Nostalgia vs. Future Development

Posted: June 28, 2007 in Bloomberg, Culture, Development, History, New York City, Politics

development.jpg
Development along the Brooklyn Waterfront.
 

There’s not a neighborhood in the city that has ever stayed the same for more than a few generations. If they don’t get better, they get worse, but they always take on a new face after a certain amount of time.”

My friend Lee said this to me about four years ago, when I told him overdevelopment does more harm than good to the city. There I was sitting on the L train, reminiscing back to when DUMBO was an absolute no man’s land and Williamsburg was a pretty sub-par place to go drinking — back when New York seemed a bit more comfortable with itself — and somebody else had to rain on my pessimism by reminding me of a time before the time I remember, when Brooklyn Heights was a ghetto and Flatbush was an epicenter of commerce. Sure, taking the longer view always makes things easier to digest, but neighborhoods in New York City have stopped going down since 2002.

And why does that matter now?

Because suddenly, in the media’s eye at least, Mayor Bloomberg might conceivably run for president in 2008. And try as I often do these days, I’m still unable to disassociate New York’s wealthiest and most accomplished leader from all the overgrowth in the city as developers are given greater access to lower- and middle-class neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.

Of course, it’s not Bloomberg’s fault alone that the cost of living won’t stop rising, and while some New Yorkers have trouble noticing, it’s not only a local phenomena. Neither is overdevelopment, which might be inevitable in the long view. But apart from all the new people coming in and no longer going out, Bloomberg has certainly helped speed up the process a lot faster than it was moving before.

On the horizon, city planners are projecting: redevelopment of the Atlantic Yards, a revitalization of Coney Island, expansions for the Jacob K. Javits Center, further spreading of NYU facilities in the South Village and Columbia in Manhattanville, another convention center in Willets Point, new condos in Bed-Stuy, and the long sought after 2nd Avenue subway line.

Some of these initiatives are for the city’s benefit, some are ruination on the horizon, and others are for the most part innocuous. But when they all happen at the same point in time, a lot of New Yorkers will have to struggle to keep up, and City Hall, these days, seems incapable of not giving developers the green light. Hence the dozens of articles printed within the last few months in Time Out New York and umpteen other magazines about how underappreciated Queens and the Bronx are, and about how many little gems of culture they both hold.

And while the features that promote economic development might not come from the mayor’s office directly, they all carry Bloomberg’s invisible seal of approval. Ironically, most New Yorkers who live in Queens and the Bronx know that the best thing to appreciate about the “other boroughs” is how they haven’t become real estate hotbeds like all of Manhattan and the outer half of Brooklyn. Which causes me to wonder whether the mayor and his associates are simply projecting another million by 2030 or equally endorsing that amount.

The toughest question these days is when does development suddenly cross the line. Is it the misuse of eminent domain?

I’d say it’s when too many neighborhoods no longer have the capacity to change and New York becomes stuck one way for too like an overfed waterbug lying on its back. Bloomberg’s vision of the city has always been new developments and high-rises from the west end of Northern Manhattan (also known as Harlem) to the corners of every other borough, which admittedly has its ups and downs. But pace is key. As is affordable housing.

It might be hard for advocates of city development to notice, but the nicest neighborhoods in New York City got to where they are through gradual spurts. Like healthy adults who grew up properly; foolish fist fights and arguments to valuable lessons learned. DUMBO, on the other hand, is that unbelievably awkward kid in high school who started taking steroids, and Bedford Ave is the 30-something-year-old nerd who still tries to overcompensate for a late entry into hipness. So, yeah, that whole aspect of the Bloomberg legacy still makes skin crawl.

Or… as Lee would likely point out if I were reading this to him on the L train back in 2003… maybe I’m just being too nostalgic over everything old about New York these days. After all, the UN is estimating 3.3 billion people (half the world’s population) to live in cities by the end of next year and 5 billion by 2030, while apart from overzealous development plans, there’s not much else to criticize about Bloomberg’s incentives: going green, raising the standards for public education, dumping the Republican Party for political independence. Not to mention the fact that he’s incorruptible with or without affiliations. And 311 is the best thing for the general public’s protection since Giuliani stopped being mayor. Imagine that on a national level.

So… the question has been asked and everyone has an answer… “Should Bloomberg run for president in 2008?”

I would have to say I’m completely torn to say the least. That’s what happens when you take the personal view and the long view both at once.

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Comments
  1. ClapSo says:

    Yeah, my home town really has changed and not for the better. I was living in NYC and saw all the things you are too young to have seen. I was born in Brooklyn in 1958 and lived in the city till 1995. NYC has changed into a tourist simulation of itself. Even the outer boroughs are on their way out. I come back to visit friends and family several times a year, and it always strikes me how it is no longer my home. The place that was my home is dead. Replaced with chain stores and post-structural monster architecture like that awful metro-tech disaster in downtown Brooklyn. The once beloved “deuce” (times square) is now New York Disneyland. I could go on and on, but I need to cry…

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  2. Ron says:

    What pushes me away is the fact that Bloomberg would be running as an independent. That’s likely to cause the same problems for Democrats that Nader did running between Kerry and Bush. If he stuck with either of the parties though he would have had my hypothetical vote.

  3. ClapSo says:

    All the polls I’ve seen so far indicate that bloomberg would pull mostly votes from the repubs. As to this ongoing rant that Nader lost it for the dems, I’ve never bought that line myself. An election is a zero sum game. ALL candidates in the field are SUPPOSED to take votes from the other candidates.

    It amazes me that the dems have people BELIEVING that the dems are somehow ENTITLED to anyones vote. Each vote that Nader got was cast by a living, thinking, breathing, human voter. Each of us has a right to go to the polls and pull the lever for anyone we choose. Both gore and kerry ran TERRIBLE campaigns. If gore had carried his home state, he would have won. How dare they claim a candidate that couldn’t carry his own home state is entitled to the votes of those he failed to convince to vote for him.

    That other dem kerry MADE HIS POLITICAL CAREER by being strongly against the viet nam war. What does he do in 2004? He runs as a pro-war candidate. What a stupid move. If he had run on an anti-war platform he would have won!

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  4. KP says:

    I’ve only been to New York a few times in the past fifteen years, but everytime I go it feels like a new city.

  5. Glamour says:

    hey good stuff

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