Real Estate Developers Play and Never Seem to Have to Pay

Greenville   Our union signed a contract with the Regional Transit Authority in New Orleans or rather its management company, TransDev, yesterday. They handle the business end of routes, accounts, and schedules for bus and trolley lines in the city. Reading the paper before triangulating a trip between Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, I read an article about the burden of lower income workers and their commutes to work in New York City. This is all grist for our mill.

One takeaway from the article was pretty plainly presented. In summary, the New York Times reported on a 2013 study in New York City found that almost 800,000 residents commute more than an hour each way to work, most of them earning less than $35,000 per year. Black New Yorkers’ trips are 25% longer than whites and Hispanics travel 12% longer than whites. I was reminded of a quote from the Greek historian Thucydides writing about Athens hundreds of years ago: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

The reporter quoted a President of the New York City Council speaking over 100 years ago about the building of the subway system in the city. The main driver on the routes was the huge expected increase in property values along the lines. He argued that since real estate interests had lobbied for the project and were the ones benefiting, they, not just the public, should bear the costs. Obviously it didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened since. Another bunch of billions was recently spent extending a subway line there, and once again developers promoted, and the public paid. Meanwhile workers schlep to their lower paying jobs from farther distances because they can’t afford rents closer to work any longer, and they do so on buses in the slowest transportation system in the country for the most workers.

I wish the story were only about New York City, but increasingly the real estate interests and their supporters from the President on down, fueled by campaign contributions, push for more public expenditures that skew transportation towards tourism and away from workers, gentrify and jack up rents and eviction rates, forcing zombie work schedules, slow rolls, and hoopty rides to be thin ribbon holding people together between work and home all over the country. Developers dream and then sell out and run as fast as they can once the sticks are built so that some other sucker works the field, while property taxes rise, rents soar, and the public pays the bills.

How about that for a depressing cycle that we seem unable to break in city after city? We’re all prisoners to a national policy that no one owns or seems able to change, while we are all forced to pay for it, as Thucydides said because they can and, it seems, because we must.

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Short Takes on the 1% and Other Weirdness in the Small World

New Orleans    As we fight to regain population in the wake of Katrina and so many other demographic struggles over the last half-century, New Orleans in the NBA/NFL world is a “small market city,” which means we often find that we are living in a very small world.

I thought of this recently while hanging around some Regional Transit Authority employees that our union represents and over hearing folks talking in the hallway about how the 1% and old money and prerogatives really work in the Crescent City still.  The RTA has been installing automatic ticket machines in several high bus traffic locations in the city, which is a good idea.  One location right downtown is at the corner of Canal Street and Carondelet.  2000 people a day catch buses or streetcars at that location, so it was an ideal location for the City to locate a standup shelter with a ticket machine and route maps obviously.  RTA went through all of the formalities and won approvals from the Vieux Carre Commission, Downtown Development, Historic Landmarks, etc.  They dug the hole, spent the money (about $40,000), and were ready to put up the shelter, but…

This location was in front of Adler’s Jewelers, the long time, iconic location for uptowners, the Carnival Club crowd, members of the Pickwick Club nearby, and others to buy their jewelry and get their watches fixed.  Late in the construction process, the senior member of the Adler family started coming out from time to time to observe the work.  He didn’t say much, just looked from time to time.   Suddenly, a call came to RTA from the Mayor’s office cancelling the entire project!  Adler claimed they hadn’t realized what was happening in front of their store, despite all of the hearings and notices.  Turns out, if you serve the 1% in New Orleans, it’s not what you know, but still “who you know.”  RTA covered the hole and pulled away the trucks leaving working people stuck like chuck.

Quelle shock!  That’s how “we roll,” I guess?

Ps.  One person who heard the story said, “at least they haven’t moved all of their stores to the suburbs.”  We’re even abused as consumers, much less citizens, it seems.

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