Thursday, June 30, 2005

New York Times Real Estate Articles by Lisa Chamberlain


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Times Select Content means that Times Select is required to view the article on the NYT website.

SQUARE FEET; Unlikely Dorm Mates at Barnard

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Preserving History and a 'Fantasy Feeling'

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; Smaller Offices Being Pushed Out of Midtown

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Drawn to Eastern Tennessee's Natural Beauty

Square Feet; Creating Demand for City Living in Nashville

Times Select Content NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: CHELSEA; A Year in the Life

Times Select Content Square Feet; Recycling a Big Urban Navy Yard

Times Select Content Square Feet; Building a City Within the City of Atlanta

Square Feet; Little by Little, an Overnight Success

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Old Mills That Aren't Run of the Mill

Square Feet; A Suburban Builder Heads for the City

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; Pressing a Claim for Dutch History

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET: BLUEPRINTS; Going Off the Beaten Path For New Design Ideas

SQUARE FEET; A New Newark Moves Closer to Reality

Times Select Content Square Feet; A Florida City Awaits the Payoff From Its Bet on Condos

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; A Retailing Czar, Looking Out for Mom and Pop

Times Select Content Square Feet; Luring Business Developers Into Low-Income Areas

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Tax Breaks Drive a Philadelphia Boom

Square Feet; Trying to Build the Grand Central of the West

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Creating Housing for Teachers

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; The Trade-Offs in Zoning Trade-Offs

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; Filling in a Blank on the New York Skyline

SQUARE FEET; Towers Grow in Downtown Brooklyn

Square Feet; Wanting the Old Main Street Back

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; The Un-Mall on Bleecker Street

Square Feet; Cleveland Pulls Back From the Edge

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Adobe Gets Its Day In the Sun

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; For Boutique Financiers, Office Space to Match

Times Select Content SQUARE FEET; A Roof Garden? It's Much More Than That

LIVING IN/Kingsbridge, the Bronx; Getting Along in Riverdale's Shadow

SQUARE FEET; Using Feng Shui in Offices and Stores

SQUARE FEET/Union Square Park; Planning the Final Stages Of a Park's Makeover

SQUARE FEET/Garment District; A Fashion Enclave Lets Out Its Seams

SQUARE FEET; Finally, Progress in Restoring Bridgeport's Grandeur

SQUARE FEET; The Underground Economy: Subway Retailing

SQUARE FEET; For Artists, Cheap Studios in Vacant Commercial Space

SQUARE FEET/Downtown Manhattan; A Destination for Serious Eating

SQUARE FEET/East Harlem; A Small Boost for Small Business

SQUARE FEET/The Bowery; New Galleries Set Out To Create a Destination

ASSETS; It Pays to Plant a Street Tree

SQUARE FEET/Lower East Side; A Club for Hundreds of Girls Finds a Permanent Home

SQUARE FEET/Manhattan; For the East Village, A New Retail Face

SQUARE FEET/Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn; Transforming an Unappealing Street

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; Finding a Good Deal In San Francisco

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; In Chicago's West Loop, Real Estate Profits Do Grow on Trees

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES; In Cleveland's Suburbs, New Luxury vs. Old

SQUARE FEET/Bedford-Stuyvesant; 'The Residential Is Hot, But the Commercial Is Not'

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Interview Links for Lisa Chamberlain

New York Times Audio Slide Show
This is an audio slide show to accompany my article on the Garment District (click here to read the Sunday Real Estate piece).

Interview with Journalism Jobs
In Oct. 2001, I was interviewed by about the state of alt-weeklies. As the editor-in-chief of a Village Voice-owned weekly in Cleveland at the time, I was naturally quite optimistic. Not to mention that the pic is really dorky. :-/

Interview with Brian Lehrer, WNYC
Scroll down to “Forever Broke” for an interview about an article I wrote for the New York Observer on the economic misfortunes of Generation X.

