Sunday, June 16, 2013

Emerging Wastelands

In an issue of Travel+Leisure magazine, an article called "New York Now" discussed a new hip Williamsburg restaurant, Reynards, run by artist Andrew Tarlow in partnership with an Australian hotelier and a NYC developer. Tarlow has four other restaurants, forming a kind of restaurant chain around his personal brand and with international investors. These days, we are also seeing this business strategy in DC. Tarlow was asked what he'll try next:
And when I asked Tarlow where he might venture for his next restaurant he shrugged and said "The Upper East Side." We all bust out laughing. "I'm not kidding," he said with a sheepish smile. "It's a wasteland."
Wasteland image from
Is possible that the Upper East Side has been left out of this high-end foodie restaurant strategy, which is now highly profitable for investors? Is it possible that the Upper East Side is a bit run down as investments have moved on?

On a recent walk with American University anthropology professor Brett Williams, Brett talked about how gentrification went along simultaneously with declining or lack of investment in other neighborhoods. Investment moves into and concentrates in areas that are seen as most profitable, leaving other areas without this investment. Some areas, like the Upper East Side or Dupont Circle, might see declines as investment moves to other neighborhoods. Business people there may sit on their investments, not making many improvements as they wait for a new wave of investments with this new international restaurant strategy and, inadvertently, create a new wasteland. Brett and I also discussed whether the immense increase in international finance today means that there is lots of money to develop new gentrifying areas and maintain old gentrifying areas. So, are we seeing new wastelands emerging from formerly gentrified areas? Is this necessarily a problem? Or do new investors always see wastelands in the places they seek to change?

P.S. Last summer, I did a short interview with Brett Williams about her work on DC. It is really fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if it's because finance capital makes money by skimming off of transactions, so if a neighborhood is in a relatively steady state finance gets to skim less than if restaurants are constantly switching from one fad to another. Moreover, these fads have to be understandable to investors with no connection to a place other than the money they extract from it. (Right now, apparently, farm-to-table, comfort food, and 'small plates,' go over well on powerpoint presentations to 'restaurant groups.')
    Productive capital would make money by investing in a particular restaurant and making it return steady profits over a long time. The Upper East Side has a lot of longstanding, classic, old-school Italian, French, etc. International restaurant conglomerates can't extract value from these restaurants. So to finance capital it appears as a wasteland -- to the rest of us as a neighborhood with a unique history and style.

    If we don't shut these people down, the future is going to look like an in-flight magazine.


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