The Streetcar Hustle

by : jacobinmag – 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.

ig 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 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.

This is not exactly a surprise. As historians like Robert Fitch and Kim Moody have described, real estate barons have long manipulated New York City’s planning apparatus, often through their chosen “nonprofit” advocates. Entire subway lines, for example, were rerouted to correspond to the Rockefeller family’s particular real estate holdings.

Nor is this link between public investment and private gain a secret. In fact, planners are often taught to see the two as mutually reinforcing. New York University’s Mitchell Moss enthused that the streetcar system “is going to do more to encourage more housing than any other transit improvement currently underway.” Alex Garvin, a well-known planner and member of the group “Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector,” argued that “by creating a new light rail line in those neighborhoods, we could create an enormous opportunity for new investment.”

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 under-served 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.

The way forward, then, is not through planning, which is not capable of serving genuine needs due to political conditions today. Nor is it against planning, since planning is what will ultimately be required to create equitable urban environments. Rather, the way forward can be found both below and above planning.

We must transform the political realities on the ground through grassroots organizing, and in so doing, transform the institutions that govern planning processes and priorities. Then, perhaps, all of us can have nice things like streetcars… (More)


One thought on “The Streetcar Hustle

  1. Red carpets are San Francisco’s version of street cars.

    With regards to your summary please refer to agenda 21, Agenda 30 which this one pretty much answers your summary. And icLei which is pretty much like an abag on an international level which does have a branch in the US. The US branch controls any association of governments abag to name one of them.

    Just read what he agendas call for on a local level. It describes what’s happening and what people are complaining about. Esp in SF.


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