27 September 2008

What's Wrong With New York


What's wrong with New York? Easy. We don't do anything anymore. We don't makes things. We're non-productive. No industry. Our activity is all make-work and busy-work. We open restaurant after restaurant, bar after bar. We market and advertise things, but don't create them. We put on plays and make television shows. We open hot clubs and neo-speakeasies. We're like Rome in its final days. Eating and entertainment. Eating and entertainment. Nothing solid. Nothing you can lay your hand to and say, "This makes life work." Just distractions. Enhancements. Everything transitory and ephemeral.

We rely on a few specious "industries" to keep the City's engine going. There's financial services, in which people make money shuffling other people's money around. Then there's real estate, in which people either many money feeding the same living spaces through the system again and again, or tear down existing building so they can build news one, creating temporary construction jobs and upping the ante on living costs each time. This process is repeated when necessary. There's tourism, when folks from other countries come and gawk at what appears to be a working City, and spend lots of money at the restaurants and bars and clubs and arts attractions that we keep opening for them.

In recent months, the Recession halted the decade-long development boom. Poof! There's goes one source of income. Then the financial crisis on Wall Street threw financial services against a brick wall. Poof! Did it surprise anyone that, with two of the aces in City Hall's economic house of cards withdrawn, the City suddenly went from Boom Town to Bust?

Now, tell me again that Bloomberg is a great business manager. His company, called New York City, is going down the drain. He gave the building industry full reign, with little oversight, until it became so corrupt it collapsed under its own greed. He has no official say over what goes down at the Stock Exchange, but he's an old Wall Street hand and a supposedly smart moneyman, and it is his City. Certainly he knew what sort of shenanigans were happening in lower Manhattan. And I'm sure he has personal relationships with many of the key players in this mess. Yet he never issued warnings or did anything to slow that train wreck. He played it for all it was worth, collecting the money for Gotham's coffers, until the crash. And this is the man we're supposed to elect for four more years to fix things.

But does anyone learn? The single block of Union Street, from Hicks to just past Columbia in Brooklyn, already had three real estate brokerages: the oldtimer Frank Manzione at the corner of Union and Columbia, Frank Galligano kittycorner from Manzione, and another office that opened in the old Lattacini-Barese Salumeria space in 2003. Now, next to the former Schnack, a sign indicates that we can welcome a fourth broker: Cozy Quarters Real Estate. God forbid there should be a shoe repair shop, or hardware store, or fish monger or anything other than a restaurant, bar and real estate brokerage.




15 comments:

PunkRockBitch.com said...

we give immigrants a foothold in america and give midwesterners a stage and opportunity to be someone. nyc is all about opportunities, thats what we make and what we sell. the majority of the 8 million stories in this naked city are common and simple ones, far from wall street and luxury condos and elite restaurants, theyre just people trying to make a life better than from where they came from. The 1% may have all the money, but they also grab all the headlines. Ignore them, their's still plenty good in this town.

if you like old man bars and homey diners and places no hipster or developer has set foot in, just drive a few miles out to flatbush or canarsie or the many unspoilt uncool hoods, really, its a big city, so dont generalize based on the east village and park slope.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I am not generalized based on my experiences in those two neighborhoods. I've lived in many neighborhoods, and visit many others on a regular basis. I see the trend I complain about everywhere. And those opportunities for immigrants you rhapsodize about are very meager ones indeed. The are mainly dead end jobs that go nowhere and do not support the cost of a life in modern NYC. Opening a mom and pop shop was fairly easy 50 years ago. Now it's a titanic effort, and one almost always doomed to failure because of the competition presented by the big chains Giuliani and Bloomberg let in.

Francis said...

I am very sympathetic to the post, especially the part about manufacturing. But some things don't add up for me. I've seen a "main street renaissance" happen during the Giuliani and Bloomberg years. Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park is an excellent example.

In other words, if you never saw such streets in the 1970s and 1980s, you can't imagine how much of a neighborhood main street renaissance has taken place since 1990 or so. Now, these renaissances didn't happen because of Giuliani or Bloomberg policy. They resulted from the filling out of new immigrant communities. But nowadays when we bemoan the chains that may threaten mom and pop stores, we should bear in mind that we're talking about a greater stock of independent neighborhood stores than 20, or certainly 30, years ago.

Also, can someone show that the post-1965 immigrants aren't succeeding at rates equivalent to groups from the earlier two waves of immigration? I certainly am deeply concerned about the decline (the willful throwing away) of manufacturing. But I also have to note the paradox that immigrants, in fact, apparently *aren't* trapped in dead-end jobs. People don't usually emigrate for dumb or specious reasons. What looks to you like a dead-end job may be anything but that for the immigrant. And when because of the economic contraction those jobs disappear, immigrants will likely stop coming.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Francis, I appreciate your long and thoughtful response. One thing that strikes me from your and punkrockbitch's comments, though. Why must one go to Canarsie, Flatbush and Sunset Park to see that the City still manufactures things and that moms and pops can still make a go of it? That's part of me point: all of Manhattan and the tonier parts of Brooklyn are now vast dining, culture and entertainment districts for tourists and the well-off. In the past, nearly every part of Manhattan was an actual working neighborhood, with all that that signifies.

Roppongi said...

