Falling Cranes and New York’s Growing Pains

The dangerous hypocrisy of overbuilding in Bloomberg’s New York.

It happened again. A crane has fallen in New York City, killing a construction worker, wrecking an apartment building nearby, terrifying and disrupting the lives of nearby residents who must scramble about looking for someplace to stay, find their pets, try to recover their precious possessions, and hear the same blather from the current city administration. Tighter restrictions, more inspections will be called for.

This same event occurred a short while ago a few blocks down from Yorkville in the Beekman Place section of the city. And it will happen again and again because it is now a familiar p
art of Mayor Bloomberg’s New York where a crane hangs dangerously over the world below every few blocks. Indeed, it is a direct result of the policies in place in the city. Build! Build! And build more until they have wiped out the sky altogether. This is the way it is in Hedge Fund Heaven – a/k/a New York City.

The secret of living in this New York is to live in a protected area of historic brownstones and town houses such as the Mayor lives in; a place which cannot be taken down to be rebuilt as a monster residential building; a secret that now requires the possession of several million, no, possibly several billion dollars.

The trick for the rest of us is not to get killed or driven from our homes by the reckless overbuilding that has overtaken New York since Bloomberg became Mayor, which coinci
ded with the great building bubble here and elsewhere. An impotent, toothless, realty based (not reality based) Landmark Commission has done little to protect the environmental, esthetic, or plain safety of the city and its citizens. A building inspection commission designed to encourage building and turn a blind eye to infractions in existing laws is embedded into the culture of the city.

Real estate is the true religion of New York and it requires constant devotion by its adherents, which means, put up yet another tower next to another tower, ad infinitum. Sure, I know that real estate is a vital part of our tax base. But this does not mean that it cannot be challenged, or replaced by other forms of revenue. The building cabals ask/warn that without the new building who will pay for the schools? The subways? The buses?

It is a city that is constantly trumped by the Trumps. A major financial institution will twist the arm of the city by threatening to leave it if it is not allowed to build yet another mega-tower to Mammon – tax free – or it will move elsewhere.
My answer would be move! You guys have already screwed up the city and the world with your lending policies and your insatiable greed so take a nice hike. As of today there is no one to discourage such promiscuous building, or call a moratorium on new building until the city can get its failed act together.

And so more cranes will fall, more people will be killed and more lives shattered and disrupted. We are in Bush world where nobody learns from experience – we just keep doing more of the same, throwing more money and bodies at a problem in the hope that it will get itself fixed. The Mayor can bemoan the loss of his congestion pricing plan and what that will do to our environment without ever making the connection between the rise in pollution to a growing city population that makes intolerable demands upon a city’s resources, requires more and more delivery of food and services to the city, brings in more cars and requires more buses. The model seems to be a prosperous China where anything goes in the name of the bottom line.

Peking, smog and all, here we come.


Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist,
has won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.