded luxury crash pad or a proper home befitting the CEO of the nation's biggest city?

This is one of those issues where both sides of the debate are right and wrong.

During his decade-plus time in office, Mayor Bloomberg made a big deal about not living in Gracie Mansion -- he thought if mayors lived there it would cost taxpayers too much and reduce the usability of the house for official functions. But others have said that the mayor should have a home, that the mayor needs to place to live and have his and his family's everyday needs catered to while he runs a city bigger than most states and many countries.

Of course, we are now living in troubled economic, cash-strapped times. Other cities have mayoral residences and their citizens are balking at paying the bill when budgets for vital city services are being cut. Some mayors of other cities are making a big show of not moving into the mansions which begs the question: has the time of official mayoral residences now passed?

P.S. What's interesting is that NYC mayors didn't have an official residence until 1942 when Robert Moses convinced Mayor LaGuardia to move into Gracie Mansion. This fascinating story provides the history of how the official mayoral residence came to be (it was a rare instance of Robert Moses actually engaging in an act of preservation). 


WNYC radio recently did a great series of reports called "Life in the Middle" where the median income is the exact same as the city's overall median income of $51,865.

The reporters visited five different neighborhoods, one in each borough, and profiled people and families that are trying to remain in the middle class in NYC. Their challenges basically come down to strict economics: struggling to afford rising rents and the cost of living while resisting the waves of gentrification that are making their neighborhoods less affordable.  These aren't people trying to get rich nor are they part of the 47% that Mitt Romney disparaged last year as moochers who feel entitled to be taken care of. These are very hard working people who are simply trying to maintain a way of life that they love in a city that they love.

The neighborhoods profiled are Woodlawn-Wakefield in the Bronx, Central Harlem in Manhattan, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, North Carona in Queens, and Grasmere-Arrochar-Ft. Wadsworth in Staten Island.

None of these neighborhoods are hip or trendy -- yet. But, increasingly more and more white, well-educated, upper income people are moving in. Will these middle class neighborhoods in NYC still be middle class a decade from now? Only time will tell. Yet it's good to know that there are still some havens for the middle class left in NYC.

Classic Mr NYC

A new movie based on the hit play August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, was recently released. I haven't seen the movie yet, and it's getting so-so reviews, but when the play was on Broadway a few years ago, it received rave reviews and won every award imaginable. 

Yours truly saw it then and loved it. Here's my review from 2008.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Power and the Real Estate

New York City is supposedly five boroughs but let's be real: for most of its history, it's really been one main borough (Manhattan) with four satellite provincial boroughs surrounding it (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island). 

The economic, cultural and political power was firmly rooted in Manhattan with the other boroughs simply being where most New Yorkers actually lived. But this has been changing with Brooklyn stealing its crown: the mayor is now from Brooklyn, the Barclays Center and new studio space is making it an economic engine, and shows like "Girls" are making it the hip center of the city.

But, when it comes to real estate, Manhattan still rules. In 2013, the average sales prices rose 5.3% to an astonishing $1.538 million. That means that more than half the apartments in Manhattan cost more than $1.5 million which is mind-boggling. 

And mere millionaires no longer interest some real estate brokers. These today many of them only want to represent people who are worth $100 million-plus, mainly billionaires. They are the ones buying penthouses and townhouses, called "urban castles" these days. 

We really are living in a New Gilded Age.

And it shows that, as much as the city is changing, wealthy people still very much want to live in Manhattan and are willing to pay top dollar for the privilege. Colorful, hipster neighborhoods like Park Slope and Astoria and St. George may be in hot demand for the young, the cool, and artsy but Manhattan still appeals to the all-powerful one-percent. 

Plus ca change ...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

De Blasio Sworn-in as Mayor, January 1, 2014 12:01 AM

De Blasio's First Tweet as Mayor

I swear to support and uphold the Charter of the City of New York.

Bloomberg's Final Tweets as Mayor

Thank you, New Yorkers, for the honor and privilege of serving you these past 12 years.

Best of luck to the de Blasio administration. May the best days for our city be ahead of us.