Saturday, March 28, 2015

Jeremiah Moss's #SaveNYC

One of my regular blog reads is New Yorker Jeremiah Moss's Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Since 2007 through today he has relentlessly chronicled the changes to the city's social, political and economic ecology, noting the disappearance of longtime businesses, the increasing waves of hypergentrification, and the homogenized cityscape that has resulted. While it's true that gentrification in New York is hardly new, or that the city has never been static, the pace of the changes (towers rising, small businesses vanishing) has become dizzying, as Moss shows again and again. Also, while too much nostalgia dissolves in sentimentality and the blame for the city's changes lies at no one doorstep, it is nevertheless important to document, as Moss does, how the absence of laws or a system to counter the pro-elite zoning that began under former mayor Rudy Giuliani and accelerated into hyperdrive under billionaire plutocrat Michael Bloomberg, has deleterious effects on many aspects of what people think of as New York (distinctive, economically diverse neighborhoods, particular sub-cultures, and so forth). When every neighborhood in Manhattan increasingly becomes a combo high-end condo district coupled with luxury outdoor mall, what kind of city remains?

Moss has decided to launch a project, with a website, entitled #SaveNYC. As he says on the website:

#SaveNYC is a grassroots, crowd-sourced, DIY movement to protect and preserve the diversity and uniqueness of the urban fabric in New York City. As our vibrant streetscapes and neighborhoods are turned into bland, suburban-style shopping malls, filled with chain stores and glossy luxury retail, #SaveNYC is fighting for small businesses and cultural institutions to remain in place. Our mission is to bring attention to the plight of Mom and Pop, and to lobby state and city government to implement significant and powerful protections for small businesses and cultural institutions across the five boroughs of New York City. The devastation has been overwhelming. Protecting what remains will require a multi-pronged approach. 
The projects first steps including raising awareness by collecting video and photographic testimonials from people everywhere who love New York and want to see its diverse culture and heritage protected. One component involves using social media, via the hashtag #SaveNYC, and a concomitant Facebook group. On the political front, Moss is pushing to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (0402-2014), which he says "will make it possible for small businesses to negotiate fair lease renewals with landlords, thus stemming the tide of mass evictions and catastrophic rent hikes." Currently, landlords' ability to hike up rents, by doubling or tripling the going rate, has meant that businesses that had survived for decades or even a century have been shoved out in favor of chains.

Of course anyone paying attention to the asset-based economic logic of Wall Street, whose power and goals fuel these changes, will grasp what's happening here, as there's always more money to be made by expanding private and publicly traded corporations than in an environment in which there are lots of small businesses and well-rewarded labor. Money, for a very few people, is all Wall Street cares about. Another issue is the rising cost of real estate, and laws that favor certain kinds of elite and corporate investors and spur appreciation, to the disadvantage of the vast majority of renters and homeowners. Although New York mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on behalf of the city's majority, his actions to save small businesses have been not matched the rhetoric, nor have those of the City Council. Meanwhile, chain stores, businesses like bespoke barbershops, frou-frou restaurants and spinning (not of yarn but weight-focused wealthy people) proliferate.

I urge J's Theater readers to explore Jeremiah's main site, linked above, and #SaveNYC. If you're a New Yorker, you can:
Pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) to create fair negotiations of commercial lease renewals, so landlords can’t use insane rent hikes to evict dependable and beloved business people.

Jeremiah outlines other steps as well for those in NYC. Even if you don't live in the city, you can add a video or a photo showing your support for Jeremiah's initiative and offering visual support on behalf of the New York that is being subsumed by a shiny, super-expensive new and increasingly dull version. The more Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council hear from New Yorkers and those who participate in this initiative, the more likely the SBJSA, as well as other approaches, like emails and daily tweets to public officials to control the spread of chains (as has been done in San Francisco), taking away the over-generous tax breaks for megacorporations and aid small businesses; and penalize landlords to maintain empty storefronts to gain the highest commercial rents possible (i.e., from chains or luxury boutiques).

One need only look at the evisceration of the West Village's 8th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, once Bookstore and later Shoe Row, but which is now a dull, depopulated street dotted with a few high-end restaurants and boutiques, a fancy hotel, and empty storefronts, that could be anywhere, to see the direction things are going. Now I need to post a photo, since I'm not so adept at making and editing personal videos!

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