by Martin Kleinman
June 9, 2019
(originally published on October 14, 2017)
News Item I (January 8, 2003, The New York Times): “Mayor Says New York Is Worth the Cost”
News Item II (October 3, 2017, WelcomeToTheBronx.com): “New South Bronx Condo Declares They’re ‘Making the Bronx Great Again’ – Via Gentrification.”
The new market rate condo development on 138th Street – you know, the one selling for $650 and up per square foot, with rooftop garden, yoga room, bike storage and more – is the latest example of the cultural kudzu* that has already enveloped Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the East Village, Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Long Island City, and more
I’m talking about the G-word here. That is, gentrification.
This new Bronx condo is optimistically called “The Joinery.” Here, one finds a seven-story slice of Williamsburg banality that tops only the 2015 award-winner for Tone-Deafness by a Real Estate Developer. That is, the Somerset Partners’ “Bronx Is Burning” Halloween party for its so-called Piano District luxo-rentals two Halloweens ago.
This year’s winning marketing campaign? The Joinery’s epic marketing slogan: “Making the Bronx Great Again.”
Why the long face? We live in a luxury product. Haven’t you heard?
Back in 2003, then-Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that our city is a “luxury product.” His approach to borough-branding was to market New York City as if it were a bespoke Savile Row suit. Or a fifty-piece box of Jacques Torres truffles.
”If New York City is a business, it isn’t Wal-Mart — it isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market,” Bloomberg said. ”It’s a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product. New York offers tremendous value, but only for those companies able to capitalize on it.”
And, lo, like the aforementioned kudzu, New York City gentrification has certainly spread, thanks to crime reduction, a media-driven influx of younger professionals, offshore real estate investors – their pockets stuffed with Euros, Rubles, Yuan, and Riyal — low interest rates, income gains and tax policies that favor already high net-worth individuals, and more.
We know how see-saws work. When one end goes up, the other eventually goes down. I’ve seen gentrification stall (e.g. post-1987 market crash**). I’ve seen some balance (albeit uneasy) of old and new guard within one community (e.g. Park Slope, circa 1990-98).
And I’ve seen gentrification destroy a neighborhood’s soul (e.g. Williamsburg).
The collateral damage? Those who are priced out of their neighborhoods, as residential and commercial rents spike.
The best of New York living is, to me, based upon balance. Neighborhood improvements are welcome. Access to public education, healthful food, speedy mass transportation, medical professionals, walkable streets with a vibrant retail presence, and clean, safe housing that costs less than half of household income, are foundational elements cheered by urban visionaries such as Jane Jacobs
However, when the society becomes so bifurcated that, in the span of two blocks, folks are both lining up at food pantries and unloading Range Rovers after a trip to Whole Foods, then it’s time to step back and recalibrate public policies.
Who are we, and what do we want for our Bronx?
One last thought, which ties back to my see-saw metaphor. A lot of developers are betting big on our economy just rolling on. Harlem townhouse prices have increased 171 percent since 2009, according to a recent story in Curbed. The average price per square foot increased from $237 in 2009 to $642 in 2017, the article stated.
The Dow is up 15.52 percent YTD, at this writing. The P/E ratio is 25.47.
Guess what thirty-year anniversary is coming up? No hints
Black Monday. The stock market crash** of October 19, 1987. The day the market tanked 22.6 percent, the largest one-day percentage drop in history. The Dow’s P/E ratio just prior to the crash? It was 19, up from 10 two years prior.
By the end of October ‘87, leading stock markets around the globe were down 30 to 40 percent, according to Forbes.
Helluva way to put the brakes on gentrification, though.
*Kudzu is an aggressively invasive type of weed that climbs over native vegetation. Kudzu grows so rapidly that it kills plant life through “interference competition”, meaning it competes for light and vital resources by growing over and, finally, smothering native flora with its leaves.
Martin Kleinman is a Bronx-based storyteller. He has captivated audiences with his tales of real New Yorkers (therealnewyorkers.com) in New York City venues from KGB Bar, to Brooklyn’s Union Hall, to the Bronx’s An Beal Bocht. Kleinman lives in the Bronx and is a regular contributor to thisisthe Bronx – MAGAZINE SUNDAY.
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