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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

Urbanist Richard Florida suggests cities will ultimately rebound. Isn't New York a particular challenge?

So, go-to urbanist Richard Florida--who teaches at the University of Toronto and wrote The New Urban Crisis--has written an interesting three-part series for CityLab on the future of cities.

Bottom line: cities will survive the current crises, and ultimately be reshaped and thrive.

My take: because he's using a very broad lens, he doesn't focus quite enough on the challenges facing New York City, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's desperate fiscal straits, and as-yet-unknown impact of expected evictions, both residential and commercial.

Also, his predictions assume relative optimism in conquering the pandemic.

His insights, to me, reinforce short-term (at least) pessimism regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park: the Barclays Center won't reopen to full audiences for a while, and there's no market for a ground-up office building. 

While there's surely demand for new housing, the market, again in the short-term, faces headwinds, so that makes it more difficult to cross-subsidize below-market "affordable housing."

Longer-term, well, if a vaccine does arrive, that could re-set factors that position the city--and the project--toward progress.

"This Is Not the End of Cities"

Florida's first article, This Is Not the End of Cities, published 6/19/20, argues, in summary, that "Both the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement create opportunities to reshape cities in more equitable ways." He notes that the "death of cities thesis" has spread:
“I fear that the prominence of the city, and particularly city centers, will decline,” is how Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom put it. “First, the pandemic has made us much more aware of the need to reduce density. That means avoiding the subway, elevators, shared offices, and communal living. Second, working from home is here to stay. So why not live further out, where housing is cheaper?” As another commentator starkly put it, the big question was whether or not those who left cities would “ever return.”
Note that, in his City Journal interview, Bloom observed:
The one obvious upside: this could result in a big leap forward in affordable living. Suddenly, city centers will become less expensive, even as the push by developers to build more apartments will end. City centers may revert back to their status of the early 2000s—moderately expensive, a lot quieter, and with a far broader social mix.
Florida suggests cities have suffered far worse and that the crises can help us rebuild. Regarding New York, he writes:
The Covid crisis and the fallout from it are just the most recent in a series of black swan-like events — the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the economic and financial crash of 2008, and the devastating floods of Superstorm Sandy — that have rocked that city over the past two decades. The city’s obituary was written and rewritten each time, and each time it came back stronger.
That's true, but, having lived through all three, I'd say the current crises are far more extensive and thus devastating, causing the shutdown, for example, of Broadway and restaurants. Florida writes:
Despite what urban doomsayers would like to have you believe, leading industries like finance, media, entertainment and high-tech are unlikely to move significantly away from New York or other superstar cities.
Again, that presumes a vaccine. We don't have one yet for AIDS, remember.

Florida does wisely reinforce that the issue is not density--after all, Hong Kong and Tokyo have done decently--but rather overcrowding, which relates to poverty and inequity.

He notes that the protests, and looting, have occurred in wealthy areas:
If the urban unrest of the late 1960s seemed to signal the death and decay of cities, the urban unrest of today signals their resurgence and holds within it the seeds of their progressive remaking. 
Well, yes.

Still, let's not ignore the violent crime rate in poor, significantly Black neighborhoods in cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, exacerbated by the pandemic, the weather, unemployment, and fraught police-community relations, plus, some would argue, lack of summer jobsbail reform in New York and post-pandemic prisoner releases. That seems an ominous trend, one not immediately remedied by efforts to reform policing and police budgets.

"The Lasting Normal for the Post-Pandemic City"

In his second installment, 6/25/20, The Lasting Normal for the Post-Pandemic City, Florida began:
Two images of the post-pandemic city have emerged. One is the urbanist’s utopia of widened sidewalks, ample bike lanes, parking lots converted to green spaces and extended networks of pedestrianized boulevards. The other is a dystopia of empty streets and boarded-up shops, a barren cultural landscape in which the diversity, energy, and pageantry of Barcelona’s La Rambla, Paris’s Champs Elysees, London’s Piccadilly Circus, and New York’s Times Square have been replaced by a tableau of socially-distanced and masked citizens, scurrying quickly between their jobs and their homes. This is a city where theaters and museums are shuttered, where restaurants and cafes are closed down or sparsely populated with socially distanced diners, where there are no people milling on the streets, no children playing in playgrounds, no pickup basketball or soccer games. This is Boston without the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, Bruins, or its eponymous Marathon.
He posits a middling reality, with more driving, fewer luxury towers, and new creativity to replace businesses and venues that close. Some prognostication:
For the next year, maybe two, our streetscapes will have an altered look and feel, some of which we are already experiencing.... Large theaters and theater districts will be silent for at least another year, maybe more. So will stadiums and arenas, as there will be no large concerts or sporting events. There may be a good deal less milling of college students and professors in the neighborhoods surrounding urban universities should those colleges fail to reopen in the fall and have to rely on remote learning.
I think that underestimates the knock-on impact on culture, for example, as institutions contract and close, and students decide against. As for arenas like the Barclays Center, especially those that rely on public transit to deliver visitors, drastically lowered income for more than a year is not good.

