Bloomberg

A Walk Down 56th Street: A Photo Collection

I have previously written about how former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg have sucked the personality out of New York City and essentially transformed Manhattan into a gated community for the rich. Now that mindset is spreading to the outer boroughs: take out a subway map and use it to chart the future course of gentrification. Even subway stations are getting gentrified! So you can imagine my surprise when, earlier this year, I walked down West 56th Street and saw so much real New York personality. Yes, one block away from the 57th Street detailed in the Moyers & Company documentary The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy. Fortunately, I had my camera to document it because who knows how long it will last. What surprised me about me this street was how unchanged it was: I was a student at John Jay College during the late 1980’s when one of the campus buildings was on 56th and 10th Avenue. While the surrounding neighborhood and John Jay campus have changed significantly, I found that 56th Street, from 8th to 11th Avenues, was relatively unchanged. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed rediscovering this street.

Rusted Banister

Rusted Banister

Flower Pot on 56th

Flower Pot on 56th

Dog on 56th

Dog on 56th. First he barked, then he posed.

Wall Molding

Wall Molding

Turnstyle

Gentrification of a Subway Station

Yesterday I attended a comic convention at pier 94 in Manhattan. I took the subway and disembarked at Columbus Circle, which was once a part of my daily life when I was a student at John Jay College. Because pier 94 is at 55th Street, I walked the long, cavernous part of the station that allows you to exit at 56th Street. It had been quite a few years since I walked through that part of the station and was appalled by what I discovered.

All of the thriving businesses that once operated there were gone.

Notably missing was a vintage style barbershop and a very busy newsstand. Also missing was a charming tiled mural created by grade school children titled, Hello Columbus. Instead, I found empty storefronts with homeless people camped out in front.  The exception was an office called Turnstyle (a “clever” amalgamation of the words turnstile and style), where a business could rent out one of the storefronts.

Homeless Individual Sleeping In Front of a Turnstyle Storefront

Homelessness is all consuming.

The following day, I visited the Turnstyle website and discovered these nuggets of information: 30 shops, 22 million people. $135,000 average income.

Really? $135,00.00? I think the people who work at my alma mater, Mount Sinai Saint Luke’s Hospital, Fordham University and the thousands of retail, hotel and restaurant workers that also use this station could contest this number.

What really burned me about the web site was how it implied that there was nothing there before. I have previously written about how the Giuliani / Bloomberg era created the current state of gross inequality in New York City while killing ethnic and local flavors. Turnstyle is congruent with this.

Once upon a time, the subway was the inexpensive way to get around. Lately it is catering to and fostering the wealthy. Did you know that the MTA is planning to do away with the MetroCard and implement some sort of bankcard? This means that in addition to the fare, you are going to have to pay fees to a bank. Cash is going out of “style”! Fare increases and stagnant salaries are already catastrophic to the working poor. This tactic reminds me of McDonald’s paying workers with debit cards loaded with fees.  There is also a strong connection with gentrification and subway lines. Take out a subway map and circle any subway line with relatively easy access to Manhattan and you can almost predict where gentrification will happen next.

A recent article in The New Yorker about urban blight in the West Village notes:

“The fate of small businesses in the West Village may be a local issue, but it is one with large implications. For one thing, cities remain major drivers of economic growth, and small businesses continue to form a larger part of G.N.P. than their larger cousins. But there is a deeper issue as well. Since the nineteen-sixties, when Americans faced an extreme wave of urban blight, they have understood rising property values as a reliable measure of recovery. But everything can go too far, and at some point high property values may begin to destroy local economic activity.”

While I agree with this, I would like to SHAME The New Yorker for the accompanying photograph that further perpetuates the myth of urban blight as young men of color wearing hoodies.

As the Turnstyle website notes, there is no shortage of high-end stores in the Columbus Circle area. However, they failed to realize that the 1% who live in the neighborhood do not occupy as much space in the subway as the 99% who commute there. Turnstyle AND the MTA have likely created urban blight underground by forcing out the businesses that once offered an affordable haircut, shoeshine and local art.

