MAILANDER ON … DEVELOPMENT POLITICS - The most insidious fact about the New York City mega-developer The Related Companies is that they not only aspire to develop skyscrapers the way ordinary global conglomerates do—no, they aspire to develop whole clusters of them. And they typically get away with it, of course.
But don’t fret—if you’re not overly concerned about that fact, there are plenty of other insidious facts about mega-developers from which to choose.
Founded and run by a billionaire, The Related Companies build only what that small cache of maverick billionaire developers would predictably build: dystopian, dysfunctional Corbu nightmares, multi-scraper mall-plexes, and units of habitation tens of thousands at a time.
So it is no accident that The Related Companies has inordinately immense irons in the fire in the failing, bought-off, billionaire-friendly burgs of Los Angeles and New York City. And while the west coast branch of Related still hopes to slam two unnecessary, unneeded luxury residential towers on prime downtown real estate here, its New York cousins scored a mega-win this past week, breaking ground on the storied Hudson Yards site in Manhattan, and planning to cram a whopping 20,000 units onto the 20 acre parcel on the west side of the island.
“The market has spoken,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire, said the day of the hallowed groundbreaking. The market may have also spoken during the fourteen years in which nothing at all happened to Hudson Yards, despite Related’s ceaseless craven push to develop the site in its own special way throughout that time. But to billionaires, multi-billion dollar projects pitched by billionaires are the ultimate speaking currency of all.
The Related Companies’ Stephen Ross, LA’s billionaire panjandrum Eli Broad, and billionaire scion-of-real estate Michael Bloomberg—these are the kind of billionaires who curry favor in cities by gifting management schools and museums $100 million at a time—or even, in Bloomberg’s case, by spending $100 million of his own money to serve as Mayor himself—akin to what chronic billionaire crony Richard Riordan did here.
The billionaire’s view of development, reality, and daily life is necessarily shaped by their own remoteness to typical city living. They look at city-dwellers in terms of consumers first and ciphers second, people who may make between $50-$100K a year, hopefully to blow entirely on a Ross/Broad/Bloomberg development or product.
In the world view of urban billionaires, ordinary people don’t really make a “living”—they make money from another corporation in order to hand it over to one of their own corporations. Urban life unfolds as a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em among a small coterie of the insulated ultra-privileged, where the few billionaire players share community cards known as “politicians” whom they can they bluff, check, and hold for favor or occasional folding. You, the ordinary citizen, are simply one of millions of chips on the table, a tiny unit of exchange.
This model fits every policy they contrive, from how you should experience your weekend (at an Eli Broad museum, lounging in your Stephen Ross living space, buying things at a Stephen Ross mega-mall, or reading financial or political news as provided by Bloomberg) to how your kids experience education (in a Broad or Bloomberg-approved charter school that teaches your kid to take tests and ultimately to join the corporate machine—and little else).
So much has the billionaire mindset crept into ordinary civic life that those Los Angeles City Council Members who serve at the pleasure of billionaires routinely vote for measures as kleptocratic and audacious as the billionaires themselves might forge. Just this week, for instance, Los Angeles City Council demonstrated just how hopeful it is to rip ordinary citizens off by insisting that if you park at a broken meter, you should get a ticket anyway. Your $63 fine will go towards each Councilmember’s $178,000 a year salary, to keep them in the business of voting for more schemes that defraud you of still more money. That’s the kind of thinking that billionaires love to see as they secure their developments with the kind of tax breaks for their pricey properties that, if bestowed on ordinary citizens, might have actually saved ordinary citizens a few dollars at the city’s broken meters.
What kind of developments do we lack when we turn over substantive civic acreage to these kinds of developers? We end up not inviting to our civic table mom and pop bakeries, bike shops, hopeful photography galleries, one-location boutiques, counter-culture coffee houses, patient bonsai growers—precisely the kinds of spaces that make urban life worthwhile. The skies kissed by the mega-developments of The Related Companies, whether over the west side of Manhattan or downtown Los Angeles, are dependably of a uniform color: a global-conglomerate approved shade of corporate green.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of New World Triptych and The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.) Photo credit: Dan Krauss