Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

The City of the Future

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There’s an old political cartoon I can’t find a picture of right now, that was a timeline from WW1 to WW2, side by side comparison over the decades of apartment buildings and battleships. The joke was the battleships got bigger and bigger as the needs for them did but the apartment buildings stayed the same size.

Every time I see someone lament an “unaffordable” New York – which is most people – as often than not what they complain about is the fact that they’re okay because they bought years ago and the maintenance is lower than median rent but their neighbors are more monocultural and transient nowadays. Their “ideal” is exactly where they are, but backwards in time.

Sometimes it’s because they’re locked into a regulated lease which is likened to a pair of golden handcuffs, where they’re hanging on for dear life because they can’t, say, move into a larger apartment in the same neighborhood when a child is born. Their ideal is exactly where they are, with more freedom to move about as life’s requirements change.

Some manage to get that by literally winning a lottery and being placed in a housing complex where they can transfer their ownership to a larger or smaller unit in the same complex, and those lucky few themselves hang onto for dear life so much they’re known in the city planning world as “naturally occurring retirement communities,” and thus also die a spiritual death.

All envision a New York with the same infrastructure as before but… “more affordable,” which can only happen with fewer people demanding housing. But with fewer people comes fewer tax proceeds comes fewer public programs comes fewer people, i.e. the death spiral of a city.

To me there is only one way to go, and that way is up. When the dominant housing units of New York City are literally century-old rowhouses and tenements, it’s the infrastructure that needs to be updated. Living in the husk of yesteryear does not maintain the culture one expects of the city, which is and should be constantly renewing.

New York, being a New World industrial city, has been somewhat unique among cities in that it has never suffered a major fire, nor suffered bombing, but instead has renewed itself through demolition and real estate speculation. Most Old World cities’ business districts are on the periphery. New York just put them square in the center, bulldozing whatever came before. New York has demolished more monuments than most cities ever built, and yet still remained quintessentially New York. That is the New York that should be followed.

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