Interview with WCPN, Cleveland's NPR station
A transcript and link to audio of an interview about a piece I wrote that was included in Censored 2000 (the “Pulitzers of Alternative Media”). The article examined a theory that Crohn’s disease is caused by a bacterium in milk.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Recent NYT Biz Section Articles

Some of these articles require New York Times Select in order to view them on the Times' website.

REAL ESTATE | March 29, 2006
Square Feet: Pressing a Claim for Dutch History
On Friday, the Corbin Building and the land where it sits will be taken by eminent domain for the new Fulton Street Transit Center.

BUSINESS | March 12, 2006
Square Feet: Going Off the Beaten Path for New Design Ideas
A design firm has invented the unfocus group to find out not just what people really think, but also how they really live.

Square Feet: A New Newark Moves Closer to Reality
Decades after redevelopment began on industrialized waterfronts in other cities, Newark is just now seeing the start of a transformation.

| February 8, 2006

Square Feet: A Florida City Awaits the Payoff From Its Bet on Condos
Some people in Fort Myers are concerned that wealthy condo dwellers might not save the city after all.

| February 1, 2006

A Retailing Czar, Looking Out for Mom and Pop
Michelle Mooney will assist neighborhood organizations in efforts to attract and retain a diversity of businesses that serve local residents.

| January 25, 2006

Square Feet: Luring Business Developers Into Low-Income Areas
Tax credits for commercial real estate in low-income areas are helping to create jobs and revitalize streets.

REAL ESTATE | December 28, 2005
Square Feet: Trying to Build the Grand Central of the West
Plans to redevelop San Francisco's Transbay Terminal, which has deteriorated into an underused bus station, are finally moving forward.

The Trade-Offs in Zoning Trade-Offs
November 23, 2005, Wednesday

Filling in a Blank on the New York Skyline
November 9, 2005, Wednesday

Towers Grow in Downtown Brooklyn
October 19, 2005, Wednesday

Wanting the Old Main Street Back
October 12, 2005, Wednesday

The Un-Mall on Bleecker Street
October 5, 2005, Wednesday
DISPLAYING FIRST 50 OF 1047 WORDS -Do not call it a bazaar or a flea market. Nor is it really a mall or a department store. The best description might be ''collection of mini-boutiques.'' The creator of the retailing concept behind Emerge NYC, a newly opened shopping space on Bleecker Street in NoHo, calls it...

REAL ESTATE | September 28, 2005
Cleveland Pulls Back From the Edge
The long, slow decline of Cleveland has galvanized both the public and private sectors to address the downtown commercial district's plight.

ts SQUARE FEET; For Boutique Financiers, Office Space to Match
To a degree not seen in years, financial firms dominated commercial office leasing activity in Manhattan for the first half of 2005. In two years, financial firms jumped to 36 percent of the market for new leases from just 12 percent, according to figures compiled by Cushman Wakefield....

ts SQUARE FEET; A Roof Garden? It's Much More Than That
As temperatures soared over 90 degrees and New York City broke records for electricity use at the end of July, landscapers were installing a ''green'' roof at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, where parts of the HBO series ''The Sopranos'' are filmed. Above Tony Soprano's head will...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Real Estate, the Global Obsession

The New York Times

THE housing market in California may look like a textbook case of superheated "irrational exuberance," but then how does one explain Spain?

Home prices there have risen 130 percent since 1997, twice the run-up in the United States.

These days, house price vertigo is more than a local or national condition. It's a worldwide phenomenon.

The American housing boom in recent years is nothing compared with the price run-up in countries like France, Spain, Britain, Ireland, Sweden and Australia, even though markets in Australia and Britain have cooled in the last year.

Million-dollar two-bedroom apartments are not only a fixture of New York, but of London, Paris and Hong Kong. In New Zealand, housing prices rose by more than 16 percent from 2003 to 2004. In Ireland, they rose more than 10 percent in that period.

