Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hyper-gentrifying 14th

I was just thinking about how truly remarkable it is that much of 14th Street, from east to west, has not been hyper-gentrified.

Yes, there's the Apple Store at the western end. Yes, a Target and maybe Trader Joe's is coming to the east. And Union Square is strangled in chains. But much of the rest miraculously remains Chinese takeout joints, 99-cent stores, other discount shops, diners, and one beloved doughnut shop. It attracts a diversity of New Yorkers, many from lower socioeconomic circumstances.

And now this.

Gothamist reports that, in response to the impending L Train shutdown, Transportation Alternatives has a plan that "envisions a 14th Street free of car traffic—a concept with the endorsement of city planners, politicians and advocates—plus a six-stop shuttle bus operating on dedicated lanes, and protected bike lanes. The shuttle would connect to a new cross-bridge bus, carrying Williamsburg commuters on a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge. Among the runners-up are a proposal for temporary barriers separating dedicated bike and bus lanes on 14th Street, and a plan that would close certain blocks of 14th Street to traffic."

We all know that one powerful way to hyper-gentrify a neighborhood, or a cross-section of the city, is through transportation alternatives, i.e., bike lanes and trolley cars. Pedestrian plazas, as Bloomberg's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn showed, made property values shoot through the roof in Times Square. These are proven tactics. Conservatives love them because they're good for the rich. And liberals love them because they're environment friendly. But they are not friendly to a diverse, affordable, and equitable urban environment.

This plan is not a done deal by a long shot. But it's worth noting that developers and urban planners have their eye on the scruffy remains of this holdout corridor. Enjoy it while you can.

Any time I've ever mentioned bike lanes as anything but an all-good thing, people become apoplectic, both the pro-development neoliberals and the lefty bike advocates. For the record, I own a bike and I ride in the bike lanes. I enjoy them. They still are used by mayors to spur and reinforce gentrification by attracting "creative economy" consumers, tourists, and residents (see the work of Richard Florida and Jamie Peck). Same goes for pedestrian plazas (though I don't like them). See Google. See also Google. See also this PDF from Sam Stein.


Anonymous said...


The topic of whether a bike lane precedes gentrification or comes after it is up to a lot of debate, and places like NACTO and StreetsBlog have done a lot to investigate it. What is not really a debatable fact, however, is how much car culture does to a city - from health hazards from pollution to pedestrian deaths, of which the elderly are highly overrepresented (eg

Moreover, while it is convenient to buy into a right-wing media (which I know you don't like) which demonizes bike lanes as for white "hipsters" only, there are real structural reasons to why others don't bike, or don't do it more visibly - such as overpolicing. In fact many communities of color *want* more biking infrastructure, but don't have the political clout to do so (eg

Nobody doubts that under de Blasio, gentrification and the general soul crushing status of NYC continues in acceleration. His broken windows policies moreover continue to criminalize the poor and make the rich giddy. But tying actual streets safety improvements (like 14th would be) to this not only makes your argument weaker, but it makes your general point about livable cities, for people, not for the rich (who own cars in substantially higher numbers because most NYC don't own cars).

DrBOP said...

Hey J, just thought this might be up your alley. We all know the perfect someone who might be in that audience who would ask some insightful questions, BEFORE the reporter is railroaded out of the building after having been blamed for ALL the NYTimes' shortcomings over the last decade ;^)

Jeremiah Moss said...

Yohannes, thank you for your thoughtful response.

For the record, I am not against bike lanes. I ride in the bike lanes. I like the bike lanes. But I also know they contribute to gentrification, and they're used by politicians and urban planners to attract the "creative economy" urban resident, as suggested by the work of Richard Florida. Pedestrian plazas also raise rents and property values. They were used to do this by the Bloomberg administration. Sadik-Khan praised this in Times Square where they first experimented with them.

On what might be a tangent, what I don't understand is why people have so much trouble holding two ideas at once: Bike lanes can be positive and negative. It's unfortunate that something so good is used for evil. Maybe that's hard to accept.

James said...

14th Street - inevitable.

I remember the writer Brendan Gill losing his battle-of-one against the mashing up of Times Square in the name of development. Some of the massive skyscrapers he feared didn't happen; a few did. What really did in the district was the soaring of rents and total squiring by corporate chains, so that there's not a cheap eat in sight. Has anyone seen the new Edison Café recently? Nope. That has had its ripple effects, even at CVS drugstores (once a synonymous generic term for cheap) where you can't buy a cheap chicken sandwich in a box for less than $7.

Still, per language - what does "diversity of New Yorkers" mean? Traditionally, we spoke of people from diverse backgrounds, but never about people themselves being diverse. This discussion should be about money (as per 99¢ stores) rather than the monstrous and nebulous "gentrification" (let alone "hyper-gentrification") we've been bandying about for 40 years. We want cheap eats and goods to continue - period. That way New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds can continue to live here - something the current mayoralty and partners is simply not seeing as a particular value, now that big money is on the line.

