New York, overbuilt and gentrified

Let’s start with the latest from my Brooklyn Nabe. This is the sole grocery/supermarket within easy walking distance of my apartment. You’ll notice it is boarded up.


I had mixed feelings about the place–they were open late and 365 days a year, but the cleanliness was always an issue, and their produce and dairy were always a bit suspect (especially in Summer). But one day last winter, their shelves started clearing off and not being restocked. And then BANG–they were gone. The place had been here for thirty-something years, and it could cover us for most non-perishables. And now, people in my neighborhood are doing grocery shopping at the Walgreens next door. Walgreens was never designed to service grocery customers, and they’re clearly not equipped to deal with the extra clientele. There are a couple greengrocers, but they can’t cover half the things one would find in a reasonably stocked supermarket. The next nearest supermarket is over a half-mile away. My neighborhood is now a ‘food desert‘. That used to be something that didn’t happen to neighborhoods like mine, where homes can set you back somewhere in the high six figures. It is now. 

I’m finding that this is an ongoing problem in the city. Per a report on local news, commercial rents went up an average of 90% in the five boroughs during the last years of the Bloomberg era (2010-2014). And such economic changes are not ‘merely’ market forces at work. According to my anti-Gentrification activist friends, getting rid of local (affordable) grocery shopping is an opening salvo in the real estate industry’s game plan to ‘upscale’ neighborhoods (even neighborhoods like mine) in order to boost local housing values and rental rates. The elderly women on my block are not going to be able to haul those granny-carts all the way to the next shopping area. And it’s a big hardship for the women with young kids. What we have now, instead of a supermarket, is two real estate offices, with clean computer stations and recent paint. Somebody’s trying to figure out a way to push out working-class tenants.

Gentrification on this level is also driving up traffic in local neighborhoods. The issues with NY transit have been getting more coverage lately, but for those of you who don’t live here, the subways are falling apart. The issue is partly tied to gentrification–the subways are handling more riders than ever before without any expansion of services. Virtually all the train lines are over-capacity now, which means that all lines are delayed and all trains are overcrowded at virtually all times. 

We’re also overbuilt. There’s an 8 story private religious school going up near my home (possibly with dorms) and the kids going to it are dependent on either train service (currently over-capacity) or buses/private car transport by parents. The city buses need to be able to travel on streets that aren’t already gridlocked if they’re going to be usable. Nobody seems to be able to stop out-of-control development, even though both subways and street traffic are over capacity. And  this is hardly the only over-sized building to go up nearby lately. 

And the crazy part is that the growth of median jobs in the city seems to have fallen off a cliff. The positions I’m seeing for workers pay subsistence level wages and are frequently part-time jobs without benefits. Is everyone getting money from the parents? It’s not clear how all this shakes out. We have an election coming up, and there are no competing plans to address any of this–gentrification and gridlock are not on the radar for the issues covered by aspirants for the Mayor’s office or city council. 

Maybe this is the natural prelude to the crashing of the economy and our shakeout toward near term climate catastrophe. 





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