For more than a century, California has been the state where people flocked for a better life — 164,000 square miles of mountains, farmland and coastline, shimmering with ambition and dreams, money and beauty. It was the cutting-edge symbol of possibility: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, aerospace, agriculture and vineyards.
But now a punishing drought — and the unprecedented measures the state announced last week to compel people to reduce water consumption — is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.
– The New York Times April 4, 2015
Recent travails with the 7-train and school-gate lead me to ask: should everyone be living here? In a reversal of the entropic forces that overcome an abandoned jungle city, have we instead built over every square inch and then gone, and continue to go, too far upwards? Most importantly, does densification diminish the quality of life for all?
Probably not if you’re taking the seaplane to your 20-acre spread in the Hamptons every weekend and living in a 5,000 square foot apartment or townhouse Monday to Friday. As for the rest of us, I will posit that the answer is ‘yes.’ Because as exciting as it is to live in a city that never sleeps, at some point the reality of acutely limited acreage and an aging infrastructure will mean that everyday life for the overwhelming majority of inhabitants starts going downhill. I think we’re about to reach that point.
While it doesn’t happen overnight, the lead times needed for new construction give us a pretty good indication of what’s to come. Most obvious to those of us in LIC, is the tremendous growth in Court Square and Queens/boro Plaza. It’s not quite the second coming of Dubai, but the holes are being dug and the cranes are right behind. Less evident, but occasionally noted here, is the build out, and up, of other areas in Queens that heretofore had been limited to low rise residential buildings and even single family homes.
So be it, that’s the natural progression of capitalism, and under normal circumstances in a developed country people move to Dallas, Denver, and even Detroit, if the cost, commute, and lifestyle equation leads them to it. The question is, should we be upsetting this equilibrium and adding steroids to it in the form of affordable housing and rezoning?
In doing so, is the net effect to make life worse for almost all? The last thing anyone wants is for NYC to have traffic problems like Bangkok’s, train-crowding like India, pollution like Beijing, and bursting public schools like …NYC. If 90% of the city’s inhabitants each sacrifice 10% of their lifestyle in return for 9% of our inhabitants enhancing their lifestyle by 25%, there is what economist’s call a deadweight loss, and it’s huge.1
It’s time to reconsider recently announced growth initiatives for this city, starting with LIC. They are misguided and shortsighted attempts by government to fix a problem that has its own mechanisms for working its way out. Think of it, should the mindset of the citywide administrator’s2 be ‘The 7-train is not as packed as the L-train, so let’s sardine (and delay) the people of Queens until they’re as miserable as those in Brooklyn in order to advance my goals?’ If so, then please keep in mind that once you get there, there’s no going back.
Last Stop on the L Train: Detroit – “…in Detroit you can afford to make art, be a chef, buy houses, start a business, do anything if you work hard,”
NYC Schools Plagued by Overcrowding – locker rooms and trailers for classrooms per the WSJ in March
Think BridgeGate Was Bad? Port Authority a Daily Disaster – this is what happens over a long period of time – you run out of space. Airports for example, the La Guardia announcement proves there is nowhere to add new capacity w/o dropping $4 billion of tax revenues to squeeze a few acres
How the de Blasio Administration Spurred Record Affordable Housing Increases – by shoveling cash, tax breaks, and other incentives to developers, and granting them zoning variances allowing them to build bigger and higher. Yet still nobody is building in the ghettos and helping the poor, further isolating them.
——And in other local snewze:
A Metrocard and a Dream – oh look, an article just out that’s relevant to the above
Macy’s Ditches Downtown Brooklyn Space for LIC – 150,000 square feet of it
Exclusive: Inside Medical Marijuana Factory Set to Open in LIC – 230,000 square feet of buds
Grim Looking Hotel Headed to Northern LIC – 152 rooms, unknown if rented by the hour
Wives and Merchants Come Alive Across Queens – all about Hip to Hip Theatre’s Productions
- let’s use actual people and something tangible we’ll call ‘happiness units’. So if 90 people each give up 10 happiness units = 90 x 10 = 900 units. Then, if 9 people each gain 25 happiness units = 9 x 25 = 225 units. In summation, inhabitants of the city lost 900 units and gained only 225, leading to a deadweight loss of 675 units. Ehh, these are just random numbers I threw, but even if the 90 people lost only 5 units of happiness in terms of crowded/delayed subways, buses, sidewalks, streets, ambulance delay times, overcrowded hospitals/schools/DMV’s etc. You get the picture. Notice I left out one person (90 + 9), it’s that guy riding the seaplane (the 1%), he’s unaffected. Unless he’s a real estate developer, in which case carry on [↩]
- no partisanship here, I’m referring to both the current mayor and the previous one [↩]