Born on the Lower East Side
Oh, to live in a teeming tenement!
That’s not a sentiment you hear a lot these days. In fact, it’s doubtful that the great wave of Jews immigrating to New York at the turn of the last century would have uttered it, either. But to the tenements they came, and New York has never been the same. This may be why the city’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wants developers to do it again: Teem away!
In June he announced a contest to plan a building crammed with 80 apartments of 275 to 300 square feet each. Thirty-three developers submitted plans by the deadline in late September and the winning concept will be built in the Kips Bay neighborhood on Manhattan’s East Side. …
… If [the Lower East Side] was both outrageously crowded and, ultimately, outrageously successful as an incubator for great artistic, social and entrepreneurial success, could that mean that extreme cramming actually makes people more productive? If so, wouldn’t that mean slums are great for cities?
It would. And in a way, said Bhaskar Chakravorti, who teaches international business and finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, they are. Chakravorti’s specialty is innovation in an international context, and as such he studies slums.
He’s not a romantic about them. He’s an economist; he sees slums burgeoning as people from the countryside flock to the mega-cities of the world. But he sees a big difference between the slums filled with striving newcomers and the older slums, where poverty seems entrenched and intractable. “When we think of a poor neighborhood in L.A. or Chicago, we tend to think of them as inherently decrepit and no signs of hope,” Chakravorti said. But that’s not true of slums that simply provide cheap, convenient housing for the folks flooding in.
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