It certainly is interesting that Manhattan does not seem to have much industry. There is an equilibrium happening in NYC. Manhattan is a destination city. Almost like a shopping mall. The goods are created elsewhere and showcased in the city where people can come together to purchase. Many businesses choose the make their worldwide headquarter in NYC. Wages in NYC are too high to encourage labor intensive work. There is just not enough space to handle a large manufacturing sector...not to mention the quality of life issues. NYC has grown up. It no longer needs to be a factory. ..it is leaving that for other cities who will also grow on their own. The cities are built on the backs of the immigrants...but you can't forget the amount of opportunity provided to them for doing such services. If they are smart they can save the money and make the next generations even better. This is the story of many immigrant people who are now successful.

Carol Gardens said...

I don't know if this is the best example to prove your point, as some of the newer businesses on this block include a knitting store, a liquor store, and soon an Mexican restaurant run by three brothers. In fact, many of the concerns in the surrounding neighborhood are mom and pop in a way (an independent bookstore, antique stores, etc.) As far as shoe repair and hardware store, they are way more likely to locate over near Court where there is way more traffic and they can serve more of the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill residents.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Since the "Columbia Heights Waterfront District" began its rejuvenation, the vast majority of businesses have been restaurants and bars: Alma, B61, Moonshine, Teeda, Schnack (now closed), Jake's BBQ, Lido Bar (now closed), Pit Stop, Sugar Shack, Dub Pies, Le Petit Crevette, Coffee Den, etc. True, there are exceptions, such as the knitting store and the antique place. But they are exceptions. And antiques and yarn aren't staple businesses, the kind you build a neighborhood on.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Oh, just so everyone know: I know this theory is hardly unique or a new one. Urban analysts have been propounding it since the 1950s, when industry started to flee the five boroughs.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I think you are viewing the history of NY through rose colored (Deep rose) glasses. Until the 1940's, most ny'rs lived in fairly squalid conditions, and much of the "manufacturing" was what we would now call sweatshops. The "respectable" neighborhoods of the past never included much manufacturing - it was only in the working class neighborhoods, which at the time included almost all of Brooklyn. Your focus is on a small sliver of the city - in most neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx you can still find a huge, huge number of mom&pop stores.

It's a small peeve of mine that many people, yourself included, talk about NY as if it's the restricted area that most bloggers/writers/photographers live in, but NYC is HUGE, and the areas unnoticed by the same vocal crew is indeed a diverse place with an enormous amount of opportunities for recent immigrants, etc. Keep in mind that even in Brooklyn most of the population doesn't commute to Manhattan - they work locally.

In my neighborhood (kensington) there is only 1 intra-national chain store (walgreens). In Ditmas Park there are none I can think of. In Midwood there is a Staples and some banks. In Bensonhurst or Brighton Beach or Flatbush or Gravesend the mom&pops probably outnumber the chain stores 100-1 or more.

Manhattan may have changed, but mostly it's a change predicated on white flight from the 60's-90's, and while many people dislike the style of the buildings that have replaced (typically) much smaller, older structures, for NYC to grow all those people had to go somewhere, or it would have driven prices up so high nobody could even think of being able to afford NYC.

Manufacturing is still here (much diminished of course, but still here); it's just in places you don't (or can't) visit like bush terminal and the navy yard, the south bronx, etc.

Gentrification overall is a double-edged sword. For all the newcomers paying outrageous prices there is a grandma who was able to cash out of on the building she had owned since the 50's and make a fortune. The city does not choose what gets hot or not; it's built or rebuilt based on the desires of the people who live here whether new or old, and it's always, always been that way.

Anonymous said...

How about what's different here than any other city. All cities in weathly countries in europe, big and small have town centers. These town centers are no different from Cologne to Munich London to Paris, Venice to rome. Same stores, bars and restaurants. When areas are in high demand, they become luxuriously generic. Go to downtown flushing or astoria or other areas and yes, luxury hasnt pushed out the smaller development.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Anonymous #2: I'm sorry, but I guess I hold New York up to a different standard that other cities. We have the geography and mass transportation system to evolve differently than have other cities.

boop said...

New York has always been a city of ideas and dreams, not things. The stuff is always secondary to the grand chaos and commerce of ideas. This is where things are invented and marketed -- let someone else handle the small details like manufacturing.

It seems rather old-fashioned to think only material goods can sustain an economy. Restaurants, bars, services, and yes, real estate bring jobs to the city, whether you like them or not.

Anonymous said...

What others said: Manhattan is about ideas. It's where designers, authors, and artists live so they can be with others of their ilk. It's home to colleges and universities, which incubate and peddle ideas, which in today's economy are more valuable than manufacturing ever was.

Also, don't forget another big NYC industry: health care.

Howie said...

I agree 100 percent, and its not just the city. New York state simply put has become a joke. I recently read an article on the Department Of labors Home page about the opinon that New York has plenty of jobs and the average entry income is 50-60 thousand a year.... as i look around my area of New York all i see is gas stations and restaurants that pay a maximum of 8 or 9 an hour if your lucky. All the buisness's that pay more seem to see the greater effects of the economy crisis and are downsizing a minimum of 50%.. And im just loving these new proposals of the (New) New York state buget proposal made by Paterson... This guy is a freaking joke Lets take more from the working class and give more to those who fraud the welfare system.... Lets have a "fat Tax" on food. Lets Get rid of the star program and on top increase property taxes.... Maybe its time We throw a tax towards him. Maybe we can call it 'THE TAX FOR THE DUMB FUKING LEGALLY BLIND PIECE OF SHIT" I think god that i still have a job and i earn approximatly 32000-40000 a year but when i do loose my job well later New York... And ill give ya two fingers up when i leave.

Pamela said...

At least you're better off than California.