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The Streetcar Hustle

February 4, 2017

By jacobin – excerpt

We need bold new transit projects. But Bill de Blasio’s streetcar plan shows we won’t get them by catering to private developers.

Big changes are coming to one stretch of the New York City waterfront. In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced an ambitious plan for a new streetcar system that would connect the city’s most populous borough, Brooklyn, to its largest, Queens. Citing “explosive growth on the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens,” the mayor proclaimed: “Today, we take the next great step in connecting New Yorkers to the heart of our new economy for New York.”

The new sixteen-mile, street-level system would link Astoria to Sunset Park, with stops along the way in Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Navy Yard, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, and Red Hook. Trains would travel at around 11.3 miles per hour alongside automobiles, and connect with several existing bus and rail lines, as well as the new ferry lines the mayor proposed in his last State of the City address. In addition to several commercial clusters, the line could service 45,000 public housing residents who live along the proposed route.

The plan’s price tag currently stands at $2.5 billion. Some of that cost would be borne by riders, whose fares would be pegged to the cost of a subway swipe, but most of it would be paid for through gentrification. According to the New York Times, “administration officials believe the system’s cost can be offset by tax revenue siphoned from an expected rise in property values along the route.” Seen from this vantage point, the streetcar proposal seems less a transportation plan than a real estate stimulus…

De Blasio highlights these benefits to property owners, but he also frames the plan as a gift to New York City’s poorest residents, many of whom have long been underserved by the city’s mass transit network. Brooklyn and Queens are home to millions of working-class people, many of whom could no doubt use an easier way to travel between those boroughs.

But the existing plan is inseparable from a longstanding project to remake the waterfront, and must be seen as part of a larger process of state-enabled gentrification and displacement… (more)

I could not have said it better. This article, written last year, pretty much sums up all we have been experiencing all ovr the cities. Here we have the blunt truths about why cities promote gentrification and the rise in property values, and how the systems promotes the welfare of the less than 1% of the population. As their fortunes rise, everyone else falls.

As we are witnessing a huge increase in homeless people on the street as the dense housing and mass transit systems move in and displace them. We can pretty well assume those programs and projects are responsible for the rise in homeless population on our streets because the rise in properties and ensuing rents that did not coincide with a similar increase in income for most people.

The new administration in Washington seems less likely to help ease the situation than the one that just left. At least Obama spoke well of the poor and acted as if he cared. Trump leaves no room for doubt as to how little he plans to do for the poor folks who put him in office hoping he would come to their rescue. His plan is more of the same on steroids.

What goes up must come down and get rebuilt for at least twice as much as we spent before.

On the Waterfront

Gentrification is, among other things, a spatial fix for capital — a way to turn cyclical crises into new accumulation strategies. Investment flows into, out of, and between spaces over time, creating a landscape of uneven development in which cities and suburbs trade off as the primary sites for making money out of land. The history of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront provides a vivid demonstration of this dynamic…

Residents are repeatedly told that in order to get affordable housing, we need to build way more luxury condominiums. In order to require environmental remediation measures, the prescription is the same (as in the case of Gowanus or Staten Island’s North Shore). Now we are told that if we want better inter-borough mass transit, the way forward is . . . even more luxury condominiums…

If we want to have nice things for our cities, urban planning as such is not enough: we need to transform the way we allocate our land. Until land is democratically controlled — expropriated from private owners and placed in the public’s hands — our planning priorities can only be shaped by those who possess property, capital, and access to power, and our public benefits will continue to be apportioned in ways that further alienate and impoverish urban workers.


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