Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dept. of Community Theatrical Transvestite Travesty


Saturday, April 6, 1pm 
(7th St. btwn A&B)


The NO 7-Eleven Players 
The Community Wheel of Fortune w/prizes!
The 7-Eleven Dance Competition (for youtube)


Two new plays especially written for this very special event!

"NO 7-ELEVEN!!" 
a tawdry tragedy 
by Sugar Di Abetes


"NO 7-ELEVEN!!!!"
a dour comedy 
by Dewey, Cheatem & Howe 

-nO tOmAToEs-

Sunday, March 24, 2013

7-Eleven Legal Defense and Education Fund (SELDEF)

Here's the corporate defense of 7-Eleven with my comments:

1. It provides cheap food for low-income people.
"Let them eat Pringles!"..........
7-Eleven has 48,000 stores worldwide
more than any other retail store
What's this, the 21st century version of "Let them eat cake"? Literally: 7-Eleven promotes every form of sugar possible. 

2. There are empty storefronts in our neighborhood. We must fill them, and 7-Eleven will!

Filling the storefronts serves only landlords. Retail storefronts are not a driver of local labor and the neighborhood isn't lacking in food options. What we'v'e lost here is service variety because nightlife, chains and franchises have upped the commercial rents so that small stores like bookstores (for new or used -- anyone remember Paul's? I loved that bookstore), thriftshops, hardware, stationers&cardshops and curiosities can't stay or get in (does anyone remember places like Celtic Twilight in the 1970's? Where else in NY could you find a copy of Y Gododdin?).

Allowing chains, frachises and bars just encourages landlords to hold out for higher rents. The only way to bring rents down is taking the Big Gulp out of the landlord's hand: no more lifeline to candy, fat and liquor; do some service for the community. Since the neighborhood is dense, so plenty of services can thrive, and service providers will come if the rents ease off. 

3. 7-Eleven prevents gentrification.

There are 7-Elevens on the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, in the Scarano condo building the one professed "gated" community in the neighborhood.  7-Eleven didn't even arrive in the EV until after the neighborhood was thoroughly upscaled. 

4. Remove the corporate clone stores and they'll be replaced with fancy boutiques.

EV boutiques on 9th & 10th arrived decades ago when rents were cheap. New stores here are not SoHo-style boutiques. New storefronts here are usually either upscale food -- North Korean-style ice cream, artisanal water, Japanese-Canary Island fusion, 387 varieties of peanut butter served on rice cakes and no jelly -- or cheap fast food, felafel, pizza, Asian dumplings, bagels, or a cafe w/wifi, cafe w/wifi w/sandwiches, cafe w/wifi w/sandwiches w/cute singles. Which do you prefer? If you choose 7-Eleven, go back to item 1 above and see Marie. For me, I'll take a felafel w/humus, please. 

5. 7-Eleven doesn't exploit undocumented immigrant labor. 

7-Eleven doesn't employ them at all. The undocumented can die in the street for all the corporation cares. Or ex-felons desperately looking for a second chance. Giant corporate control from afar. It's taking over our streets, our lives, our work, our food, our future.  

The only defense left? You're addicted to the Big Gulp. Sarah's got your back --

Friday, March 22, 2013

The source of NYU confidence

The NYU faculty's vote of no confidence in its president is yet another public embarrassment for Sexton. I wonder if it will have any effect. The underlying problem for NYU is its limited endowment which has pushed it to rely on tuition expansion. So even if Sexton goes, their strategy will likely remain. If the state were to fund CUNY adequately, hire more full time faculty and eliminate its tuition, you'd see a lot less student interest in NYU, which is just about the only way to curtail that monster. But as long as the state and the federal government fund student loans instead of funding free state universities directly, the state will continue to promote the expansion of expensive private schools like NYU.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The trouble with Inclusionary Housing

The city purports to encourage developers to build affordable housing by offering them a bonus. If you build, for example, an additional story reserved for low or moderate income renters, you can build another story of luxury units above what the zoning allows. (That's a simplified version, but it's basically how it works.)

