Nowhere is my home.

The three plus year battle of the Economakis family (or parasitic, exploitative real estate clan, depending on where you side in the battle) to convert 47 E. Third Street, an unremarkable tenement, into a ‘single’ family unit (single in quotes because they have indicated it will also serve to provide guest space for their extended family) has reached the stage of real estate battle where stasis becomes the story itself (akin to the Windermere on 57th).

I’m not going to detail the various claims and counter-claims; conveniently, everyone involved has a website. And this isn’t a post about rent control, though that is germane to the continuance of the dispute.

What struck me most about the story was how starkly it underscores one of the more pernicious effects of the real estate boom in Manhattan. Even though on a per square foot basis real estate grows more dear every day, and people seem to have no limit for irrational mismatches between absolute dollars and relative scale (million-dollar studios et al), there is still a noticeable creep upward in the size of premium property, and certainly in trophy properties.

There have been a few notable conversions of this nature recently, including one only a few blocks away, in which the Bouwerie Lane Theater was basically erased to make way for a mansion and ‘respectable’ retail. And the contingents that find fault with the Gilded Age aura that encompasses these stories seem less troubled by similarly outsized footprints under the control of artists — even though that hasn’t proved to make them any less susceptible to market development.

There isn’t an immediate corollary to real estate prices beyond Manhattan, since the wealth driving this is detached from any rational or practical notion of economy, like other compressed, hyper-inflated districts (Ile Saint-Louis, et al). There is an ancillary effect, but only some of it is a permanent shift, slightly upwards, of baseline prices in some areas, likely already established (the near neighborhoods of Brooklyn), and a retreat is as likely as not for everywhere else, since the most egregious overbuilding is in areas that don’t attract the strata of untouchable wealth that Manhattan does. What is more acute, across the board, is what cultural effects that may result from a loss of density.

Density is the lifeblood of most of the elements of New York that stand out as unique: class and ethic mixing, artistic foment, intellectual and economic innovation. From the salons of Greenwich Village to the light industrial inventors in Brooklyn (it seems like everything from Barbicide to Steinway Pianos were invented in a bathtub there), to say nothing of massive cultural and intellectual edifices ranging from Abstract Expressionism to Broadway and the New School started because like minded people could find each other and still commingle with a panoply of others.

The Economakis’ are removing from housing stock inventory which could easily house up up to 30 distinct lives, based on habitation patterns of just the past two decades (go back four or six, and it would easily be double), housing the city has no good plan for replacing. The Bloomberg administration was reelected with a plan for new housing that did not better those of his opponents, and is likely falling well short of his goals.

The calculus that drew a large percentage of people who don’t prioritize financial gain as the end all of human endeavor is that the trade off of lower standards of living and less certainty in the traditional trappings of security (health care, retirement, affordable housing — affordable anything) was worth the struggle in hopes of having accomplishment within fields where laurels were not accompanied by sums that could even place you in the most modest of market rate apartments. Barring that, simply rubbing elbows and trying might be its own reward, and the city always needs good waiters and dog walkers.

But the math is breaking down. People at the absolute lowest rungs are not living a bohemian dream; rather, they are saddled with economic requirements that force long commutes and extended works schedules that chip away in quite literal terms from the time required in the struggle to create cultural works, gradually diluting the pool of the willing.

As someone who loves a good class war, let’s also look outside the glory of art, where the idea that hard work and a willingness to forgo extravagance in return for a solid, if unspectacular existence is dashed as well. Teachers, nurses, cab drivers, civil service, no one living here a generation ago would encourage a child to take this path with the same confidence. Think about every time you’ve had an interaction with someone, a mundane transaction that all of a suddenly shifts when you understand everyone here is a crank and a know-it-all, or a preening self important fool willing to share an opinion at the drop of a hat; afterward you walk away, perversely proud of your town, because a cab driver would never lecture you on cheese in Topeka.

The argument that the hordes of American tourists and locals that invade the East and West Villages are here to see the latest show at the New Museum doesn’t hold. Those people aren’t understanding of or pursuing cultural consumption past finding where Magnolia Bakery is. But the cheap, sanitized version of New York that results in glossy expensive lounges and restaurants that can barely be filled now is a reasonably new phenomena (at least at its current scale) and I doubt it has any longevity. The winding path of downtown culture over the past century that set that stage for it is in hasty retreat. Or, at least, it grows more diffuse, and the difference between those two eventualities may not make a difference in twenty years.

No doubt that some of the people the Economakis’ want to displace haven’t done much of anything with their good fortune. In the end, most of us won’t. Because it’s a numbers game, when you reduce the numbers, you are slimming the odds. And in this case the house is as bland, corporate and unyielding its best known shill.

*As a matter of perverse disclosure, I just found out I may have been a tenant of Granite (the management company the Economakis family controls). One of the properties listed in Manhattan was a former apartment. But my checks always went to an individual. And he was a shitty landlord. Over the course of three years he refused to give us information on where or when we should dispose of our trash (among other failures).

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