Wednesday, September 27, 2017

City on Fire, 1977

While flipping through property records of Norfolk, Virginia’s most desirable neighborhood, I discovered that a Dubai investment firm had purchased, at full price, a fixer-upper in this small city at the eastern end of flyover country. 

When a Dubai investor puts money into the future of a fairly provincial shipbuilding town with few international flights, it makes me wonder if the globalists have used up all the potential of New York, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles. Not too far from their favorite depositories for wealth are cities down on their luck- Johnstown, PA; East Baltimore, MD.  Several million dollars, less than the cost of a New York apartment, would transform these places, but to no avail. 

Subway and streetcar neighborhoods of 1950’s urban white America, can be seen in the films “Brooklyn” (2016) and “Avalon” (1991). At the same time of parish-centric neighborhoods, there were suburban ambitions. Part of this was practical: urban neighborhoods were overcrowded at the end of WWII. Depopulation of white ethnic neighborhoods continued with the Civil Rights Movement.
Further hurting the cities were job creators following their employees to the suburbs. Government programs created in the 1960’s became politically impossible to defund. By 1975, New York City was bankrupt. President Gerald Ford, a favorite of suburbanites, told the city government to “drop dead”.  This brought 1980’s footage of abandoned houses and vacant lots which younger generations can watch on Youtube. Dating from this era, I came across a book in the aptly-named “Urban Literature” section of DC library, titled “Young Landlords”, and read stories of college- educated squatters on the Lower East Side.

Those dark days are two decades past, so nostalgia for wild days, individuality, and a “blank slate” takes hold. The South Bronx is not wrapped in hypergentrification seen in rezoned industrial districts of lower Manhattan, or of that in Harlem. Although many of the same underlying social problems remain, the physical environment is improved, with new affordable housing and parks. How did this happen, without the unstoppable displacing force of gentrification?
“During the past three decades, this extraordinary partnership between state and local governments, for-profit and nonprofit builders, and private investors and lenders has resulted in the construction and rehabilitation of more than 2.9 million rental homes for the most vulnerable members of our society”.

(Granger MacDonald, Chairman, National Association of Home Builders; letter in Wall Street Journal).