The question is - how do you keep Manhattan cheap? I surely don't know. Diversity? Quota lingo for universities and guilt-laden employers.

Scout said...

Thank you, Yohannes Merriweathe, for the intelligent point of view on urban biking. There's far too much reactionary knee-jerk hatred of bikes in this city. We can't deny that we live in a country that's not only a slave to fossil fuel and cars, but even worse, so many citizens think that slavery makes us better people.

If we have more bicycles than cars on our streets, the city would be cleaner, safer, and the citizens would be healthier - all stronger arguments than that of gentriphobia (to me). Cars are poison - even the cleanest pollute the air, they encourage sedentary behavior, and they are deadly in collisions.

We appear to be on the road to healthy change; of course, ALL change comes with positives and negatives. We can acknowledge both, but let's be sober about which outweighs the other.

JB said...

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am in favor of almost anything that reduces car traffic in manhattan. In fact, I would go so far as to ban non commercial traffic in manhattan save for the disabled and elderly. I would take congestion pricing as a consolation prize, or using a mta disaster as a pretext to turn streets into pedestrian only zones. Don't want to take public transportation? We don't need you in manhattan.

However, the impact on rents and property values is undeniable. We need substantive regulation to reach an equitable outcome. It's a failure of capitalism; those who create the value should be the ones who reap it, not absentee landlords who do absolutely nothing to contribute to the value of the neighborhood and then jack all the rents up. If we could get Albany behind it, we could use zoning to either freeze rents in specific areas like this, or implement taxes that wipe out the property value gains and use the revenue to subsidize existing tenants.

Unknown said...

Well said. It's deeply flawed to argue we shouldn't make improvements to un-gentrified areas and leave them as dangerous and unpleasant as possible "for their own good". Lower-income people deserve safe, pleasant streets and amenities as much as wealthier ones. There are better ways to preserve affordability than deliberately making an area undesirable.

Unknown said...

The issue of gentrification is one that ultimately needs to be resolved if we are to ever create neighborhoods that are healthy for all, rich and poor alike. I believe that once we set our sights on reining in landlords, developers, and the habit of parking money in property as a tax shelter, we can start to make progress on some of these other issues of livability. Here's one quick way that reform could begin - revisit our tax code here in NYC. Currently, landlords who own empty property, whether commercial or residential, don't have to pay taxes on it. Tax classes 2 and 4, I believe. So, here is an incentive for landlords to hold out for the highest bidder, with no cost to them if the space remains empty for months, or even years. Here's another idea: tie tax to rent. The higher rent you ask, the larger the tax you'll have to pay. Incentivize lower rents through tax law. Here's another: the more property you own, the more you pay exponentially in taxes. Finally, stop letting people park millions in a property without investing in the city.

Personally, I think it's time to stop thinking of property as an investment and start seeing it as a basic need that must be provided by our society to every member. A bare minimum in a civilized world.

It is unfortunate that rents and property value are tied to the desirability of a neighborhood. I can see why anyone living in a 'blighted' neighborhood would resist any perceived improvements and amenities, such as bike lanes or better public transit. These changes cause the property values to go up by making the neighborhood more 'desirable', wealthy people (typically white people) come and buy up property at inflated prices, pushing out anyone who can't afford to stay there. Then, voila, poor (and typically black) people have to move to other more affordable (and less desirable and healthy) neighborhoods.

Our mayor has talked about building affordable housing, but that is simply not enough. Real estate is king. It's time to topple it from the throne.

Unknown said...

Other factors that contribute to gentrification in NYC- running water, electricity, air.

Unknown said...

Bike lanes, roundabouts, DDI intersections....Good? Bad? who knows? All I know is that the Soul of a unique city in the world is being stomped out.
When they put in bike lanes I stopped riding a bike, when you have to push a button and wait for a green light to cross the street I will leave the City.

M.T. said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Long time reader, first time commenter; love your site. I hope you don't take this as being "apoplectic", but I wanted to add a perspective on bike infrastructure that I feel is often missing from these conversations. Bike lanes matter to more people that "gentrifiers."

For many immigrants (and I am one as well, so have a strong interest in this issue), a bicycle is an important tool of economic mobility. It allows many low-income people, often immigrants, to get to work, and even do their work (e.g. the many deliverymen). I recognize that many low-income workers, lamentably, live too far from their places of employment, and often have jobs so physically demanding, that biking to work may not be feasible. But for many, it is an important option to save money & be able to get home to communities that sometimes don't have great transit connections.

