Melting into Air: E. Flatbush in the Digital Age by Lou Cespedes
Early this year, a cataclysmic event befell the city and state of New York. It was an unexpected turn of events for Gov. Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio. With the election of Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez in Queens, the political headwinds shifted, and only months after her shocking victory, suddenly a deal to bring Amazon HQ2 to Long Island City was laid waste by the “progressive wave”.
Many have lamented the loss of the deal; many others have celebrated it. Recently the announcement that Amazon took up 300k square feet in Hudson Yards has been construed as vindication for many on the left that said, “I told you so”. Many on the right claim, rightly, that Hudson Yards is the result of a huge tax subsidy; and it is. No matter what side of the argument you believe, there is one unavoidable fact, new investment is not coming by way of tertiary services, construction, new jobs, or union contracts.
I’ve long argued that the deal itself was not the real problem, but rather that some politicians, most notably, then council member Jumaane Williams, along with other members of the city council, endorsed the deal in a letter inviting Amazon to NYC, only then to lambast the deal when it proved inconvenient. Sadly, many pols of his persuasion did the same in a shameful demonstration of political opportunism. Amazon should never have been invited to NYC in the first place given their abysmal record in Seattle. Any pol that had bothered to perform basic due diligence would know this. It begs the question; did they know and invite them anyway? Or worse, did they not bother to do their research before they invited them?
Pathetically, we have rewarded Jumaane Williams and others with higher office for his incompetence.
If you question my logic – as you are entitled to do – let me invite you to entertain an alternative hypothetical reality. What would I have done differently if I were council member for our district once it became clear Long Island City was not a viable option?
Many people in E. Flatbush are not aware that in our district is a large and quickly vanishing Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) that powered this community’s economy during the early part of the last century. In fact, one of the most important freight train lines, connecting to most of the eastern seaboard, runs right underneath Target at Flatbush Junction, up through Canarsie and Queens to points northeast. E. Flatbush has proximity to JFK airport, institutions of higher education, a major highway, access to waterways, abundant labor, and ample space for office and manufacturing facilities.
Most of the area East of Utica and south of Avenue D is economically depressed. I believe it would have been worth the effort to negotiate with the Mayor, the Governor, and Amazon to have considered the Flatlands IBZ instead of Long Island City. It would have redirected a rezoning effort to the Utica corridor south, bring much needed transportation investment to the 4 Line expansion south of Eastern Parkway, and would have brought about a planned surplus of property value to low density neighborhoods. Hypothetically, many homeowners, would have seen their home value quadruple. It could have delivered a shot in the arm to unemployed and underemployed populations in Eastern Brooklyn. Far more importantly, bringing Amazon to E. Flatbush could have transformed our IBZ into an epicenter for new technology, manufacturing, and new economy entrepreneurs.
One of the reasons Amazon selected New York was because it is an ideal test market for deployment of many service and distribution innovations planned over the next decade.
Of course, what I’m writing here is imaginary. Amazon isn’t coming to E Flatbush, but just think; not one politician from our community, on the local or state level, thought to make this pitch. It didn’t even cross their mind! What a waste of our precious assets and human resources. This evidences the staggering ignorance on the part of our political and business class.
In 1848, in a time of great technological upheaval not to different from our own, Karl Marx wrote, “…all that is solid melts into air…” in the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto. He was speaking about our relationship to one another through our labor being lost as a commonality of community. Emile Durkheim referred to this as “solidarity” of the kind that helps society create kingship through the activities that help compose and produce our reality as communities and cities.
Our industrial base is long gone, and so are those jobs. Our community’s future will not come by holding on to the past. The future is digital, it’s e-business, it’s innovation in the workplace, in the home and in retail. Unfortunately, In E. Flatbush we are standing still as the carcass of our industrial past rusts away. Instead of acting we are paralyzed by ineffective leadership, and as we sit and watch, all that is solid melts into air.
Sent from my iPhone