August 4, 2005


Housing Boom Echoes in All Corners of the City (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 8/04/05, NY Times)

It may not replace the Empire State Building or the MetroCard, but the most fitting symbol of New York City today could be the knotty plywood wall enclosing a housing construction site.

From Bensonhurst to Morrisania to Flushing, new homes are going up faster now than they have in more than 30 years. In 2004, the city approved the construction of 25,208 housing units, more than in any year since 1972, and that number is expected to be surpassed this year. Already, officials have authorized 15,870 permits.

Looked at another way, the city has 38 percent of the region's population but accounts for half of its new housing starts. Much of that development is being fueled by private money, a phenomenon not seen since the 1970's.

The mushrooming of housing development is an outgrowth of the city's decade-long population boom, low interest rates, government programs and a slide in crime, housing experts and city officials say. It has affected every borough and most neighborhoods, reshaping their physical form, ethnic makeup and collective memories.

Throughout Brooklyn, in areas where single- and two-family homes have dominated for generations, six-story buildings are rising on every other block along some stretches, and their apartments are quickly being sold, often to first-time buyers. Large tracts of Queens, once home to factories and power plants, are being readied for apartment complexes to keep pace with the growth in immigration. In East New York, Brooklyn, once known for its crack trade and killings, single-family homes are rising for the first time in a generation.

On Washington Avenue in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, where chop shops and abandoned lots of rubble and weeds once stood alone, a concrete mixer rumbles daily in front of a new eight-story building, complete with a limestone facade. "Development is a beautiful thing," said Gertrude Sowell, who mulled the housing rising around her from her stoop in the South Bronx, where she has lived for 45 years. "The Bronx had to be revived. The soul was just dead, and everywhere you walked there were abandoned buildings and despair."

It breaks your heart to consider what such cities might be like today and how much needless suffering might have been avoided had an ownership/responsibility society been pursued in the first place rather than warehousing the poor in projects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2005 12:00 AM

rent control also did a lot of damage.

Posted by: cjm at August 4, 2005 10:37 AM

"The Power Broker" is a tragedy, and it was written before the real devastation occurred (in the 70s and 80s).

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 4, 2005 10:39 AM

The tragedy in the Power Broker is that the NIMBYs, the NOPEs, and the other reactionaries thwarted Moses' plan to rebuild the city.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 4, 2005 11:40 AM

Is that where brownstones are? I like the revitalization, but hope the architecture isn't just all functional apartment buildings.

Posted by: Scof at August 4, 2005 2:02 PM

Jane Jacobs was on C-Span recently. So, we're not out of the woods yet.

The architecture should make financial sense, not comply with some outsider's sense of aesthetics. The greatness of NYC is that it has always been about working today and not worrying about its historical legacy.

You want aesthetics, move to Vienna.

Posted by: bart at August 4, 2005 2:22 PM

Sensible planning is required to make it livable in the long term..

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2005 2:26 PM

And the free market will provide sensible planning, because consumers desire it. People, given a choice, will not move to places without roads, shops or schools, so developers as an inducement to encourage buyers will provide roads, shops and schools. Just visit any tract development of any size in NJ.

Posted by: bart at August 4, 2005 3:48 PM


You can't mean that. Moses would have paved right through Greenwich Village, built a bridge from Brooklyn to the Battery, paved his way across Harlem (again), and been in a death struggle with the MTA for 40 years, if he could have done all he wanted. Sure, he build Jones Beach Park, but he didn't have to move entire generations of people to do it. But, to him, building that park was no different from turning the Bronx into a jungle with a few roads twisting through.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 4, 2005 3:55 PM

Moses wanted to make NYC a place easily navigable by the automobile and especially the truck carrying merchandise manufactured in NYC or to be shipped out of NYC. The honeycomb of roads in some of the older areas just got in the way.

And Greenwich Village should be paved over, only its population should not be forewarned but should instead have the hot asphalt poured right on them. And wouldn't a bridge be more efficient than the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel?

He wanted the island of Manhattan to be like Paris, an affluent center city with the poor shifted to the outskirts like the French Red Belt towns, a system that worked pretty well in France until the Muslims showed up.

How could he know gasoline would hit $2.50/gallon?

Posted by: bart at August 4, 2005 4:31 PM

i can't help, the greenwhich village snipe made me laugh

Posted by: cjm at August 4, 2005 5:07 PM


It never does--governments do.

Posted by: OJ at August 4, 2005 6:47 PM

I agree with Bart and I used to live on Jane Street.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 4, 2005 10:42 PM


My working hypothesis is that all conventional wisdom is wrong. Caro's slam on Moses is CW, and is therefor wrong.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 4, 2005 10:47 PM