New York has always been a culturally dynamic city, but certain neighborhoods have generally been able to maintain their character over the years. To some extent people follow reputations; once an area establishes an identity it is likely to attract those who find such an area attractive, thus perpetuating the status quo. Economics likely play a larger, but related role, in that certain neighborhoods may attract diversity due to cheaper rents while others will be more exclusive due to the high costs. But even the formerly inoculated communities have been finding that as the economies change, so goes the neighborhood.
The Upper West Side is a perfect example. The relatively low rise apartment buildings are becoming overshadowed by the new Ariel high rises. These luxury buildings not only alter the skyscrape, but often obstruct once premium views. Once relatively rare – see for example Trump’s Riverside South development – the fears of having a premium view blocked prompted the Times to cover the “Views You Won’t Lose” to help cover your $5 million investment.
Naturally, the Jews are lamenting the gradual change of the Upper West Side’s Jewish character. The Jewish Week eulogized the recently closed Morris Bros, and repeated its ominous predictions for West Side Judaica after reporting in June that West Side Judaica’s rents would be jumping 125% from $8,000 to $18,000 per month. Slowly, residents are realizing that not even the mecca of Jewish Yuppiedom is safe.
Obviously those directly effected by change will lament their own changing situations, especially when one hasn’t been previously exposed by such fluctuations. This holds true not only for the Upper West Side, but even for Washington Heights residents seeing drastic rent increases1 or Longtime Coney Island attraction Astroland being sold to developers. Since my Grandfather closed LBC Clothing on Grand Street in the Lower East Side has been gradually losing its Jewish landmark stores, a recent casualty being Gertels Bakery. If it happens elsewhere it’s a statistic, if it happens in your neighborhood it’s a tragedy.
However, while people complain how things are changing, we seem to be forgetting the other side of the equation; that there is an individual on the other end who is choosing to profit, sometimes out of necessity. One reason rents go up is because landlords pass on costs of heating to the tenants. If given the opportunity, I would suspect that commuters would love to pass the rising gas prices on to their employers. Furthermore, I would assume that the same Jews who bemoan the possible closure of West Side Judaica would not hesitate if given the choice to earn an additional $120,000 a year with minimal effort.
One of the downsides of being Free to Choose is that other people can make decisions with which we may not agree, but the real question is if we would be act that much differently. Consider the Dubai’s recent purchasing 20% of the Nasdaq exchange following last year’s controversy over Dubai Ports World assuming responsibilities for American ports. Despite negative public relations or possible socio-political ramifications, someone made (or would have made) a great deal of money on those sales. I’m wondering who would be any different.
1.Of course this could lead to a bust, but who knows.