The rise in prices is worrisome, because the international housing boom is a byproduct of globalization. A house on a plot of ground is the most local of assets. But the financial markets that make it possible for people to borrow money to buy a house, or speculate, are increasingly open, international and linked.

Interest rate policies in the industrialized world tend to move in lockstep, usually led by the United States. A growing community of affluent professionals around the world now buy second homes and invest in housing abroad.

The economic links act as a self-reinforcing network that has fueled the global surge in house prices but would also likely magnify the pain on the way down. The ripples would extend well beyond the housing markets. A fall in American house prices, for example, would crimp consumer spending - and free-spending Americans have supported growth in many export-minded nations, notably China.

"The real concern is that the housing boom extends across so many countries this time," said Susan M. Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "That just raises the stakes, and the risk, when the music stops."

The global surge in house prices is a boom by design, largely manufactured by the world's central banks, led by the Federal Reserve. And it was done for good reason. Faced with a falling stock market and the collapse of the high-tech bubble, the Fed cut interest rates sharply in 2000 to try to limit the damage to the American economy and its trading partners.

Other central banks, like the European Central Bank, quickly followed the Fed's lead. Higher government spending and tax cuts were also part of the formula.

Cheap credit worldwide fueled the housing market, making mortgage payments less costly. Homeowners refinanced their mortgages at lower rates, and the savings went into consumer spending. They took out home-equity loans on houses of rising value, and spent that borrowed money on cars, clothes, furniture, restaurant meals and vacations. The higher consumer spending and the soaring value of the home nest-egg have kept the global economy chugging along.

"The Fed and other central banks encouraged this boom so that the wealth lost in the stock market was replaced by housing," said John Llewellyn, the global chief economist at Lehman Brothers in London. "And the housing boom has stimulated demand around the world."

The biggest globalization lift in house prices has been in what urban economists call "primate cities." These are the places where the world's well-off want to live or visit regularly for business or culture like London, Paris, New York, Boston, Shanghai, San Francisco, Miami, Sydney and Vancouver.

They are the most cosmopolitan of locales, often coastal cities and tourist hubs. They experienced the largest spikes in housing prices and pull up the national averages, while inland cities lag - the tourist coast of Spain outpaces Madrid, San Francisco outdoes Milwaukee.

Hitching the world economy to the housing market has worked well for policy makers so far. But it probably can't continue. House prices in general are continuing to rise both in the United States and abroad, as speculative buying and interest-only mortgages are proliferating.

"Much of Europe is like the United States, with roaring increases in housing prices," noted Michael Bell, a real estate economist at the University of Reading, in Britain. "The boom must be peaking soon. It just can't keep going up."

The looming, unanswered question for the global economy is whether the housing boom will cool down in an orderly way over the next few years or end in a bust. The preferred path would be for interest rates to rise steadily but moderately, slowing the pace of house price increases and forcing consumers to save more.

This is what the Federal Reserve and some other central banks, like the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of Australia, have tried to do. The hope is that increased business investment would pick up the slack as housing markets worldwide calm down.

But the European Central Bank is contemplating lowering, not raising, interest rates. It is more concerned with slow economic growth, especially in large economies, like Germany's - where housing prices aren't skyrocketing - than smaller, hot economies like Spain's.

The peril is that conflicting policies could conspire against an orderly retreat. And any trouble would come at a time when policy makers, especially in the United States, have fewer options than in the past.

The huge American federal deficit, trade deficit and minuscule savings rate mean the United States borrows about $5 billion a day mostly from foreigners, whose purchases of mortgage-backed bonds have helped keep mortgage rates low.

If house prices drop and American consumers are forced to tighten their belts, buying fewer imports, China and other nations would have to slow their dollar investment spree, driving interest rates higher and higher. That could smack housing markets from Paris to Shanghai to Auckland.

C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics in Washington, says the overheated global housing market is cause for concern. Yet the larger danger, he said, would be if it combined with another economic jolt, like an abrupt rise in oil prices, which would increase inflation and interest rates.

