When you see a lot of empty store fronts you get the idea that something has gone wrong with the economy. It's commonly seen in small towns but Manhattan? It's a tale that sounds all too likely to hit Vancouver eventually.
From The Atlantic, "How Manhattan Became a Rich Ghost Town."
These days, walking through parts of Manhattan feels like occupying two worlds at the same time. In a theoretical universe, you are standing in the nation’s capital of business, commerce, and culture. In the physical universe, the stores are closed, the lights are off, and the windows are plastered with for-lease signs. Long stretches of famous thoroughfares—like Bleecker Street in the West Village and Fifth Avenue in the East 40s—are filled with vacant storefronts. Their dark windows serve as daytime mirrors for rich pedestrians. It’s like the actualization of a Yogi Berra joke: Nobody shops there anymore—it’s too desirable.
...Separate surveys by Douglas Elliman, a real-estate company, and Morgan Stanley determined that at least 20 percent of Manhattan’s street retail is vacant or about to become vacant. (The city government’s estimate is lower.) The number of retail workers in Manhattan has fallen for three straight years by more than 10,000. That sector has lost more jobs since 2014, during a period of strong and steady economic growth, than during the Great Recession.The article identifies three factors behind New York's retail decline: excessively high rents, the rise of online shopping and the loss of Manhattan's quirky joie de vivre and those once willing to pay to live with it.
What happens when cities become too expensive to afford any semblance of that boisterous diversity? The author E. B. White called New York an assembly of “tiny neighborhood units.” But the 2018 landlord waiting game is denuding New York of its particularity and turning the city into a high-density simulacrum of the American suburb. The West Village landlords hoping to lease their spaces to national chains are turning one of America’s most famous neighborhoods into a labyrinthine strip mall. Their strategy bodes the disappearance of those quirky restaurants, curious antique shops, and any coffee shops that aren’t publicly traded on the NYSE.Vancouver is also losing its "boistrous diversity" to developers eager to transform block after block, neighbourhood after neighbourhood, into a grey mass of concrete condominiums, priced beyond the reach of all but the wealthy, usually from other lands.
...“America has only three cities,” Tennessee Williams purportedly said. “New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” That may have been true once. But New York’s evolution suggests that the future of cities is an experiment in mass commodification—the Clevelandification of urban America, where the city becomes the very uniform species that Williams abhorred. Paying seven figures to buy a place in Manhattan or San Francisco might have always been dubious. But what’s the point of paying New York prices to live in a neighborhood that’s just biding its time to become “everywhere else”?
Young professionals are deterred from setting up shop there. They want a better life and so they locate elsewhere. You can't get a doctor in Vancouver these days. I recently dealt with a specialist in Nanaimo, freshly out of UBC medicine and internship at Vancouver General. She said none of her colleagues want to work their fingers to the bone for forty years just to afford a ridiculously priced home. They want to live normal lives and that's no longer possible in Vancouver. There's no longer a single gas station in the downtown core. Restaurant owners struggle to find waiters and kitchen staff. The whole rotten thing is collapsing under its own weight, the victim of successive governments devoid of vision.