And they are so, so vulnerable. Just a couple of weeks ago, a deliveryman working on the UES, Gelacio Reyes, was killed by a drunk (and I think unlicensed) driver while cycling home after work. This happened in Sunnyside. In 2013, Cesar, an employee at Stromboli Pizzeria in the East Village, was also killed by a driver while biking home after work, in Brooklyn. Both these men left behind their wives and children; each of them had 3 young kids. Bike infrastructure can be an important tool to protect the lives & extend opportunity to those who don't have much of it. It's not just a hipster fantasy.

I agree it's a hard question of what fuels what: community investment (of a certain type) versus gentrification, but as someone says above, should we not invest into improving infrastructure in poor areas? Rather, we should put resources (financial, legal) into protecting tenants (residential & commercial) and maintaining the character of our communities (or what's still left of it). As a Ukrainian immigrant in the East Village, living in affordable housing, believe me when I say I also care about affordability & the character of our communities. But I also recognize the benefit of bike infrastructure (and improved public transit) for immigrants and the poor more than many others like to admit.

Anonymous said...

Making biking safer and easier can also be a great benefit for lower-income folks, as has been seen in Bed-Stuy after the CitiBike roll out there. And I don't really think bike lanes per se really contribute much to gentrification. I think it's more likely to arise just *because of* gentrification that's occurring anyway.
Considering lower-income neighborhoods tend to have higher instances of traffic injuries/deaths—and people who can't afford cars or the most transit-rich neighborhoods can benefit from increased jobs/shopping access by bike—I think the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

Brian said...

I remember 14th Street from 20 years ago and it definitely was a hell of a lot less gentrified than it is now. It was particularly a low rent street compared to it's surroundings. West you had the meat packing district which was still a real meat packing district. Sides of beef were seen being loaded off trucks and could be seen hanging inside. The piers were places for runaways, gangs and druggies to gather. West was also a real seedy area for underground entertainment. East you had Stuyvesant Town when it was still an affordable apartment complex owned by Metropolitan Life Insurance. Discount stores of all kinds lined the area inbetween. The big Salvation Army building. I assume the L line contributed to this as a discount shopping district. Discount everything. 99cent stores where everything actually was less than a dollar, pop-up shops with designer deep discount sales of merchandise of questionable origin, gray market goods, diners where bfast cost less than $4. SRO hotels, Bradlees at Union Square instead of Whole Foods, more bums and druggies inside Union Square with Bernhard Goetz feeding the squirrels instead of millenials chilling and no farmers market. And there were very quirky stores that had been there for decades, wigs stores, a Soviet Russia product store, an icon paintings gallery, old fashioned drug stores, men's clothing stores that look like they were from the 30's. No Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Many modern highrise apartment houses have been built since then. All the stores have been replaced. The New School and NYU have built buildings and both have extremely high tuitions and wealthy student bodies.

Jeremiah Moss said...

M.T., not apoplectic at all, thank you for that. And I agree with you. So many immigrant delivery people use the lanes. They have many benefits. But it's like trees.

City planners suddenly decide to put in trees on poor streets target for "revitalization." Trees are good. The poor enjoy the trees, too. But that's not who the trees are meant for--the trees are meant for the newer, richer people to come. They are meant to bring change.

So we can like the trees and enjoy the trees, I just don't want us to deny for whom they were intended--and what that means in the bigger picture. Bloomberg did this with bike lanes and pedestrian plazas and trees, too.

Andrew Porter said...

14th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues used ot have a row of low-rise apartment buildings on the north side; don't know what's there now.

The idea that streetcars bring gentrification does not compute with the fact that there used to be streetcar lines everywhere in NYC. They were all taken out, to be replaced by more space for cars, or sometimes for bus lines. The few possible streetcar lines as proposed now may be harbingers of gentrification only because the areas they'd go through have fallen so far that there's only one way to go now. That's Up.

Ferdinand Cesarano said...

The Dean Street bike lane, one of the longest in the City, is certainly not a tool of gentrification. It is purely an amenity for the existing communities.

bgfa said...

I think the 14th St proposals are something of a special case here. The L train is going down for almost 2 years. That train is a lifeline to 14th St's economy and mobility to the city generally, and the only way to get anywhere near the same transit capacity is to remove car traffic and use buses in dedicated lanes with no obstacles. Generally when you do that you have additional capacity for things like wider sidewalks and bike lanes, but they are not the reason for the change.

Taking the L out of service is a huge deal. I for one am glad the city is taking providing replacement service seriously.

I lived in Manhattan from 1976-91, not there any more but I'm a regular visitor and stay with family there. I remember when I first lived on 2nd Avenue back them the L train still had the old cars with the wicker seats and ceiling fans. They were on their last legs back then.

Pat said...

Sadly, Stuyvesant Organic went out of business. It was a hole-in-the-wall Russian food place and the food was good and it was cheap. I will miss this place very much. 14th Street between A & B. The owner told me it was a combination of rent and lack of customers. When they opened two years ago I had high hopes for them because of all the Stuytown apartments across the street. But all the construction inhibits foot traffic, I guess, and no one walks around there unless they have to.