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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New York story

New York City's construction economy continues to boom, despite the overall malaise in the U.S. economy, but there are problems, including a crane accident which killed seven and exposed serious problems in the city's building inspection/approval processes. On the other hand, formerly blighted neighbourhoods are now booming, and the city is enjoying a renaissance of wealth and opportunity.

Tonight, we had dinner with Vivian's aunt and uncle -- lifelong Manhattan residents. They expressed frustration with the declining U.S. economy; the rising food prices, mortgage fiasco, war, and political confusion.

I stepped into the fray with an observation about how just 15 to 20 years ago, people considered this city a basket case; virtually bankrupt, with decaying neighbourhoods, poverty, drugs, and debt. Not any more.

"Blight" neighbourhoods like Times Square and Harlem are now enjoying a renaissance; with condos and new building everywhere. (This isn't without its own problems -- the chief of the building department resigned under pressure after a collapsing crane killed seven -- turns out the building should have never been issued a building permit because it violated several city zoning regulations.)

Nevertheless, the construction economy in Manhattan, at least, appears healthy -- people are willing to pay the price to build and live here, and the reason is a combination of private initiative and enterprise, and some worthy charitable and public endeavours. An intriguing issue is how extreme wealth is recycled into extreme good works -- estates beget foundations; private homes become public institutions, and the accumulated wealth filters back to the community at large with public spirit and resourcefulness.

I've always been an optimist, of course, even though the world hasn't always behaved quite as as wonderfully as my perceptions would allow. For example, I celebrated the arrival of independence and peace in Zimbabwe, only to see from a distance the abuse and massacres of the siNdebele near Bulawayo just a few years later and, more recently the economic breakdown and political chaos in that country. But, again, optimism has its virtues -- I know that historically the type of hyperinflation Zimbabwe is currently experiencing has only lasted briefly in any circumstance; and usually heralds change (though it may be ironic that German central bankers may, when the time is right, be the ones to set things right.)

These observations have little obvious connection with the blog's core Construction Marketing theme. On the other hand, sometimes I think it is helpful to look at the world through rose coloured glasses, especially when you can see the virtues of resurgence and recovery in what had been a basket case local economy just a couple of decades ago.

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