"That would burst the housing bubble, and be a very serious hit to the world economy," Mr. Bergsten said.

In a recently published paper, Thomas F. Helbling, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, studied 75 housing price cycles in 14 industrialized countries from 1970 to 2002. He found that not every boom is followed by a bust, but booms often are signs of possible trouble.

So applying Mr. Helbling's historical standard for booms to today's housing markets makes for nervous reading.

The housing markets in France, Spain and New Zealand have already boomed, according to Mr. Helbling's definition - that inflation-adjusted prices have increased 19 percent or more over the last two years. And prices in the Scandinavian countries, Italy, Ireland and the United States are nearing that level.

All these countries must be looking anxiously to Britain and Australia, where prices have peaked, and the question is whether they will experience a bust.

History and common sense, of course, teach that sooner or later, economic gravity will return to house prices, either gradually or swiftly, soft landing or meltdown.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Exploding the Gentrification Myth: Columbia Prof’s Surprising Findings

by Lisa Chamberlain

February 17, 2004

For nearly 20 years, activists in Harlem have organized an anti-gentrification block party on Tiemann Place. To raise money for the West Harlem Coalition, a group of tenant associations and neighborhood activists, longtime residents sell homemade crafts and food on this quiet, tree-lined street between Broadway and Riverside Drive. Since Columbia University’s recent announcement of its extensive development plans for the surrounding area, the street is destined to become only more of an anti-gentrification battleground. But as tensions rise, some are asking if the activists have, in fact, misidentified the enemy.

For as long as gentrification has been a divisive topic, the underlying assumption has been the same: As wealthier people move into downtrodden neighborhoods, low-income people are pushed out. But does gentrification actually cause increased displacement? Lance Freeman, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, thinks the answer is no. One of the leading academics to step on the gentrification land mine, Mr. Freeman (who happens to live in a Columbia-owned apartment just around the corner from Tiemann Place) has found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to explode the myth itself. "It’s a controversial issue," he told The Observer recently, "The research results were unanticipated. But the data says what it says."

What his data says is this: Low-income people in gentrifying neighborhoods are, in fact, more likely to stay in their apartments longer than low-income people in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Not only does gentrification not cause displacement any more than the myriad other factors that result in poor people losing or leaving their homes, says Mr. Freeman, it actually provides an incentive to stay. Think about it: Would you be inclined to leave your apartment if the neighborhood was improving?

Mr. Freeman referred to the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey in reaching his conclusion. He found that poor households living in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City, including Harlem, were 24 percent less likely to have moved between 1991 and 1999 than poor people living in non-gentrifying communities. Even when controlling for various factors, like age, race and overcrowding, poor households were still 20 percent less likely to move from gentrifying areas than poor households living in non-gentrifying communities in New York City.

Mr. Freeman’s research, which will appear in The Journal of the American Planning Association in January, indicates that rent regulation plays an important role in protecting low-income residents. Between 1996 and 1999, Mr. Freeman says, average rents for unregulated apartments in gentrifying neighborhoods (such as Harlem, Chelsea, the Lower East Side and Morningside Heights) rose by 43 percent, but average rents for rent-controlled and -stabilized apartments in those same neighborhoods rose by only 11 percent. But regulation isn’t the sole factor. "Rent regulation is part of it," said Mr. Freeman. "But if the neighborhood is on the upswing, people want to stay."

Perhaps not surprisingly, activists in Harlem who have seen displacement firsthand—some narrowly escaping it themselves—find this hard to believe.

"This is crap," said James Lewis of Harlem Operation Take Back about Mr. Freeman’s research. Mr. Lewis said he almost lost his own apartment when his landlord tried to convert the building from single-room occupancies to traditional apartments. After saving his home, he started HOTB to help other people in danger of losing their S.R.O.’s. "I don’t know how he’s getting his conclusions," he said of Mr. Freeman. "He’s misinformed. You don’t need to see the fire to know a building has burned."

