Monday, May 16, 2011

Gentrification & Illegal Conversions

One of the themes in the book (which is is that illegal conversions are the start of gentrification. In one chapter, the author describes how she lived in an illegally converted loft, and lied to inspecting firemen. In another section, businesses complain how families living in illegal conversions are driving them out of the neighborhood because the renters complain about noise and truck exhaust.

This was an interesting contrast to recent local news articles about illegal conversions in the outer boroughs. Due to a lack of affordable housing, many homes in Queens and Brooklyn are being broken up into illegal SRO's or multiple-person apartments which lack suitable fire exits. Several of these houses have recently burned down, killing tenants and endangering firemen. as a result, there is great public outcry for crackdowns on illegal conversions:

Is the proliferation of outer borough illegal conversions a sign that the outer boroughs are gentrifying? Or are they a sign that housing has become so expensive that they are no legal alternatives for people who want to have a place to live off of the street? Please comment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Street Fairs

One example of suburbanization put forward by the book is the blandness of NYC street fairs. These fairs are apparently run by a few companies and tend to showcase the same merchants. This is why last weekend, when I went to the Union Square street fair, I saw three booth selling fries, arepas, grilled corn, etc. Most fairs don't have local merchants because they aren't hired by the fair organizers. The sole exception at the fair that I attended was a small cannolli booth run by Williamsburg's famous Fortunato Brothers (I bought a chocolate one).

Street fairs were originally run by churches and local groups, such as block associations, to raise money for these organizations. People who lived in the neighborhood arranged the event, reached out to local artists and vendors, and actually worked tables. The money was then spent locally by the organization and by the vendors. Now that they are being contracted out, much of the money from the fair goes to the street fair company, and less to the organization and the vendors.

There are still some more locally oriented street fairs throughout NYC. A listing of a few, as well as ideas of how to revitalize the street fair are contained within this report by The Center for an Urban Future:

How do you feel about street fairs? Do you love them, hate them, avoid them, enjoy the fires? Please comment.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Help - my neighborhood is changing!- The Rise of Real Estate and the Decline of the Industrial City - Part 2

A commentor on my previous post mentioned that gentrification problems were not just confined to cities. Noel Perrin wrote an essay called "The Rural Immigration Law" (reprinted in his collection Best Person Rural) about this very problem. He describes a hypothetical couple named Don and Sue who move to a small New Hampshire village where previously they and their children had spent weekends in their summer house. After a short period of time:

"But there are some problems. The first one Sue is conscious of is the school. It's just not very good. It's clear to Sue almost immediately that the town desperately needs a new school building -and also modern playground equipment, new school buses, more and better art instruction at the high school, a different principal. ...only about 40 percent of the kids who graduate from that high school go on to any form of college. The rest do native things, like becoming farmers and mechanics, and joining the Air Force.

Pretty soon Sue and Don join an informal group of newcomers in town who are working to upgrade education. All they want for starters is the new building (2.8 million dollars) and a majority of their kind on the school board." (p52.)

While Perrin aims his comments at rural gentrification, the same process takes place during gentrification in cities. While it is currently chic to raise chickens in the city and start rooftop farms, noisy uncullled roosters, the smell of unclean pens, and an future avian flu epidemic could lead to an eventual anti-farming backlash.

Oddly enough, one of the first anti-gentrification backlashes is coming from Greenpoint and Williamsburgh, which may stop issuing liquor licenses in an attempt to prevent those neighborhood from taken over by bars and drunken partiers (as opposed to crowing roosters and pooping hens):

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Help - my neighborhood is changing!- The Rise of Real Estate and the Decline of the Industrial City

Matthew Schuerman discusses in this chapter how industrial areas (such a Williamsburg's Schaefer Landing, which the Royal Wine Company wanted to use for its expansion) were turned into residential housing. This comes at a price, since small businesses are being displaced and luxury housing is being built where they used to stand. Often these small businesses (like Royal Wine) leave the state, taking with them jobs and NYC tax revenues. Others, like the businesses that will be displaced by the Willets Point project, may go under.

Small businesses in NYC are endangered by developers who want to turn their land into condos or malls. They are also endangered by the expectations of the people who move into the gentrifying neighborhood:

"After a few years of illegal conversions and BSA gerrymandering, the manufacturers that remain in these areas start fielding complaints from the neighbors - idling trucks, bad smells, noises late at night - and parking tickets suddenly increase. City planning commissioners then jump in with a broad rezone, arguing that they are merely codifying what is already taking place on the ground." (p.133)...'The cop writing a ticket for one of your trucks is just doing his job. He doesn't know that the person who called to complain is upstairs in an illegal conversion." (p.136)

Back in 2002, I read an article about how the gentrification of its surrounding neighborhood was causing troubles for the Gillies Coffee Company roasting plant. Apparently the people who had moved into the neighborhood were shocked to find that the coffee plant was causing the air to smell like coffee.

Since I lived across from three power plants, one known officially as the most polluting power plant in NY State, and my air was smelling more and more like something burning, I envied the Gillies neighbors. I would have loved to smell coffee.

I was also somewhat stunned to find that one of reasons that the Fulton Fish Market was moved to the Bronx was that they tourists complained about the smell of the fish:

My questions:

Is the city actually encouraging illegal conversions (currently a hot topic) by reducing its industrial and increasings its residential zoning in areas where this is prevalent?

Should people be expected to do some research before they move into a neighborhood?

Please comment!

The Suburbanization of New York: Is the World's Greatest City Becoming Just Another Town? Ed. Jerilou Hammett and Kingsley Hammett (and happiness)

For the past month, I have been reading about, blogging about, and discussing happiness. One of the factors that contributes to happiness is a sense of place. New York City has traditionally been a city where people have tried to find happiness through a sense of belonging. Some people emigrate from small towns in the search of endless sources of culture, or acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Other people emigrate from another country in the hopes of leading a more fulfilling life.

I moved back to NYC in 1994. In the seventeen years that I have lived in the city, I have seen many changes in not just Brooklyn, but also in Queens and Manhattan. The essays in this book are not only personal accounts by people about how they have seen "their" New York change, but also analyses of how forces within the city have caused the city to change. For the next month, we will discuss how the changes in the city are increasing and decreasing its inhabitants senses of happiness.