Given trends Florida cites--working from home, and now safeguards that require more space per worker and wariness of elevators and public transit--it's hard to think there'd be a market for a ground-up office tower like Site 5.

The "changes that will persist are those that make our cities safer, healthier, and more efficient," he suggests, such as streets more attuned to waking and biking, and possibly new surveillance technology.

If the virus is conquered quickly, the changes will be relatively small, Florida writes:
But if the pandemic comes back in larger waves over the next 12, 18 and 24 months, or if the fiscal, economic, and social crises that have arisen alongside it deepen substantially, the changes will be longer-lasting, and some may be permanent.
That isn't necessarily good news for New York. Nor will it be cause for cities to "pandemic-proof key infrastructure, like airports, train, and transit stations, convention centers, stadiums, arenas, shopping malls, office buildings, universities, and more."

And while it surely would be wise to develop more affordable housing, that can't come from New York City resources and will require much greater federal help, not yet plausible given our fractured Congress and Republican President.

"The Forces That Will Reshape American Cities"

In his 7/2/20 final essay, The Forces That Will Reshape American Cities, Florida suggests that "The pandemic will likely accelerate the pull of the suburbs for families while pushing young people and businesses into more affordable urban areas." He notes:
The precise weighting of these two forces cannot be predicted, but will turn on how severe and long-lasting the current crises turn out to be. If they are short-lived, most of the changes in cities and urban areas will be fleeting. But if the coronavirus and its related economic, fiscal and social upheaval continues over a protracted period of two or three years or more, the changes will go deeper.
That suggests a decreased interest, and price deflation, in tony New York neighborhoods--hardly a good pitch for new Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park market-rate residences. Then again, as I've reported, the developers apparently think they're building into a post-Covid-19 environment.
He writes:
In the medium run, the streets and highways in cities like New York, Chicago, and Toronto, where a larger share of commuters use trains and transit, could become completely gridlocked as more people drive to work.
That's ominous. It also, of course, suggests it would be hard to move large audiences into and out of arenas like Barclays. He adds:
The dispersal of people and jobs may be further accelerated by the fiscal impacts of the crisis on city budgets and services. High unemployment, falling incomes, closed offices, small business failures, and falling real estate values will lead to a significant deterioration of city revenues. Mayors and urban leaders will face the difficult and unenviable choice of raising taxes or cutting back on essential services.
That's why some doomsayers are reminding New Yorkers about the 1970s. But traffic congestion will be frustrating in the suburbs, Florida suggests, which means young affluent people will want to live near downtown business districts. He doesn't mention Downtown Brooklyn, but there are a lot of jobs there, too.

But he suggests: 
Real estate prices and the cost of urban space will likely decline, perhaps precipitously as demand for offices, retail space, and luxury real estate sags. For a time, once-pricey urban areas may become considerably more affordable for those who had been priced out, particularly young people and artistic creatives...With no big-ticket concerts... there will be increased demand for smaller-scale, locally-sourced arts and culture. 
Perhaps some office towers will be converted to housing, but that's not cheap. It might be easier to convert dead malls and office complexes to turn suburbs "into livable mixed-use communities." In other words, it's not guaranteed that money will flow to New York.

From Fast Company: a reminder about climate change

A 6/16/20 Fast Company article, Six experts on how we’ll live, work, and play in cities after COVID-19, quotes Janette Sadik-Khan, principal at Bloomberg Associates and former commissioner of NYC DOT, as suggesting the pandemic allows cities "a once-in-a-century chance to change course and undo some of the damage from the traffic and congestion and pollution." 

New York, unfortunately, is behind many other cities on such things as bike infrastructure.

Kimberly Dowdell, principal at HOK, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, observes:
To some extent, we need to zoom out and look at policy relative to zoning and policies that impact financial outcomes. When we have a policy environment that enables developers to make a profit on more spacious and equitable places, then that’s when we can have a more robust conversation about specific design solutions.
That requires a federal role. Dowdell observes, "Somehow within a 90-day period, we’ve experienced as a nation a recap of the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement in a very tiny period of time. " Yup. That's a big lift.

Rachel Gutter, president of International WELL Building Institute, observes that there's "no way to design your way out of COVID-19." Her point is that, though we need better ventilation, "if we ventilated with the expectation that we would eliminate all instances of COVID-19, the energy footprint of our buildings would be astronomical."

And that, in the long run, we desperately need cities to fight climate change. Can simply keeping sick people home work? It may do so in other countries, but the United States has been a outlier.

Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler, cites new technology for "a touchless, frictionless environment," including biometric scanning, voice commands, and gesture technology.

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