NYC Gentrification Watch
If you’ve been driving in and around NYC’s outer borough neighborhoods, you may have come across a strange phenomenon–a brand new building that looks radically out of place with everything around it. For example, it might be a minimalist grey box plunked amidst a line of delicate wedding cake-style cast iron buildings or a five story glass box wedged right in the middle of a block of two-story Italianate-style row houses.
Back when these types of buildings started going up, people used to blame this as oversight or arrogance on the part of architects. They’d say it was either a case of a new generation of architects not understanding how to build structures that were contextual, or of celebrated starchitects who were so egotistical, they cared more about designing buildings for their own gratification than considering the community they were being built for. These early critics might have been right. However, I believe that there is a third reason for this type building–a psychological warfare tactic being pulled by Big Development that I call Parasitic Development.
Parasitic Development is the act of erecting a structure within a neighborhood that not only visually clashes with surrounding buildings and its character, but is placed in such a way that is intrusive and in some ways obnoxious. Below is a perfect example of parasitic development. A tall, 15 story gray box has been wedged in between a row of apartment brick houses built from around the 1920s and 1930s, disrupting an otherwise uniform area filled with similar structures no more than a few stories high:
Why do I call these developments parasitic? Because much like a living parasite, the new structures immediately begin to destroy the neighborhood from the inside out. Over time, structures around the development begin to fall one by one in a domino effect. Before long, the entire area has been redeveloped in the style of the parasitic development and most of the residents driven out to make way for new ones from a completely different and more affluent demographic.
How does parasitic development work and why does it work so well? Well, as you’re probably aware, a large part of gentrification is about supplanting one demographic in a neighborhood with another more affluent demographic. However, as you can imagine, pushing people out that have been living in an area for decades could never be that easy. They’re going to fight long and hard to stay where they are as long as possible, even if it means passing on lucrative buyouts from developers.
Because of this issue, something has to be done to get these stubborn residents to give up their fight. One way to do that is to strike at their Achilles heel–i.e., the very reason why they want to fight so hard to stay put. The reason can be any number of things– a love of local area architecture, the lack of high rises allowing for open sky, or some other characteristic that makes residents want to stay put. But whatever the case may be, there’s usually something special in terms of environment, appearance or character that residents have grown attached to and don’t want to lose.
This overlooked excellent post is from November of last year and it's definitely the best prognosis on all the hideous inappropriate out-of-scale buildings (what I call "tower pestilence") that have and will continue to infect city blocks. Especially in, of course, Brooklyn. An essential must read.
Shout out to the author who thanked this blog for the Kings County Politics story a few weeks ago.