Monday, July 6, 2009

Luxury Hives

This is the Bowery right now. I wouldn't know looking at this picture.

Believe it or not, this is the corner of Bowery and Houston in New York today.

Condo tower on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side near my studio

New luxury condo towers facing McCaren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn near where I live

New luxury condo tower going up in Hell's Kitchen (now officially known as "Clinton")

There are even bigger and taller such towers going up in Tribeca and all over Lower Manhattan. They all look to my eye like they were designed by Frank Gehry's untalented brother Gerry after he spent years studying college dorms and Moscow housing projects. These things are being jerry-built on the cheap by corrupt contractors together with corrupt city officials. No one was really all that surprised to see a spate of deadly crane collapses last year. There are many more serious construction accidents that involve non-union illegal immigrant labor that never make the news.
Historic neighborhoods are being plowed into extinction to make room for all of this Section 8 Housing of Tomorrow. The old Bowery is now just a memory. The East Village is largely a memory. Its ghost survives in a haze of pot smoke on St. Mark's Place, but that's all. When CBGB's and the Second Avenue Deli closed, the old heart got ripped out of the neighborhood. It looks to me like the developers will finish the destruction of the Lower East Side begun by Robert Moses and the New York Housing Authority after WWII. All of this has metastasized out into Brooklyn, most acutely in Williamsburg where city services have not kept up with the rapidly expanding and concentrating new population. Public transportation, water, and utilities are feeling the strain.

The worst of it is that all of this housing is way out of the range of most people who live in these neighborhoods. Even when the recessed economy forces condos to go rental, how many people could or would shell out 12K a month to live in one of these things? A lot of international plutocrats bought many of the downtown luxury housing units for investment purposes, and they stand largely empty. The economic bust, Wall Street unemployment, and the (ssshhhh!) declining value of real estate are leaving many of these huge buildings nearly empty. Resident ethnic groups are pitted against each other, fighting over rapidly shrinking pieces of affordable space (especially Chinese vs. Latinos in the Lower East Side).
New York still has an acute housing crisis with a constant demand for ever limited affordable space. There are legions of people in low wage jobs who cannot even meet the minimum requirement for "affordable." The homeless population of New York is about 35000 and growing. Most of them are invisible. They are usually women and children shuttled about constantly from one stop-gap temporary measure to another. Not all of them are unemployed. Many are working, even while living in temporary housing. Those are on top of the permanent homeless population of substance abusers and young run-aways.

Forgive me, but these ugly empty towers bring out my inner Communist.
Publish Post


Fran said...

Those buildings give me the hives.


As for your inner Communist - welcome I say, you have arrived at the right moment!

From March 2003 to December 2007 I worked at 770 Broadway, Broadway at 9th. The building, the former John Wannamaker department store takes up the whole block. The back side of the building faced some ugly monstrosity that you may be familiar with that got put up just south of the Astor Place subway station.

I saw the early stages of those Bowery buildings... I remember seeing the Bowery as a kid in the 60's. I also remember haunting the lower east side in the mid to late 80's going to unsavory night spots.

Oh - where are they now?


Progress. It sucks sometimes.

Counterlight's inner Communist, you have just met Fran's inner crank!

Counterlight said...

Yes, I know both of those buildings.
The old Wanamaker Building is an under-rated treasure by Daniel Burnham, the same architect who designed the Flatiron building.
That ugly blue thing on Astor place blocking the old Carl Fischer Building clock is the best argument for earthquakes I've seen in years. It too is a pile of over-priced hipster luxury pads (way beyond the means of any real hipsters).

Ah New York, so wonderful and so awful.

JayV said...

As a kid I'd visit my aunt who
lived then in a 4th story walk-up apt. in a brownstone bldg on E 9 St (betw
5th Av and Univ Pl) - long ago demolished. Well we'd go shopping
at Wanamakers! Then, she'd treat
me to delicacies from Sutters
bakery (no longer around).

Fran said...

Oh that Wannamaker Building was a gem. I worked on the 15th floor, the top floor. We called it the John Malkovich floor because it truly was the attic and did not have the grand high ceilings that our compatriots on 13 and 14 had.

There was a fabulous old staircase leading from 14 to 15. It was on the 8th Street side of the building. Sadly most of the rest of said original staircase was done away with. It truly was a gem, with fine palladium windows looking south.

On 13 and 14 there were those same windows in all the offices. There was a very airy feeling, even in cubicle-land.

The lobby once housed the great organ played for the good of the people. Wannamaker was also a champion of the worker in many ways, wanting to educate people.

Very little of that thing happened now that it is a vaunted corporate address.

I love JayV's reflection; that was before my time of working in that neighborhood.