A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
or would like to make an empty threat, please contact
June 8 , 2006
Upscale In The South End
As urban property values rise and suburban economies collapse,
poor will have to leave town
I opened the email from neighborhood activist Steve Winter and clicked
on the link. Then I nearly fell out of my chair.
Then I read a few more paragraphs of the linked article and got
angry. White hot, searing fury, mad enough to want to go burn down
a suburban tract house on some stupid curvilinear dead-end street
in Clifton Park. Just for fun. Just to make the world a better place.
Fortunately, for legal reasons, I didn’t. The link was for
a Capital District Business
Review article that concerned a building in
our neighborhood that The Wife and I have taken a particular interest
in over the years, 142 Morton Avenue. We know it well. We had several
excellent opportunities to buy it, but for practical reasons decided
The building is located down the hill from us on Morton, half a
block “below Stewart’s.” This is the invisible
line in most people's minds between upper Morton, “the good part,” and
the blighted lower part of the Avenue. Another long half block runs
from 142 to Eagle Street, where begins the section of Morton where
the Albany City government and private concerns have partnered to
create an artificial slum which supports a thriving crack and heroin
Now, a smart fellow named Eric Moses has bought 142 Morton and is
renovating it. Unlike most City officials and local real estate agents,
Mr. Moses evidently has heard that there is a critical shortage of
rental units in Albany. Right now, and for the foreseeable future,
decent newly renovated apartments rent instantly for top dollar.
He clearly realizes that buying an empty fire damaged building with
13 one bedroom apartments in my neighborhood is a wise investment.
Renovation costs aside, Mr. Moses paid $213,000 for the building.
The Wife and I could have had it for less before it burned. Oh well.
We had other buildings to renovate, up the hill.
I’d guess that Mr. Moses is encouraged by the steps the City
has been taking to reverse the South End blight that they have worked
so hard to cause. Certainly he has been encouraged by the folks who
have been quietly buying and moving into well-built but dirt cheap
two family houses nearby. And, if I may say so, he has no doubt been
encouraged by the visible renovation and beautification of the two
blocks of Morton above the Stewart’s.
I would also guess that unlike the editors of the Capital District
Business Review, he understands that the smart thing to do is to
buy low and sell high. A smart investor does not wait to buy until
everybody is desperately scrambling for South End real estate and
frantically paying exorbitant prices. Smart folks invest in affordable
urban real estate BEFORE suburban property values collapse. Never
to recover. Ever.
But see, the editors of the Capital District Business Review are
a bunch of backward looking suburbanites. That’s why they printed
that nasty, slanted anti-Albany article about 142 Morton in their
May 19 edition.
How dare those sleazy suburbanites call my neighborhood “hardscrabble.” What
the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?
I’ll bet the smirking editors of the Business Review couldn’t
come up with a coherent definition of “hardscrabble” off
the top of their heads. All they could tell you that it’s a negative
They could tell you that the editors of the Hearst-owned Times
Union, another bunch of uninformative suburbanites, encourage their
content providers (“reporters”) to slander
my neighborhood with that... that word.
Note how the Business Review article casts a negative light
on Mr. Moses and his foreward-looking business acumen. Most of the individual slanting techniques
in the article are low key. Most of them. But there are so many nasty slants that
the total effect is like a hammer to the skull. Indeed, the negative effect
of the article borders on hysteria. (Just for fun, try counting the
negative sounding phrases in the article. How many can you find?)
Thus my rage over this anti-urban suburbanite propaganda. I
immediately banged out this incoherent frothing reply. Fortunately, I came to my senses
and didn’t send it. I’m sure that if the editors of the
Business Review copy slanders like ‘hardscrabble” from
the Times Union, they also engage in the Hearst trick of editing letters
to the editor to their own advantage.
There’s another reason I didn’t send the letter. Why
am I displaying such joy over the impending economic collapse of the suburbs?
Just because I’ve endured decades of listening to snotty suburbanites
degrade my neighborhood, just because they have done everything possible
to destroy my city, just because I have been subsidising their unsustainable
economies with my tax dollars is no reason to laugh at their impending
distress as their property values sharply decline.
