Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mayoral Myopia-Well-Armored for Job Growth?

In response to Bronx BP Ruben Diaz's critique of the Kingsbridge Armory development plan, the Bloomberg administration rebutted with the following: "In a statement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg praised the commission vote, calling the project “an enormous opportunity to revitalize it as a hub of activity and jobs in the West Bronx.” NY1 had an even more robust quote: "The mayor's office fired back Monday, saying the $310 million rehab of the armory will create 1,200 permanent jobs and more than 1,000 construction jobs at a time when people need them the most -- a claim Diaz, Jr. said he is not buying. "He wants his millionaire friends to get the IDA funding, and these low interest rate loans. He wants his millionaire friends to reap all of the benefits," Diaz Jr. said."

This is all pretty typical of the mayor's vision of economic development-all collateral benefits, no collateral damages. Put simply, his development schemes all come at great expense; to both local businesses, and to the communities that they support. But little effort is made to examine the extent to which any development plan will actually diminish the local economy-something that is made even more compelling as our local economic fortunes flag.

So, there's no analysis as to just what kind of impact a large, suburban-style 60,000 sq. ft. supermarket will have on the existing complement of neighborhood markets. But without this evaluation we will only be proffered the, "job gain." but not the concomitant losses-no matter how steep they may be.

And also keep in mind the fact that revenue and job loss in the neighborhood economy is only poorly replaced by the retail chain store economy that the Bloombergistas seem to favor. Not only does the money circulate at a lesser rate when the chain store replaces the locally-owned shop-but the replacement so often leads to a proliferation of minimum unlivable wage jobs.

But with Bloomberg it's all about the presentation-and the appearance of job growth is more important than really nurturing the small businesses that truly keep the city's economy humming-especially now that Wall Street is just about moribund compared to its heyday. We have, however, seen how this class-based myopia has led to an assault on small businesses that transcends anything we've seen over the past thirty years.

None of this is likely to change in a third Bloomberg term. And if you only read Chris Smith's brilliant Bloomberg portrait in NY Magazine for one observation, it should be this one: "Bloomberg talks to a wide range of other leaders, and has genuine respect for many—among them Dick Beattie, the Simpson Thacher senior partner who launched the New Visions charter-school program; Nat Leventhal, the old Ed Koch hand and recently retired president of Lincoln Center; and Chuck Schumer, the U.S. Senate dynamo. But who can tell the mayor that he’s wrong, that he has a bad idea or is making a big mistake, and be taken seriously? “No one,” a Bloomberg intimate says. “He doesn’t really listen to anyone.”

So everyone should be forewarned. When all the fiscal stuff hits the fan next year-and Mike emerges from his carefully constructed champion of the middle class persona, New Yorkers will experience buyer's remorse. But is may be the real purchase agent-the mayor himself-who will experience the remorse of being dethroned, like Aristophanes' Socrates in The Clouds, from the insulated perch he has constructed high above the mass of unenlightened citizens. Now that's the kind of development we will support unreservedly.