Sunday, May 27, 2012

Urban renewal

In Manhattan's Lower East Side lies a part of town known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). In the early 1900s it looked like this:

Government planners, however, decided that the area could do with a bit of urban renewal to get rid of the crowded tenements. Unfortunately they succeeded. This is what it looks like today:

Source: Wikipedia
Even worse, since the real estate is now in government hands, decisions over its fate are handled through politics rather than privately, with the result that the land has been hugely underproductive for decades. Wikipedia explains:
SPURA remains the largest tract of undeveloped New York City-owned land in Manhattan south of 96th Street. Deciding what the “appropriate redevelopment” of SPURA would be has stalled the process and kept it undeveloped. 
The competing forces within the neighborhood have been debating whether SPURA should be used to develop affordable housing within Manhattan Community Board 3, whether some mixed use – low and middle income as well as commercial – or all large commercial retail should be created. This debate is often waged in the community halls of local public school auditoriums and other city meeting places, in newspaper columns, at coop board meetings, and at private strategy sessions in individual homes. 
The debate, however, is the very reason that no public official has been willing to take a firm stance and create some project. The divide between the advocates for the poor and those for the middle to upper income New Yorkers has been so vast here, that politicians appear hesitant to move on any idea. During the Koch administration that ended in 1989, they contracted with Sam LeFrak to build, but massive divided opposition caused it to be withdrawn. The land still sits vacant in 2009.
This is another example of what happens when resource allocation takes place via central planning than through the market. For a vibrant, productive society to be realized, we should desire for as little to be decided via government as possible. 

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