Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Cities In Flight

For a brief time in the early 21st Century, American cities became a desirable place to live.   Then, 2020 happened.

You read all the "news" stories a few years ago, "surveys say" that millenials want to live in cities, to be close to where all the action is.   We were told that retirees wanted to retire to cities, so they could walk to the grocery store and experience cultural activities like museums and symphonies.   Major cities were being "gentrified" - turning ghettos and slums into nice neighborhoods where families might want to live.

There was, of course, a backlash.  Some claimed that gentrification destroyed the "grittiness" of the city, and that this grittiness was a desirable social value or even part of the "culture" of some "communities".  But it was true - cities like New York had changed and changed dramatically.  Times Square was no longer a collection of seedy porn theaters, sex shops, and live sex shows - as well as prostitution.   It was now a place you'd take your kids to see a Disney Broadway production or have lunch at a outdoor cafe table, while being entertained by street performers dressed as your kids' favorite action heroes.

Places like Brooklyn, which were on the borderline of turning into a slum, were now commanding top prices.  My hippie brother lived in Park Slope, decades ago, before gentrification pushed him out.  A fellow at the campground here reports his Mother bought a brownstone for $95,000 back in the 1980's, and recently sold it for $3M.   Yes, gentrification was real.   Emphasis on the word "was".

Oddly enough, some of the gentrifiers were the loudest voices for change.   The same liberal whites who moved to these neighborhoods and drove prices through the ceiling, were now calling for the very things that made these neighborhoods attractive to be eliminated. So-called "broken window" policing was abolished, and graffiti and garbage proliferated.  The anti-graffiti task force of the Transit Authority was abolished, and the pristine subway cars are now reverting to their 1970's look.

Homeless bums now had "rights" to sleep on your stoop and shit on your sidewalk, because it was "unfair" and "cruel" to make them move along and find a shelter to sleep in (or maybe even get a job, get off drugs, and stop being a drag on society?  Nah!).   And of course, criminals were all innocent - we all saw that on television!   Bail was unfair to the poor, and long prison sentences for career criminals who just didn't give a shit about anyone else but themselves were of course, unjust.

Criminals noticed the change, and slowly, crime rates have gone up, once nice neighborhoods got getting "grittier" and people started to trickle out of the cities. Come 2020 and a pandemic and senseless riots and looting, and the trickle becomes a flood.   White Flight, once a phenomenon of the postwar era, has once again blossomed, as a new generation of white folks realize that quiet, secure towns, with nice houses and manicured lawns, are not as "boring" as they might first appear.

Or more precisely, maybe "boring" seems nice after you've been mugged at gunpoint on the way home from work, and your wife or daughter was raped and your house was broken into - along with your car.   Suddenly, the idea of all this "culture" - that, let's face it, you never really took advantage of - doesn't seem worthwhile.   And when a pandemic closes all the trendy restaurants, Broadway shows, the symphony, the ballet, and the museums, what does that leave you with?

When we first looked at buying a house on Jekyll Island, Mark wasn't so sure he was ready to leave the DC area.  "I don't know about Jekyll," he said, "It's kind of creepy and quiet."

"Yea," I replied,, "Isn't that great?"

It took 9/11 and an airplane crashing into the Pentagon, the beltway sniper and the anthrax scare, for Mark to appreciate "Creepy and Quiet" and today, many folks from Atlanta are discovering the benefits of quietness as well.    Houses are going on the market and selling within days - sometimes with multiple offers.

The same is true for other suburban or even rural areas.  Houses on Long Island are going under contract left and right as people flee the once-trendy boroughs of New York for safer and more relaxing digs.   And so on across the country.   A new real-estate boom, or mini-boom is taking place, and what happens next is sort of scary.

Cities may collapse and go into bankruptcy again - as New York did in the 1970's.    When people work from home and companies realize they don't need a trendy office at a fancy address in an expensive city, the value of real estate - both commercial and residential - in major cities could go into free-fall.

I recounted before how one of my clients abandoned a suburban office park near Austin, Texas, and built a high-rise on troubled 6th Street.   The employees raved about the new digs, at first loving their expensive condos nearby -within walking distance of the new office!  So much to see and do - so much culture!  No more being stuck in rush-hour traffic!

Buy now, before the lofts at SoDoSoPa are sold out!

Today, there are riots in that city, and I wonder if the company is re-thinking its move downtown.

So, what is causing White Flight, Volume II?   In a way, it is the same things that caused white flight from cities back in the day.   People get older and raise families and they want their children to have good, safe schools to go to.  Yea, people are so darn selfish!  After all, you should be more than willing to sacrifice your children's future in order to be part of some sort of educational and social experiment, right?

Well, when push comes to shove, white liberals in the city make noises about diversity and equality and all that, and then will draw blood to get their children into the right Montessori nursery school or the right "gifted and talented" high school.  And you can't blame them for this.   Any parent who isn't looking out for their child's best interests is really being a rotten parent.   You know, like the one who had five kids out of wedlock with five different fathers - and doesn't give a shit about their kids education or future?  Yea, that.  And this is not a racial thing - shitty parents come in all colors.  They all tend to live in shitty neighborhoods, though, whether trailer park or public housing.

So no, it isn't selfish that a parent doesn't want their kids hanging out with the meth-head trailer park kids or the gang-banger teens from the ghetto.  This is just basic self-preservation. And what I suspect is happening - in addition to the 2020 madness - is that a lot of the "yuppies" who started to raise a family in Park Slope, are realizing that a big city isn't really a great place to raise kids.  Maybe ten years ago, you could take them to the park to play.  But today, it is full of homeless bums who have a "right" to sleep and defecate there, along with the drug dealers - you know, the same sort of shit that forced people out of cities decades ago.

Of course, suburbs can be hellish nightmares as well, with spoiled and bored middle-class kids with nothing to do all day long, getting into one form of trouble or another.

Will our cities come back? Eventually, yes. A lot of the nonsense being spouted today about "defunding the Police" and replacing them with "community intervention" or some such nonsense, will quickly fade from the scene, as the crime rates and murder rates soar - as they have in the past few months alone.  A new generation will learn that many criminals are not just "misunderstood" or had "difficult childhoods" but are little more than feral humans - psychopaths and sociopaths who just take from society what they want, and don't care about the consequences to others.

As I have said time and time again, today's Antifart or OWS or whatever protester is one stolen bicycle from becoming a law-and-order Republican.  When you become a victim of a crime, suddenly your empathy for criminals evaporates.  My epiphany was when I was delivering pizzas - struggling to get by - being chased by four thugs with steel pipes, bent on caving my skull in and taking my wallet.   Fortunately, I escaped.   Others are not so fortunate.   And 2/3rds of all violent crimes are usually unsolved, as the Police can usually only catch the perpetrator when they are known to the victim.   Stranger-on-stranger crime is nearly impossible to solve.

And so-called "property crimes"?   The Police have no resources to even go after those.   So yea, we need to cut their funding, right?   Makes sense to me!  /s

But eventually, the pendulum will turn against this sort of nonsense.   I will likely be dead by then, as the last time around, it took several decades before people realized that the "rights" of criminals can only go so far, before none of us have any rights - to safety and prosperity, the pursuit of happiness.

So, if you want to play the long game, snap up one of these city properties that might hit the market pretty soon.  In three our four decades, it will re-gentrify and you'll make out like a bandit!

Or maybe not...