The results do seem to fly in the face of observable reality—not just to Mr. Lewis, but probably to most people who have witnessed the migration of the bohemian bourgeoisie into what were once declining neighborhoods. When Mr. Freeman presented a short version of his research in an obscure newsletter last year, it was greeted by other academics as somewhat of a surprise. So another study is currently being conducted by researchers at Rutgers University, who are using some of the same data and are also asking questions about gentrification and displacement.

"Because the results seem somewhat counterintuitive and raise a lot of questions, they want to make sure it’s right," said Mr. Freeman. "You don’t usually see that in the social sciences. Who knows—maybe they’re going to trash my research."

Mr. Freeman’s research, however, does not stand completely alone. Conclusions similar to his were reached two years ago by Jacob Vigdor, an assistant professor at Duke University, who analyzed Boston neighborhoods.

"There’s no evidence that gentrification increases residential turnover," Mr. Vigdor concurred. "The typical image people have in their minds is that people are being thrown out of their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. But there is usually some degree of vacancy and rehabbing of buildings that weren’t previously inhabitable. The thing everyone has to keep in mind is that there’s turnover in all neighborhoods, and landlords harass poor tenants in all neighborhoods. What happens in gentrifying neighborhoods is that it becomes visible."

While some activists are willing to admit the research may be valid, they say it misses the bigger picture. "The bottom line is that in these neighborhoods, any vacant apartment is replaced by a completely different tenant from a completely different lifestyle," said Tom DeMott, who organizes the Tiemann Place block parties and has lived and worked in Harlem for 30 years. "That’s right in your face. An old Chinese family moves out, that apartment will be rented to white kids between the age of 22 and 35."

And herein lies the confusion between gentrification and displacement. Mr. Vigdor cited studies suggesting that, over a five-year period, roughly half of all residents in typical urban communities move voluntarily. In a non-gentrifying neighborhood, the people who move out are replaced with tenants from a similar socioeconomic background. By definition, apartments that are vacated in gentrifying neighborhoods are filled with a different class of people. But that doesn’t mean there’s more forced displacement than in any other neighborhood. What does happen—and both Mr. Freeman and Mr. Vigdor readily acknowledge this—is that the pool of low-income apartments in gentrifying neighborhoods shrinks over time, which may be cause for serious concern. But, says Mr. Freeman, even this process isn’t as dramatic as it’s often portrayed.

"If you walk through [Harlem], it’s clearly still a low-income neighborhood," said Mr. Freeman. "But compared to what it was 10 years ago, it seems like a big difference. People see the chain stores that opened up: Modell’s, Old Navy, H&M. But they’re not necessarily targeting an affluent clientele. They’re serving the neighborhood. To say that Harlem is going to turn into Park Slope—that seems far-fetched."

In an effort to look beyond sheer numbers, Mr. Freeman has been conducting interviews with longtime residents of Harlem to get their impressions of how the neighborhood has changed. "People are appreciative of the improved services and like the increased diversity, but there’s some resentment about the engine of change," he said. "They perceive an invisible hand that is cleaning up the neighborhood because whites have moved in. So there’s some resentment about that. But overall, people seem to recognize that an entirely low-income neighborhood isn’t necessarily good."

Not everyone agrees, of course. "I don’t have mixed feelings about the gentrification process," insisted Mr. DeMott. "I see what it does; I see the difficulty that people face. That’s my concern. I love the neighborhood. I love the people. When I see something that is steam-rolling them, I don’t have mixed feelings."

Despite the hard line taken by some anti-gentrification activists, there seems to be an increasing realization of the fallacy behind the anti-gentrification stance. "We got angry when the middle class moved out," said Mr. Vigdor. "Now we’re angry when the middle class is moving back in. Usually when something is bad, the opposite of that is seen as good. So there’s some cognitive dissonance going on here."

Mr. Freeman agrees. "To say that it’s all bad is somewhat undeserved. It’s more complex than that. If you take that stance to its logical conclusion, you’d have to say that a declining neighborhood is a good thing."