Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Just recently I had the privilege to attend a 100th anniversary party held for an apartment building that was constructed by architect Charles A. Platt in the year 1905-1906. Ten of the current residents in this tony building opened their homes to exclusive viewings restricted to the snooty geegawers on the guest list (which admittedly I cannot be found, but my associate who brought me there was.)

After quietly hobnobbing with the stuffy elites -- okay, I think I made my point-- we made quick exit back to real life.

My associate, a fellow statist with an extensive real estate development background was quite astounded at the short timeline in which this building was erected.

From what little I know of New York City history, there was no buildings department back in 1905. There was relatively no zoning codes, no landmarks commission, and generally little government oversight into real estate development. The only regulation I can think of that this building was subject to was a height restriction, as laid down in the "New York Tenement Law" which stated that buildings could not be built higher than 1.5 times the street width. With that one condition, the architect/developer designed an amazing 11-story building which till today is quite unmatched in certain respects.

My associate, although he has yet to shed his statist-informed illusions, is one who was never shy to flirt with the given rules of the officialdom. His business decisions are mostly informed by what he thinks he can get away with, rather than what will be readily praised by the most straight-laced bureaucrat who could care less about your timeframe or budget expenses.

After quickly summing up all the things that slow down our current projects, be it dealing with OSHA, the NYC Building Department, the Landmarks Commission, the Mayors Office (for the issue of getting waivers on ADA compliance not feasible in a landmarked structure which is mostly untouchable to its legal owner), it is no surprise that although our generation is far ahead in terms of technology and construction techniques, we are far behind in terms of where we could have been if the overall regulatory environment had not reared its ugly head over the past century.

Slightly-related fun fact of the day: Kennedy is old Gaelic for "ugly head".

Per the NYC Department of Buildings:
"In 1860, after a tenement fire took 20 lives, New York City's building laws were extensively revised and strengthened. At that time, the position of "Superintendent of Buildings" was created within the Fire Department to enforce the new structural safety laws. An independent "Buildings Department" in Manhattan was later founded in 1892. Each Borough President's office had an autonomous Superintendent of Buildings until 1936, when a citywide Department of Buildings was created."

In any case, the avalanche-ish erosion of private property rights could be said to have begun with the Zoning act of 1926, in which the city got the idea that they have the right to dictate property usage types, dimensional and bulk restrictions, and the construction configuration requirements. While it was more lax in the early years, over the century it has started to resemble the old dictum "everything not prohibited is compulsory and everything not compulsory is prohibited."

The Landmark Commission was created in the 70's which marks the begining of statists interfering in purely aesthethic planning. From this point forward, we can expect to see a new government agency, the sole purpose of which will be to render decisions of property aesthethics for non-landmarked neighborhoods or properties, perhaps to enforce the color you will be able to paint your home, regulating the species and allowable dimensions for your landscaping elements, what style of bathroom fixtures are permissible, and if we are very lucky, even the type of screws you will use to build said home.

Lest you think I'm exagerrating, I can assure you that there are many stato-masochists who are already clammering for a "Buildings Design Authority" to be established, and one may proceed to www.wirednewyork.com and search the forums for many such fine examples.

1 comment:

Don Robertson said...

Hi, "I'll Take Some of What He's Been Toking"-

Thought I post on your blog. How are things? Your "preview" buttom doesn't work.

"In any case, the avalanche-ish erosion of private property rights could be said to have begun with the Zoning act of 1926, in which the city got the idea that they have the right to dictate property usage types, dimensional and bulk restrictions, and the construction configuration requirements."

And nationwide that erosion has concluded by the blackmail of property taxes that make indentured servants of all. The power to tax is not just the power to destroy, it is the power to enslave.

George Washington was a real estate speculator, big time. There were incentive laws then that afforded new immigrants 660 acres of land in Virginia (which was geographically much bigger). Washington and his father before him made their massive fortune importing such immigrants, and transporting them over here for the cost of their plot grants and a few years indentured servitude. Of course there was no property tax then, and Washington's estate included tens of thousands of acres along the Potomac and beyond.

Even Lincoln almost a hundred years later rose to fame and political viability as an Indian eviction calvalry commander when he chased half starved BlackHawk Indians away for a second time from their ancestral lands. He got the votes of the settlers there for his herioc deed, for there were no property taxes then either.

Now, the manifest destiny of property rights has been transformed into an indentured servitude of the masses with property taxes that force their owners to work for the state, under laws dictating what kind of work they will do, and in what kind of buildings they might do it. The enslavement is complete.

I read yesterday, "NYC unemployment levels at historic record, 4.1%"

No wonder. All the modern Indians have been chased out there too, and no one can afford to live on that once-Indian land any more. It's all owned by coroporate conglomerates. And, I'll bet the incarceration rate of NYC residents is higher than the official unemployment rate. That's progress?

Yes! Such is progress, and the manifest destiny of the Dictatorship of the MarketPlace where in the government is the ruler, speculator and real estate mogul of last resort.

In these recent days I've been reading Ludwig von Mises "Human Action" as it was recommended to me by a Libertarian economist of that school. In reading it, as a lifelong businessman, I can assure everyone Mises never ran a business of his own, because his understanding of how a businesses work is so utterly meager where not even more utterly mistaken.

It's been a good read though, perspective from the past on what and where economists went so utterly wrong in the purportedly amoral application of their crude crafts of justification, rationalization and obscurication of the good life Jefferson envisioned for the invaders of these Indian lands.

I'd be willing to bet there has never been an economist that ever ran a business.

I'd be willing to give it all back to the Indians too, even as they would likely be justified in asking, Just what the hell was the point in coming here and trashing the place like this?

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
Precious Life - Empirical Knowledge
The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
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