Back in 2006 a few of us predicted that developers wouldn't take the bonus because they'd find enough bulk without bothering with the Inclusionary Zoning bonus. That's because the city actually allowed a loophole in the zoning large enough to shove a buiding through it. 

The zoning allows far greater height than the base bulk allowance. So if a developer can buy air rights from an adjacent building, the developer can fill the height with luxury units and not bother with the affordable bonus. 

If the city had modulated the height caps with the bulk allowance, developers wouldn't be able to take advantage of air rights. But since the height caps are fixed and in excess of the base bulk, the city invited developers to buy air rights, encouraged it, welcomed it, pointed to it and ushered the developers to it. 

Important documentary

The Historic Distrcit Council is screening The Domino Effect, a documentary that everyone concerned about gentrification should see. 

Most documentary treatments of gentrification lament its consequences without examining the collusion between city adminsitration and affordable housing non profits. Non profits are funded to create affordable housing, but the city only offers it through cross subsidies that bring more market-rate housing than affordable housing, gentrifying the neighborhood and displacing community.

with the documentarian of the film: Megan Sperry
Monday, April 29th 6:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m.

Join the Historic Districts Council for this event, located at:
Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. 
$5 general admission. You must RSVP to attend. Please contact or 212.614.9107.

The Community Preservation Corporation’s “New Domino” project—the redevelopment of the Domino Sugar Factory on the East River into a complex of 2,200 apartments and condos in towers up to 40 stories high—serves as the film’s case study for examining the complex politics of urban development in the 21st century.

Told through the voices of longtime residents, the film conveys the personal impact of gentrification while also shedding light on issues encountered by residents of cities all across the country. Why have decent jobs and affordable housing for the middle and working classes become increasingly scarce while gleaming towers of luxury condos, high-end retail, and offices continue to rise? What is at stake in the shaping of the 21st century city and how can we intervene to protect the neighborhoods we love?
This screening is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Additional support is provided by Council members Margaret Chin, Inez Dickens, Daniel Garodnick, Vincent Gentile, Stephen Levin and Rosie Mendez.

NYCHA could do much better

I want to say again, the state loves to give money to the construction industry to build just about anything that can be justified and some that can't be. The state easily floats bonds to build prisons and colleges and just about anything in between except, apparently, housing. So why is NYCHA letting a private developer reap the profit on the Federally-owned NYCHA properties when the state could own the market units and syphon the profits to NYCHA buildings? It would provide a much more robust revenue stream than a 99-year lease. 

Minimum wage

In the discussion of minimum wage, I don't see a lot about wage subsidies. The Germans, who've managed several crises pretty well, use them. 

There's some empirical evidence that raising the minimum wage does not reduce employment (Card & Kreuger comparing NJ and PA). Most left economists see the additional consumer power of a raise will increase demand and therefore production and employment. But increasing demand also raises prices, which can cancel out not only the employment increase but also the increase in wealth at the bottom. A wage subsidy wont solve the latter, but it does solve the former. 

Integrity among bloggers

I've been polite and friendly in public in response to the critics of NO 7-Eleven (except one comment-in-frustration that included "THINK!"), but when someone states outright falsehoods and refuses to post replies that correct his blogposts, what should I do? What can I do? 

As a matter of integrity and fairness I have never moderated this blog despite many angry responses. I've even taken it on the chin when I've been corrected here -- take a look at the post about the rats in TSP. I was corrected, I was excoriated, but I didn't censor any of it. It's a matter of truth, fairness, openness and integrity. 

Antifragility in a fragile town

I  find in Taleb's new book Antifragility strong support for what I've been observing in Chinatown. The Asian American Federation study a few years ago found that East Broadway was one of the few sub-economies that was not harmed by 9-11. The older Toisanese commercial storefronts took a tough hit. Many closed. But not East Broadway. Why? Because East Broadway serves the local, recent immigrant Fujianese residents. They don't rely on tourism.

