I've been thinking about real estate, quality of life, and related issues on the Upper West Side for over a year--now certainly magnified by the pandemic that changed everything about 11 months ago. Manhattan's mass exodus, particularly on the Upper West Side where I live, has been reported on continuously for almost a year now. I think there is great opportunity amidst the chaos to emerge more interesting and affordable for those of us who never left and those who would love to live here. For starters: the architecture is amazing!
Among several observations, three things stand out to me:
- There is more new building construction and exterior renovation happening on my stretch of Broadway in the 90s than in the decade I've lived up here. The photos I took are on or right off Broadway between 91st-96th St--only five blocks! I know there are more in the 80s, too. I'm not sure who is moving into what I assume will be condos, when apparently thousands of residents have just fled. Some of these new buildings are replacing weird one- or two-story buildings, probably left over from when this neighborhood was not so desirable. Others were pre-war building tear downs -- one of which was a synagogue -- something I don't like to see, but what can you do?
- Even before the pandemic, stores were closing regularly along this same stretch, leaving empty storefronts for months and years at a time. Now, during the last 11 months, even DUANE READE and STARBUCKS have permanently shut down, in addition to old locally owned bodegas and Cleopatra's Needle! All national clothing chains have vanished -- Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Mandee and Club Monaco. Grocery stores including two Gristede's...I could go on...
- AND CAN WE TALK ABOUT STREET PARKING? First, I just learned that Lyft owns the bike-share operator that runs Citi Bike. I'll explain why this is important in a minute. There is a severe dearth of street parking on the UWS, worse than people who have lived here since the 80s have ever seen (I know this b/c I belong to a local group). Between the aforementioned construction taking up full street and avenue stretches, Citi Bike racks taking up scores of spots along Riverside Drive, 92nd Street and more, restaurants' Covid-era "outdoor" seating shanties built on legit parking spots, and mountains of plowed snow piled up on every other corner, thousands of parking spots have vanished, and so parking garages have jacked up their prices to minimums of $600 a month. And before you tell me people should take public transpo., there IS NO reasonable public transportation to and from the UWS if you regularly travel to NJ, Upstate, CT, etc., especially if you are over 40, which many of us are up here, and have luggage of any kind. I promise you, it's not sustainable. So back to Lyft owning Citi Bike: even the most ardent environmentalist anti-car resident has got to see the hypocrisy: "Nowhere to park? TAKE A LYFT!" "Don't want to take the subway? TAKE A CITI BIKE!" --Lyft is eliminating the ability to drive to and in NYC and making money from it while clogging the streets with MORE LYFTS!
OK, so what do I suggest? What do I envision? Here are my unscientific suggestions:
- Remember the early/mid-80s when the UWS was sorta cool for an uptown neighborhood? I do. The City has GOT TO encourage landlords/building owners and managers to rent commercial space to new tenants via tax reduction incentives or credits. You get more points if you lease to mom-and-pops! Or maybe you get penalized for letting storefronts sit empty for more than 6 months. Can't rent your store? Donate it to an educational or arts organization and display art, interpretive dance, whatever! Bring back the creativity, vision, and art that so many residents up here actually appreciate! And won't this help to...
- ...Attract new residents to all the new buildings with money to spend? Sure, maybe when all these giant new buildings were financed a few years ago "they" envisioned top-dollar condo sales. Well, again, the City should incentivize renting to a plethora of incomes. I read a story the other day whereby big corporations are buying blocks of condos in buildings to get a "bulk rate," I suppose to be able to sell them off one-by-one when the economy starts booming again. Can the government stop this insanity? If it can, it should, otherwise apartments will sit empty and/or Corporations will be landlords. This cannot be good for NYC culture and spirit. Can we please return to a time when apartments were HOMES and not checkers on some investment scheme spreadsheet checkerboard?
- Hopefully once the snow melts and construction is completed, we will get some of our beloved parking spots back. But what about restaurants' outdoor posts? When are those going to be removed...or will they be permanent fixtures? I know the restaurant industry has been all but destroyed so I want to provide them with every chance to recover. HOWEVER, and I'm not going to point any specific locations out because I'm not a rat, there are restaurants in my area that have been closed for MONTHS that have empty, abandoned shacks, and/or functioning restaurants with street "shacks" that have collapsed or are not being used due to non-stop snow and frigid temperatures, taking up 2-3 spots in some cases and almost full city blocks in other instances. Maybe most restaurants just can't have outdoor dining during the winter. And furthermore, if patrons who don't live in the City can't park, they'll probably just go out in Westchester or Long Island, like they've been doing the last year.
- Hopeful that vaccinations will reach a critical mass by July, I think the city should do some radical things to get people back into town, starting with FREE BRIDGE AND TUNNEL ACCESS, FREE TRAINS INTO GRAND CENTRAL, FREE PATH TRAINS. Obviously not forever, but for enough time that everyone can take advantage of it and feel good about going back to the greatest city on earth.
P.S. Please move Citi Bike racks off the streets and onto sidewalks or park areas that have the space. Oh, and also, for the love of Jah, kill that congestion tax idea already--but that's a whole other post.