The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"You Don't Want Rules Made for People That Have...At the Expense of People Who Don't"

It's not just Lefferts, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Brooklyn, NYC, Austin, San Fran, Seattle, Portland...

We like to imagine that we live in a small town. That's why we're so neighborhood focused and 'hood proud. The City is simply not human-sized, and we yearn for a communal homestead. The fact is, the whole metropolitan area of 25 million people or so is a living organism, and what we do affects the whole body. The incremental changes here or there, when multiplied 1,000 fold, can mean the difference between a healthy body and a rotting gut.

Glad to see Conor Dougherty in The Old Gray Lady catching up with the real story. It's about time the mainstream media laid bare the reality - you cannot expect go NIMBY and not hurt others in the process. Maybe in a small town out in the Midwest, where jobs are scarce and no one really wants to move there anyway. But we in Brooklyn are a victim of success. There is no reason to also be a victim to shortsighted anti-planning zealots who don't recognize just how necessary it is to build lasting affordable housing, even as we protect the existing stock. Homeowners have ulterior motives when it comes to neighborhood "character." Character is what made Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill and the West Village astronomically expensive. They're almost museums in a crowded and thriving metropolis chock full of working people forced to look farther and farther afield for housing. Folks, the hot dog vendor on my work corner commutes every day from the Poconos. He's hardly alone. I've met dozens of immigrant laborers who chose the American Dream hours away rather than live in poverty right here. There is a middle ground between over-building and under-building, and the Q has fought for it, poorly at times. Allow the RIGHT kind of growth, the kind that helps level the playing field while recognizing that new housing is good, so long as it isn't out-sized or inappropriate (think finger buildings in the middle of blocks).

Some excerpts from this fine article that highlights that this is an American problem, not just Brooklyn. People are moving to Cities where their prospects for employment are less, based purely on home prices. I know it for a fact! Brooklynites are moving in droves, Upstate, Detroit, or towns with QofL but limited employment options like Portland and Boulder, but even those zeitgeist towns are feeling the same overheat at Brooklyn, and housing prices are zooming.

I particularly fancy the description of Council meetings, from this excerpt. Been there, done that, albeit at the glorious CB9.

To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.
And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighborhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.
The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.
“You don’t want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don’t,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.


K said...

Uggh. You are so extremely clueless about this topic. Allowing "the RIGHT kind of growth" is the primary cause of the problem. Not even so much your specific idea about "RIGHT" but that in general people can prevent some idea of not "RIGHT".

But you shouldn't feel bad! There's nothing you personally could do, not with any significant probability. Even if you supported removing all restrictions on building, which is the sensible economic reaction to high prices (of anything).

Rules are always most easily bent, or even just followed, by the relatively more powerful.

Sadly, even were the city to 'come to its senses' with regarding to the supply of new housing, it wouldn't be able to expand city services smoothly, particularly subway service.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

So you think R10 is appropriate throughout the City? I'm very curious what YOUR idea of right kind of development would be. If you'd bother to ask, I'm happy to share my personal vision of Brooklyn's growth, but no, I guess I'm too clueless for that. Better leave it to Bruce Ratner & Co.

Limits on what and where one can develop are as old as private property. When used properly, they're enormously helpful tools. When used foolishly, or not employed at all, the possibilities for urban abuse, suburban sprawl and mindless destruction are endless.

K said...

Whatever is allowed in R10 is fine anywhere. Why wouldn't it be? My idea of what the "right kind of development would be" is development that (a) pays for or finances the appropriate city services; (b) isn't subsidized by anyone (e.g. taxpayers) outside of the community, unless they freely and voluntarily choose to do so; (c) is otherwise however and whatever the person or persons paying for it and owning the relevant property want.

I've been reading your blog for a long while now. Have you not been sharing your personal vision of Brooklyn's growth? I object to your vision based on what I've read. You've previously written that you think some parts of Lefferts Gardens should be *down-zoned* – I think that's terrible. So yes, I probably would prefer it left to "Bruce Ratner & Co".

You wrote:

"Limits on what and where one can develop are as old as private property. When used properly, they're enormously helpful tools. When used foolishly, or not employed at all, the possibilities for urban abuse, suburban sprawl and mindless destruction are endless."

