Upzoned by Strong Towns

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October 19, 2018  

Is Landlord Greed Responsible for Vacant Storefronts in NYC?

October 19, 2018

Manhattan has been among the most populous, economically vibrant, and in-demand places on the planet for generations. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at its retail vacancy rate.

At least that’s the premise of a new article from CityLab entitled “How Manhattan Became a Rich Ghost Town.” According to author Derek Thompson, 🎶 [Hamilton voice] the greatest city in the world 🎶 has been plagued by a surprising paradox: a hyper-productive development pattern that’s placed the world’s largest concentration of wealth and customer volume right outside shop owners’ doors, paired with sky-high commercial real estate rents that even the most successful stores somehow can’t afford. The result? On the most valuable land on the planet, as many as 20% of storefronts are sitting empty—a phenomenon City Lab attributes to a combination of greedy landlords holding out for big chains, slow retail sales growth failing to compete with rising rents, and the gradual erosion of all physical retail in the face of Amazon.

But in this week’s Upzoned, Chuck and Kea reveal the surprising reason why we shouldn’t trust our first instincts about why storefront retail is dying, even in the cities where it seems best poised to thrive. And then they explain why, if we want to re-activate these crucial elements of our streetscapes, we should be asking ourselves a fundamentally different set of questions—and taking a fundamentally different set of actions to reverse the troubling trend that’s stealing many of our most crucial third place businesses. (Hint: it has a little something to do with the insanely weird way commercial mortgages work.)

And then in the downzone, Chuck talks a book about game theory that’s currently blowing his mind, and Kea shares a recent podcast series that’s challenging her to think about the strange forces that shape an important element of our everyday world: the clothes on our back.

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