Crain's New York reported recently about the impending demise of many New York City restaurants as landlords continue to raise rents. The article cites restaurateur Pino Luongo's eatery Tuscan Square in Rockefeller Center as an example of one long-term restaurant going out of business (or at least, soon to be). Now, you can argue the toss as to whether Tuscan Square qualifies as a restaurant -- I think it's really more of a cafeteria / deli -- but the suggestion by Mr. Luongo that the city's restaurant business might be entering a recession echoes the broader economic trends we have been witnessing this week.
Other restaurateurs quoted in the article suggest that another reason for this decline is that diners are no longer ordering such expensive dishes and are cutting back on drinks, especially wine - typically the most expensive part of a meal. Again, this suggests that consumer spending is falling off as the economy's vitality ebbs away.
However, when the restaurateurs quoted also mention that their more popular prix fixe menus are around $29, and their a la carte choices are in the region of $40 -- is it any surprise that New Yorkers aren't splashing out? Said restaurant owners would swear that higher rents are forcing their prices up, and that is likely to be true, but in a city where a good deal is increasingly hard to come by, it is probably inevitable that some of the city's 17,000 restaurants fall on hard times when consumers are more strapped for cash.
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, as we suggested in a post the other week, it largely only foreign tourists who find eating out in New York City a bargain these days due to currency exchange rates. Is a New Yorker's right to an affordable dining-out experience a livability issue? Indeed, if rents and property values continue to increase as they have, will New York's wonderfully diverse restaurant sector follow many other retail sectors in the city and become dominated by large, national chains offering homogenous fayre? Perhaps an economic recession might help drive rents down for a while, or at least stabilize them at rates restaurants can afford? But is this the only solution?
Following its hearing in Manhattan earlier this week, the Traffic Mitigation Commission is holding its final hearing on congestion pricing in Brooklyn next Thursday before it issues its final recommendations on January 31. If you care about this issue (and we know many visitors to this website feel traffic congestion is an important urban livability issue) then you should go to:
Medgar Evers College
1650 Bedford Avenue at Crown Street
@ 6:00 p.m., on Thursday, January 24
If you plan to speak at the hearing, you must RSVP in advance. Click here to download the form. You can also e-mail written testimony if you'd like to testify but are unable to present.
Earlier this week it was widely reported that in 2007 New York City had been visited by a record numbers of tourists who had spent record amounts of money here. Covering this announcement (by Mayor Bloomberg in his weekly radio program), the NY SUN reports that this phenomenon was interpreted by the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, Robert Lieber, as being the result of a combination of factors, including increased investment in the city's cultural institutions, the attraction of New York's restaurants, a marketing effort abroad, and the low value of the dollar to foreign currencies.
Clearly, this has been a boon for a city that was down on visitor numbers following the 9/11 attacks due to the perception that the city (because of terrorism and nascent crime rates) was unsafe to visit. Last year tourism increased by 5% over 2006 with an estimated 46 million tourists who spent something in the region of $28 billion during their stays. A daily visit to Midtown Manhattan around lunchtime would inform the casual observer that there are almost as many tourists as business people with Italian, Spanish, French, German and British English mixing with the stressed cries of New Yorkers on their cellphones and the tap-tap, beep-beep of Blackberries.
An unusually favorable exchange rate with the Euro and British Pound (not to mention the Canadian and Australian dollars) certainly accounts for much of the visitors spending their money and getting as much as twice the value for it they would get at home, but from a Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York perspective it's interesting that in this time when many New Yorkers are finding living in their own city harder and harder to afford, visitors from abroad are flocking here and spending record sums in our stores and restaurants.
Is this situation set to continue? Or will rising dollar exchange rates reduce the number of foreign tourists? Is this disparity in spending/buying power a livability issue? And, if so, what is the solution?
The MTA Board votes this Wednesday, December 19 (that's tomorrow), starting at 9:00 a.m., on whether to approve the proposed hike of 86% on all journeys, and a 6.6% increase on some discount and unlimited MetroCards. As this blog reported back in September, the MTA is anticipating a $300 million surplus in the next fiscal year, which has raised questions as to whether the hike is really necessary to raise the agency's revenues.
As we also wrote back then, the MTA's proposed fare and toll hikes represent a real cost of living increase for most New Yorkers - in a city that already isn't cheap. However, an efficient, well-funded and well-maintained public mass transit system that has sufficient capacity for the growing city is, and will continue to be, a major issue in maintaining the city's livability. How the two issues of affordability and reliable service are dealt with remains to be seen, but if you want to testify before the Board vote tomorrow, you'll need this information:
347 Madison Avenue (between 44th and 45th streets), 5th floor boardroom
Transit: 4,5,6 or 7 trains to Grand Central Station
If you want to testify yourself, get there at 8:30 a.m. and read the testimony rules.
Due to unprecedented interest, the acclaimed exhibition Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York will now be on display through Saturday, January 26, 2008. Originally scheduled to close at the beginning of the month, the exhibition, which encourages citizens to observe the city and empowers them to become citizen activists for positive change, has been extended for three weeks.
When the exhibit opened, The New York Times produced a slideshow of it. You can watch it here.
Press coverage of the exhibit and related programs can be found by clicking the"Press" tab in the navigation bar above.
MTA fare hikes came under scrutiny again in the press yesterday over a report detailing that New Yorkers pay for a higher percentage of their mass transit through fares than any other city in the nation. An article in the NY Daily News, titled New Yorkers taken for a ride with transit costs - report, called it unfair that city residents pay a greater proportion of the costs of mass transit than any other city in nation. The News began a campaign last week called "Halt the Hike" urging state officials not to go ahead and increase subway fares by 25c in March of '08.
While MTA officials admit that the agency is set to make a $400million surplus this year, they claim increased fares are needed to offset increased costs in the fiscal year 2009 that will also eat up much of the surplus. Governor Spitzer has declared fare hikes a "last resort", and many local elected officials have also come out against them. However, there are two different issues here -- one, that fare hikes are necessary or unnecessary to balance the state purse, and two, whether New Yorkers are paying too much for their mass transit. read more...
Perhaps contrary to the commonly subscribed-to idea that the poor take the bus and the subway, and the rich either take cabs or drive themselves and then stump up for parking, Metro New York suggests today in its article How Fair is the Fare? that there are further striations in the commuting public based on the proposed increase in MTA transit fares. read more...