Chinatown was booming when residents, who mostly worked in Chinatown, would shop in Chinatown and ate in Chinatown, until the garment industry mostly dried up. But the Fujianese community still has that economic strength, driven by recent immigration. The glut of labor there depresses wages, but the high savings rate deflates prices, so they cancel out for the residents, and the high volume bolsters the local commerce. The threat to this balance is housing. That's where tenants advocates like CAAAV are essential to the overall well being of the neighborhood. 

Human beings are resilient -- antifragile. Tourism speculation and development schemes are extremely fragile. You see it in "developer's blight" -- the developer demolishes a building, digs a trench, then loses financing and leaves a big, empty, useless sore. You see it when tourists decide to go to China rather than visit the narrow sidewalks of Mott Street. Tourism is a trend, a fashion. It doesn't take a 9-11 to shut it down. It sways with the weather. But local residents have daily needs, and daily energy. They are the deep well of stability. When they leave, Chinatown leaves unless new immigrants replenish the resource. 

Chinatown has always been a dual community -- partly a clearing house for immigrants who live inexpensively, saving until they can move out of Chinatown to buy property of their own elsewhere; partly a community that has taken roots buying property within Chinatown. The latter community has become more fragile lately, threatening their sustainability, yet it's just as much part of the character of Chinatown. The new BID is intended to support that community, but it's an additional tax burden, and so you have to wonder who is the real beneficiary of the BID, the local community, or the banks that profit from the local commerce and will profit regardless who owns the properties or the businesses.

The purpose of an Economic Development strategy

Is the purpose of the CB3 Economic Development Committee to fill all the storefronts in the neighborhood, or is it to encourage commerce that serves the community and prevent commerce that harms the community? They are not necessarily consistent goals -- they can be, in fact, contrary goals.  

The goal of filling storefronts regardless of community needs seems to me to serve only landlords. It's not a local labor issue, for example. Stores in the East Village are not a significant driver of local labor. The EV is a residential neighborhood and, like most New Yorkers, residents work outside the neighborhood. What labor is here isn't in storefronts -- public schools, music schools, theaters. Nightlife employs a few locals, but storefronts are not and will not be a major driver of local labor. 

Landlords represent less than 1% of our community. And many landlords -- most of the large ones --don't even live here. Are landlords defaulting or abandoning their properties? I haven't seen that. It's more likely that storefronts are vacant because the landlord is demanding an exorbitant rent, not because no one would rent it. 

Back in the 1970's when I first moved to Loisaida, there was little commerce and virtually no money here. The storefronts were either occupied residentially, or by a social club or simply vacant. I vividly remember a friend one day having the idea of sewing spandex shorts -- spandex was new then. She found an empty storefront on 7th Street off A, and without asking anyone, set up a sewing machine in it. In a few days dozens of local kids - five, seven, eight years old -- were all running in and out of her dark little storefront helping her sew spandex shorts. A little piece of heaven. 

A month ago I presented the NO 7-Eleven program to Community Board 3's Economic Development Committee. They raised several intelligent and important questions -- on what basis would a community board accept one formula store and reject another? Can 7-Eleven offer a good deal to the franchisee or a better option to a bodega owner?  But one comment puzzled me: "There are many vacant storefronts that corporate formula stores could fill." I just don't see why vacant stores should be a concern for the community board in a neighborhood full of money. It's almost unbelievable just how much money there is in the EV. And landlords are reaping that money hand over fist. Residential rents are astronomical. So why worry about filling the landlords' storefronts? 

There are commercial problems in this neighborhood. The students and young singles who bring most of that money enjoy living here in large part because of the nightlife. But older residents complain about the noise and disruption from bars. For a while bars were replacing local services and it became harder to find those services. Older residents were afraid that they might lose their supermarkets. 

