diversion is not about lofts, but about Manhattan real estate

perhaps not very diverting, but there you go

Sheesh … the last weekend of the year already. I’ve noted a few End Of Year Review type pieces for future comment, most of which I will likely never get around to commenting on. But tomorrow’s 3-part featured article in the New York Times Sunday Real Estate section, In 2013, the High End Ruled, is a good place to start in the manner of a diversion. The headline and the headline-generating-elsewhere-data refer, of course, to the invasion of the ridiculously priced new condominium developments in Manhattan that came to market and/or sold in 2013 addressed in the first two parts, authored by Michelle Higgins and Robin Finn. While I appreciate the Matt Yglesias take on why having 88 million dollar condo sales is good for a city, I am not especially interested in this part of the residential real estate market as a part of the industry, but it does concern me as a citizen of New York. But for today’s diverting purposes, I am more interested in the last part of the piece by Constance Rosenblum, which is sort of appended to the other two parts. Particularly in sequence after prior parts celebrating the wonderfulness of ridiculously priced new condominium developments in Manhattan, this brief mention of costs and benefits of landmarking districts leads me to wonder.

On the one hand, the spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission notes that “issues like neighborhood stability and neighborhood pride” are “sorts of benefits [that] cannot be measured”. On the other hand, “issues like neighborhood stability and neighborhood pride” don’t sound very much like what a “landmarks” commission should be concerned with. Picking out still more hands, these conversations tend to be dominated by people taking maximalist and opposite positions, with the Real Estate Board of New York being the poster child for DEVELOP! and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation being a CHANGE IS EVIL poster child. Since areas with organizations like GVSHP tend to be well-heeled and politically connected they tend to be more successful at keeping “non-contextual” development out than areas more on society’s fringes. Hence, the West Village on its bad days can feel like Disneyland, as the successes of GVSHP lead to increasing premiums for living in that oh so well preserved mix of 19th century, 20th century, and (some) 21st century buildings (nearly all at small scale, especially off the avenues); meanwhile, new housing at large scale gets built on the margins (Hudson Yards, for now). Yet … not nearly enough new housing units are built to satisfy the demand just from new households.

There are costs to the rest of Manhattan when the West Village succeeds in blocking new development, while the ‘benefits’ of blocking new development accrue only in the West Village, making the West Village an even more expensive place to live.

Of course this is complicated. But public debate seems not to acknowledge the huge policy complications that lie between the maximalist positions of DEVELOP! and CHANGE IS EVIL. Especially with a City Council culture that over-weights the local Council Member’s view on local issue (a culture that privileges each local member at the expense of the city). The Old Grey Lady could do better.

This is more of a drive-by than an analysis of a fraught topic, so I could do better, too. But I find it diverting. Maybe to-be-continued in that master piece (or series) I keep thinking about (but never writing) about … (cue the theme from Jaws) … gentrification.

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