Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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. 

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