But I digress. I strongly suspect that not one of the Business Review editors has
more than a hazy notion about Peak Oil, and I’d bet cash money
not one of them has heard of Peak Natural Gas. And I’m certain
that they would all blink stupidly if you were to tell them that
production of biofuels is dependent on fertilizers made from petroleum.
No oil, no fertilizer, no farm product, no biofuels.
This is the end of “explosive growth” of
the suburbs, which I consider to be a disease that has been spreading over the landscape.
Growth will shift back to the City where it belongs. But this will bring a new problem,
recently explained by Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News on
Democracy Now! for June 2nd. From the transcript:
I think that there is a national significance to
what is going on, and it's a theory of mine that I’ve been developing now as
I report on it and analyze the situation in urban America -- is that
increasingly, especially now that we've reached a peak oil crisis,
there is a concerted move to move the middle class and the upper
classes, that moved out to the suburbs back in the ‘60s and
the ‘50s and the ‘70s, back into the cities, that there
are many people who are living in the exurbs who don't want to
have to drive one-and-a-half hours to work every day in the city... to spend so much more money on gas.
Mr. Gonzalez is talking about what’s happening
now in New York City. But what happens 150 miles down the Hudson
River eventually ends up happening upstream where we live. He explains what
we can expect soon in downtown Albany:
So what’s happening is real estate speculators
are realizing that the market is ripe to re-grab the inner cities
and to, in essence, create urban America as more in the European
models, where the middle and the upper classes live in the central
cities and the poor live in the suburbs, on the Parisian model,
for instance. The immigrants or the poor in Paris live in the suburbs,
not in the city.
And our city, as developed throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s,
was basically the central city as being the place where the poor
lived. And so now there is a concerted effort to recapture the
cities and to displace and to move out the residents that are there.
It may be hard to believe, but soon the South End will become the
toney part of town, and Colonie will become the crime ridden “hardscrabble” dumping
ground for the poor. But this change is not coming through “inevitable
market forces” or the ebb and flow of fashion. Again, Juan Gonzalez:
...The problem is that government policy, rather
than try to assure affordable housing and a good mix of poor, working
class and upper class within urban America, the policies that local
governments are pursuing now are really to assist these landlords
and developers in pushing people out and driving up prices... I
do not believe that what's happening in New York City is an isolated
situation. I actually believe it’s happening, and I’ve
been receiving emails from people in other parts of the country,
in Chicago and other places... the same thing is happening.
There you have it, folks. Gentrification is coming to our neighborhoods,
and the indigent and working poor are going to be pushed out to the “hardscrabble” suburbs
Well, I’m glad The Wife and I bought property in the South
End when everybody told us we were crazy to do so. But I shouldn’t
gloat about the coming suburban crash. Soon my neighbors will no
longer be able to afford to live in my neighborhood. They will be
forced to scratch for survival in crime-ridden Clifton Park.
I see the signs around me already in my own neighborhood. Rents are rising and the working class is feeling the squeeze. Juan Gonzalez
is absolutely right, every city in America is about to evict their
poor to the suburbs.
We have gone to one extreme, and now we are passing
to the other. Why must the classes be separate? Wouldn’t it be healthier
for everybody to live together, helping each other each in our own
Perhaps this is a symptom of an empire in inevitable decline. What
can we do but purchase urban real estate while we still can, and
hold on as our society deteriorates?
UPDATE: Brian Nearing of the Hearst owned Times Union
did a good story on 142
Morton Avenue that was positive in tone.
Clearly, it is intended as an answer to the Business Review article. (Note that he reports the sale price for the building as $223,000.) Brian gets
a lot of flack because a) he works for a scummy corporate monopoly,
and b) he is effectively the only content provider that scummy corporate
monopoly assigns to the entire City of Albany, and therefore misses a lot of events that people expect him to cover. Hats off to Brian
for doing a bit of good work, and for not once using the
derogatory slander “hardscrabble” to describe my neighborhood.
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