Those are genuine community concerns, genuine community conflicts that require some kind of oversight and balancing. I can imagine a community board strategy of filling all the vacant stores with local services that are welcomed by the community. But simply to ensure that storefronts be filled doesn't seem to me to merit community board effort or concern.

The situation in Chinatown, for example, is quite different. There, in the older Toisanese community, property owners are having trouble meeting the real estate taxes, with so many rent regulated residential tenants. Their commerce doesn't have the high volume of the recent Fujianese immigrant commerce on East Broadway, so they often look towards higher-end, more tourist-friendly commerce. That's a fragile program. But the EV, with Daddy NYU supplying new renters every year, the worry is not how to fill stores, but how to fill them with something that best serves the community. If there's no oversight or resistance to formula stores, giant corporations will answer that from afar. 

NO 7-Eleven Truth

Some folks have been purveying nonsense about NO 7-Eleven, so I'm going to post a series about what this effort is really all about.

First, it's not just about 7-Eleven. We're trying to get the city to adopt a zoning amendment that would prevent corporate formula storefronts from opening unless the local community board allows it. It would cover anything from Duane Reade to Chase Bank to The Gap -- any store that has 11 other clones in its corporate model.

The intention is not to eliminate all corporate formula stores. The zoning amendment would allow the local community to have a say on how many those stores should be in their neighborhood and where they should be located. After all, formula stores have a place and a useful function. But not everywhere and to the exclusion of everything else.

Other cities have such requirements. And it's been successful. It slows down the commercial rent raises -- chain stores can pay higher rents than mom and pops --and it resists corporate control, corporate growth, corporate management from afar of our labor, streets and neighborhoods.

NO 7-Eleven is not a panacea. It won't prevent gentrification or upscaling of neighborhoods or lower tuition at CUNY or improve your schools or end war. But there are a lot of good reasons to resist corporate control, and if we don't start to resist, corporate spread will not stop here. 7-Eleven is planning 100 more stores in the next two to three years. And that's just 7-Eleven.

NO 7-Eleven and the soda ban

Now, someone says that NO 7-Eleven is against the >16 oz sugary drink ban. This complaint strikes me as moronic, but I guess we have to explain this, since there are morons.

NO 7-Eleven thinks the ban unfairly promotes 7-Eleven and its aggressive campaign to add 100 new stores in Manhattan. People think that the conveneince store exemption doesn't unfairly benefit 7-Eleven because 7-Eleven competes with other convenience stores, not with restaurants and movie theaters. This analysis is not moronic, it's just thoughtless. Pizza places, Chinese take-out places, bagel stores, cafes, felafel places -- 7-Eleven competes with all of them, but 7-Eleven offers the Big Gulp, those others couldn't under the ban. So the ban would have given 7-Eleven an unfair advantage. You go to 7-Eleven for your Big Gulp, and what do you see? They offer pizza there. QED

Does that mean that NO 7-Eleven supports >16oz drinks? Silly rabbit. Of course not. Our objection is to the unfair application of a ban that promotes a corporate store over its competition.

Look, the ban doesn't prevent consumers from drinking sugary drinks. It just directs them to 7-Eleven where the Big Gulp is emblazoned all over its marketing. So the ban doesn't promote health. It promotes 7-Eleven.


(Sorry for the verbal abuse, but really, sometimes comments are so rabid and thoughtless.) My personal view on sugar-based beverages: producers of corn syrup should be desubsidized and the corporate procurement of sugars in production should be heavily taxed. Then the burden would be on the corporations, not on low-income consumers (corporations couldn't pass on the cost without losing market share), and it would encourage corporations to find cheap alternatives to refined sugar-based beverages.

7-Eleven and gentrification

An objector to NO 7-Eleven thinks that somehow 7-Elevens prevent gentrification or that restricting 7-Elevens will lead to the East Village becoming a gated community.

7-Elevens have appeared on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side. The Scarano condos, the most upscale development on the Bowery, boasting a "gated driveway" -- it doesn't get closer to a gated community in this neighborhood -- has in its commercial storefront...yes, a 7-Eleven. 