This is a pretty weak argument. Lots of things – lots of terrible things – are old, some even older than private property. And yes, we should use helpful tools properly. But there are tradeoffs everywhere. And I think the welfare of everyone that wants to live here and can't so far outweighs the welfare of those that already live here that there's not much of a proper use for zoning, architectural review, etc. We – not just the people already living here! – would be much better off overall were we to be the victims of "overbuilding". In fact, a nice dollop of over-building is exactly what we need to get real, non-subsidized, not-available-solely-from-a-crooked-lottery, relief in the cost of housing.

Limiting what and where housing can be developed in NYC is an immigration issue. Not an international immigration issue but an immigration issue nonetheless. Lots of people would live here if they could afford it. We should let them. I think we should adopt radical changes if necessary. The article you quoted mentioned an estimated $1.5 trillion, i.e. $1,500 billion, i.e. $1,500,000 million, i.e. $1,500,000,000,000, in lost output for our country's economy. We're throwing away an immense amount of economic potential to protect people that are relatively well off – and I'm referring here to living in NYC (which I think we would agree is overall pretty great).

Housing in NYC is like toilet paper in Venezuela, i.e. so limited in supply that arguing about the existing arbitrary distinctions defined by current law and regulation is beside the point. The burden of current law and regulation is so high that only the richest can actually afford either without subsidy.

A market in which products are allocated by lottery is a deeply deeply broken. The relative merits of R10 versus Rn zoning is insignificant. The real problem is that unless the supply is overall unburdened both legally and financially, supply will continue to be constrained relative to demand and thus the relatively least powerful will be unable to live here.

Do you think Venezuela's toilet paper problem could be solved, or even best improved, by raising its price ceiling 15% or 25%? Their problem is more that they have price ceilings at all.

You have certainly been doing something whereas I have been arguing on the internet. But I don't consider rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to be much of an accomplishment either. And I don't doubt the sincerity of your desire to contribute. But I also don't doubt that it's really unlikely to make much of a difference, if for no other reason than the comically inept or corrupt people you have to work with.


K said...


You're right that the problem is city wide but the most affluent areas are those most capable of resisting new development. I'm sure lots of people living in the neighborhood now would much prefer to be living somewhere trendier in Manhattan, were they capable of affording something there. I know I'd like to have a shorter commute to Midtown. And waiting for the MTA to get their shit together and improve anything requires patience on a time scale most commonly conceived of by geologists. They have enough of a heroic and thankless task simply keeping the ancient steampunk apparatus from completely falling apart.

Honestly I have no practical suggestions or ideas about how to fix this. But I am convinced that anything to remove limits to development is good and necessary and sorely needed.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Thx for elaborating. Can't say that I agree entirely, but I do think the MTA needs help, and I'm glad you were able to articulate the "other side." Though it's hardly the disaster some decree. It needs to be cheaper with a more sophisticated switching system, maybe a new tunnel for extra Q/B/N/D trains to not have to all clog the Manhattan. Investment - how about Hillary and Chuck coming thru for NYC?

Anonymous said...

I was just in Lisbon for work and I bought a multipurpose transit ticket for 10 euro, say the equivalent of 11 US dollars. I took 5 trips with this card - 2 subway trips, 1 tram, a ferri, and a bus. I believe I still have a few dollars left on the card. I understand their system is not running non- stop with the amount of ridership, but the NYC subway is taking in enormous amounts of cash every single day. After a little bit of travel abroad I'm starting to get a bit pissed. I don't get it. Beer always seems to be a set reasonable price. Coffee and bread the same. Vegetables are cheaper. Paperback and hardcover books were substantially, and I mean substantially cheaper in London which I was blown away by. I really feel like there is something wrong in this country. After 2008 when the economy went to shit and gas prices continued to go through the roof, the argument was always, we'll, all theses things ie milk, eggs, flour go up in price because of the gas prices so now your slice of pizza costs $2.50 instead of $1.50 and every other item you buy has increased by .25 cents every year. But now gas prices are low. You think cost of goods are going to reflect that? Not a chance. They continue to grow and not one politician is talking about it. When is the next fare increase? Lisbon for sure has its own problems, but one thing I found interesting was in all the bodega/diner/bakeries, there were these official looking documents posted behind the registers with prices listed for basic goods such as coffee, ect almost as if the govt knows that these items are for everybody, no matter how much money they make. Everyone is entitled to a beer after work or a coffee as I saw one construction worker at the counter drinking of what I thought was sort of a posh cafe.

Sorry, that was a bit much.
- josh