If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

Who Belongs Downtown?

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Many American cities now enjoy an amazing reversal of fortune. Once hollowed-out shells mainly for those too poor to move -- or those so rich they didn't have to deal with the poor -- cities are again filling up with educated and aspiring young people.

They are flooding into Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and other places once given up for dead. The influx of newcomers with money has raised housing prices and property taxes for many longtime residents, leading to social conflict.

Who belongs downtown? The short answer is everybody. But the short answer is too short.

Consider Honolulu's Kakaako neighborhood. Once a flat, low-strung area of auto repair shops, warehouses and some residents, it's now become a real estate bonanza for shopping centers and high-rise condos. A master plan for development envisions perhaps 22 residential towers plus acres of retail and office space.

People already living there are wondering what's going to happen to their views. Then there are the old Hawaiian burial grounds.

Considering the sad financial shape of so many urban downtowns, such cities would be insane to turn away all those tax dollars. But there's also a price to pay for the loss of modest neighborhoods inhabited by the same folks for generations.

One is fairness. Often, the most coveted areas are not the impoverished slums but those blue-collar holdouts where longtime residents and shopkeepers preserved the charming streetscapes. These people hung in through the bad old days of crime and filth. They're still in the same little house, but now the value of the house has tripled along with their real estate taxes. Sure, some could sell at a handsome profit, but others call their surroundings home and want to stay.

Though many recent arrivals love the old buildings, they seem to prefer the new high-rise condos with granite kitchen counters. The residential towers replace the warehouses that employed the locals, take away the views and bring in chain stores salivating over the arrival of big spenders.

Even the small hip stores price out the old-timers. Where there was spaghetti and meatballs, there's now artisan pizza. Handmade chocolate is nice, but for many residents, the hardware store was even nicer.

This process has been called Brooklynization. That refers to the transformation of gritty old Brooklyn neighborhoods into pricey hangouts best afforded by tech and financial types.

San Francisco, in particular, has become a hotbed of tension between the longtime bohemian types and an inflow of technology workers, thousands of them millionaires, many of them "entitled."

Again, urban America desperately needs these taxpayers, but it must recognize that cities have a fragile culture that big-money development can flatten. Balance must be found.

Everyone belongs downtown -- with one exception. That is rich foreigners using prime American real estate to park their money. Even they can be downtown, but cities should stop letting developers put up billionaire residential towers on prime real estate -- prime because the city's residents, shoppers and workers made it so.

New York's hallowed West 57th Street is now being lined by narrow needles, 50 or more stories high, with apartments going for $20 million, $50 million, $80 million. They are being marketed to filthy-rich Russians, Chinese and others looking for a safe place to "invest" their money. Typically, the buildings are more than half-empty most of the time.

We can understand former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's wish to bring in taxpayers ripe for milking, but there's such a thing as selling one's soul. And soul is an established city's greatest asset. Once that's gone, the place loses the very thing that attracted newcomers in the first place.

So who belongs in the city? Its people.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.  Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.