So if 7-Eleven doesn't prevent gentrification and appears in the most upscale environments, would restricting 7-Eleven lead towards a gated community? Suppose SoHo-type boutiques or more upscale restaurants move in where 7-Eleven wasn't allowed. Would they drive out rent regulated or subsidized residents? 

There's no mechansim between commercial upscaling and evicting rent regulated and subsidized tenants. The pressure on tenants already exists in the residential market, since the EV is already upscale. But even NYCHA's plan to build market-rate housing doesn't threaten subsidized housing -- it's intended to maintain it. 

Restricting corporate formula stores will drive low-income residents to search harder for fast food options and rely more on supermarkets which provide both cheaper and better food than corporate formula stores. So that is the burden. But maybe low-income residents will discover the 6th Street Community Center and its healthy food co-operative. Sounds like a happy ending. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

7-Eleven and labor exploitation

Many commenters object to NO 7-Eleven because, according to them, bodegas employ undocumented immigrants and may pay under minimum wage, while 7-Eleven doesn't pay under minimum wage. But 7-Eleven doesn't employ undocumented immigrants at all -- 7-Eleven subjects employees to background checks (it's on their website).  So 7-Eleven is in no way better for the undocumented. 

Exploitation of undocumented immigrant labor cries out for a solution, but corporate formula stores like 7-Eleven are not providing that solution in any way shape or form. They also don't hire ex-felons and parolees -- many having accepted plea bargains under duress of inflated charges and then incarcerated for non violent crimes -- who now are trying to construct a normal, decent life for themselves. Corporate stores will not employ them. Mom and pops often will. 

The cycle of inflated charges>plea bargain>prison>parole>prison is one of our nation's worst and most racist human rights violation. That alone is a reason to curtail the spread of corporate formula stores and support local stores. Decent people deserve a second chance. 

Will the real NO 7-Eleven please stand up

A commenter has been misdescribing (purveying falshoods, actually) about NO 7-Eleven. He won't publish my corrections on his blog, so I'm compelled to correct him here. 

For the record: the active members of NO 7-Eleven consist of a couple of well-published local poets who also teach college, several painters, several performers, a photographer, several working moms, including the owner of a thrift shop, and the rest work for non profits or for some other boss, like most New Yorkers, outside the neighborhood. No one in NO 7-Eleven is in the food business. 

Almost everyone in the group has lived in the neighborhood since the 1970's, a few only since the 1980's. Two are more recent, but one of those is married to someone who's been here since the 80's. That's who we are.

Build, don't lease

There are two arguments for building market-rate housing on the federal land leased NYCHA: 1) it'll pay for maintaining the NYCHA housing, 2) it could ease the gentrification of older housing stock in the neighborhood. The second holds a risk -- bring more market-rate tenants and you might raise surrounding real estate values, upscaling the neighborhood even further. To the extent that the EV is already upscale, I'm more worried about the Smith Houses' proximity to Chinatown, especially with the closing of the Pathmark for a huge entirely private luxury development there.

Having the city move into upscale development doesn't bother me. If the city owned all of the Upper East Side, the city would be overflowing with surplus with which to manage low-income housing in style. What bothers me is the 99-year lease in this scheme. Why doesn't the city ask the state to build, own and reap the profit of the market-rate housing?

Years ago I was on the CUNY Board of Trustees as a student rep. I saw with my own eyes that state never once rejected a construction proposal from the university. They build and redisign stuff in CUNY constantly. Some of the projects are huge. The state loves the construction industry -- big money, big contracts, lots of jobs. Look at prisons. And it's easy for the state. Just float a bond, and the money's there. In the case of luxury housing, it's even easier, since the return is faster than a college or a prison.

None of the elected officials I've talked to have shown any interest in working on an alternative to the NYCHA leasing scheme. Have they all drunk the koolade?