Sunday, July 29, 2012
There's been a recent tempest (a very small one) over suggestions that New York City develop "micro-apartments" — very small apartments catering to people who want to live in the big city at low cost. NYC mayor (emperor) Michael Bloomberg supports this proposal. There's been speculation over the real reason for his support, given that he owns five or six palaces around and about (a couple of adjacent townhouses in Manhattan, a place in Westchester County, his shorefront mansion in Bermuda, a mansion in London, and a place in Colorado, I think).
The economics behind developing smaller spaces is solid. But there is another rationale behind Bloomberg's push for microflats, one based on his conviction that the wealthier are just better.
There is an obvious way to provide more space for more people — build up. It wouldn't take a city of endless high-rises, the fifty-story, engineer-designed monstrosities that developers love. Going from 3 or 4 story standards to 5 or 6 would provide an enormous increase in space while still keeping many neighborhoods "cozy." But it costs more to go higher than it does to subdivide smaller.
More important, developers think in terms of dollars per square foot, and in their view, they are entitled to a minimum rent for a unit, based on its size. It can be a roach-ridden, bed bug-infested, rundown as you like. Square footage means money. And Bloomberg is a real-estate Keynesian (to adapt Paul Krugman's "military Keynesian" expression for right-wingers who endorse big government for military purposes). Bloomberg is a strong believer in government intervention to keep real-estate prices ridiculous.
Floor area is the most 'objective' (watch as real estate agents come up with an argument for why that 300 square foot hole is really 500 square feel) and tangible factor in valuing living spaces. A quick coat of paint, a cleaning, and air freshener and most people will over look the real problems in a 5 minute look at a place. (And most New York landlords will still gripe about doing even a minimal cleaning.) Smaller size is the most cheapest way to cram low-budget proles into otherwise pricey neighborhoods.
That brings us to part 2 of Bloomberg's thinking. He and his rich buddies will play loco parentis for us, but they sure as hell aren't going to have anybody telling them what to do. They want they're Manhattan MacMansions. But they still need their servants. But living costs are soaring and rippling outwards, so that places 50 or 60 miles from New York are seeing prices typical for Brooklyn (and Brooklyn sees Manhattan prices).
How are Bloomberg-style wealth supremacists to keep their servants within reasonable distance so they can get to servitude on time? Have to get those living costs down in town. And, as noted in part 1, the best way to do that is smaller area. Bloomberg and Co. do want Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn — maybe) to be a gated community for Wall Street, but the last thing they want to do is anything resembling work — laundry, cleaning, cooking. They need their servants close enough so that they can be at hand at a moments notice (since, for now, the days when servants lived on-site, in the mansion, are still gone by — for now).