Sunday, December 04, 2011

Staten Island Is Dying

There is plenty of urban frontier left in New York City. Patti Smith doesn't care. She suggests fleeing the Big Apple and heading to Poughkeepsie or Detroit. If twentysomethings heed her call, then Staten Island will turn to dust:

The truth is that people, or at least young people, have been leaving Staten Island over the past 20 or so years. A study released this year by the public policy organization the Center for an Urban Future showed that there were about 2,000 fewer people ages 20 to 34 living on Staten Island in 2009 than there were in 1990. In 1990, that demographic represented 25.3 percent of the population, while now it represents just less than 20 percent. At the same time, the number of people older than 65 has been rising. By 2030, Staten Island is expected to have the highest percentage of senior citizens of any of the five boroughs. ...

... That Staten Island is depleting itself of young people has been a source of concern to the city, Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, told me. The hope is that Homeport will be appealing enough and reasonable enough to retain and attract men and women in their 20s and 30s who might otherwise be inclined to move, especially to New Jersey.

Could the surrounding neighborhoods, Stapleton and Tompkinsville among them, become the next Williamsburg, as some residents have speculated? In some sense this seems as unlikely as the welcoming of a Wal-Mart on Madison Avenue. Despite Homeport’s proximity to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, the neighborhood is still far away from well, Williamsburg, and the other neighborhoods in which the young and trend-setting congregate.

Perhaps even more relevant, Staten Island is not an incubator of preciousness; it seems allergic to preciousness. Before there were artisanal-cheese mongers in Williamsburg there were painters, performance artists, tattoos, eccentrics, an alternative-culture elite. Staten Island has a lower share of residents with bachelor’s degrees than any borough except the Bronx.

Emphasis added. Ah, to be an incubator of preciousness. Forget Williamsburg. Staten Island would kill to be the next Pittsburgh or Scranton. Those two cities are where suburban dreams find urban expression. As the life cycle turns, people are skipping Staten Island altogether and lighting out for the Rust Belt frontier.

More seriously, Staten Island is trying to capture market leakage. Regarding migration, this is a bad idea. Staten Island is competing with Cleveland for the economic refugees pushed out of Brooklyn. I doubt Staten Island stands a chance. You go where you know and Staten Island might as well be in Mongolia.

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