High end is not necessarily a sign of progress.

Recommended viewing:

The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy

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Luckily, my walk from the train station to pier 94 was not a total loss because I did see this burst of real New York City personality on 56th street.

Garden on 56th Street

A lovely garden located on 56th Street.

A New Year in New York City.

Empire State BuildingA new year in New York City and a new mayor. Good riddance to the Giuliani / Bloomberg era! Like two ravenous vampires, they both managed to suck out the personality of New York City. Vibrant nightlife is gone. And while the drugs and prostitution in Times Square was cleaned up, the corporate mindset that has taken over that area has spread to other parts of the city: Starbucks, banks and other corporations continue to devour real estate while concurrently killing local and ethnic flavors ( http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/farewell-to-big-nicks-burger-joint/?_r=0 ). Manhattan, and any area surrounding it, has essentially become a gated community for the rich. I am fairly certain that if Bloomberg had decided to serve another term or two, he would have gotten to “work” on the public housing that occupies some of the most expensive real estate in the borough. Eyes open—that can still happen!

Perhaps the greatest causalities of the Giuliani / Bloomberg era has been the working class, the poor and people of color. The constant “reforms” to education, which were, in part, veiled attempts at union busting and budget cutting, resulted in nothing but an overuse of standardized tests that kill critical thinking and gave rise to the charter school. Charter schools appear to work because students are hand picked; what happens to poor children who need extensive help with academics? Giuliani was very critical of remediation in CUNY, but never mentioned that the students who needed remediation came from a public school system that has been hemorrhaging for decades. There is always money to give tax cuts to businesses that barely pay living wage, but never enough to fund education.

The worst legacy of this era has been the stop and frisk policy: it mirrors the failure of the national war on drugs. Quite simply, the numbers don’t add up. It is a fiasco. See for yourself here: http://stopandfriskinfo.org/ . I would also recommend watching this: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/ .

I was inspired to write this because the Rupert Murdoch “news “outlets in New York City are already drumming up the fear and selling the idea that New York City will revert to the way it was in the 1970’s. Let’s be clear on why New York got to that point. Individuals like Robert Moses siphoned monetary resources out of the City to build up the surrounding suburbs. The Cross-Bronx does not benefit the Bronx—it destroyed the Bronx! People once lived there. Industry fled for various reasons. The middle and working classes / tax base left the city and the poor and people of color moved into their former neighborhoods, which were subsequently red-lined. Harlem had been red lined since the 1920’s. The media has portrayed people of color as gun totting, drug-using savages who burn and vandalize their neighborhoods. They are portrayed as bad for real estate. The fact is that landlords of these redlined areas paid arsons so that they could collect insurance.
The New York City of today is in better financial shape. Yes, Giuliani and Bloomberg were instrumental in fostering business, but have the returns benefited everyone? If they did, our public schools would be in better shape, public transportation would be cheaper and there would be more real estate for the middle and working classes as well as the poor. I have high hopes that Mayor DiBlasio can bring some balance.

UPDATE:

Some additional resources and reading:
– The chapter from Robert Caro’s Pulitzer winning book, The Power Broker, that explores the Cross Bronx: http://dcrit.sva.edu/view/readingroom/the-power-broker-one-mile/

– A PBS documentary on Robert Moses. This part looks at the Cross Bronx and is an excellent companion to the above chapter from The Power Broker. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko3DQiioGos

– The 7th episode of Ric Burn’s masterpiece documentary on New York City explores a lot of what I discussed up above including the hired arsons in the Bronx: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko3DQiioGos

– A 1980 article from The Village Voice on the arsons of the Bronx. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-10-18/specials/arson-for-hire/

SECOND UPDATE:

This is a good companion to what I discussed in this posting: http://gothamist.com/2014/01/05/6926_years_of_nyc_history_disappear.php

THIRD UPDATE:

This article illustrates what I am talking about in this blog entry. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/nyregion/they-kept-a-lower-east-side-lot-vacant-for-decades.html?emc=edit_ur_20140323&nl=nyregion&nlid=55058713&_r=0