Comments: Week of July 31, 2023


“New Glut City,” July 17–30

Cover Story

For New York’s latest cover story, ­Andrew Rice investigated the post-pandemic real-estate panic that’s causing megalandlords to sell off their commercial properties. ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis said it was “deeply reported” and “definitive,” while Rob Schwartz, the founder of ad agency TBWA, called the article “clarifying, insightful, and sobering … We need to radically rethink the city.” “If you had told someone five years ago that Manhattan office buildings would be considered ‘worthless,’ ” TV writer Julie Bush noted, “no one would have believed you. You’d be thought insane.” Journalist Helen Barrett highlighted how “one developer told New Yorkers it was their ‘civic responsibility’ to get back to the office—that’s the level of market desperation.” Many readers engaged with the complicated proposition of converting unwanted office towers into residential space to alleviate the city’s housing crisis. Podcast producer Josh Richmond said the story illustrated “why ‘Just build tons of market-rate housing’ isn’t enough. Once you build an office complex or luxury apt you can’t snap your fingers and turn it into affordable housing when the market changes.” In a letter to New York, the New School economist Richard McGahey wrote, “We do face ­major risks, but those can be mitigated by quickly enacting sensible adjustment policies. Those empty offices—and the land they sit on—have value, and we need aggressive policies for converting offices to residential and other uses. The city’s complex real estate processes must be simplified and progressives should support this without linkage to other important goals (such as rent regulation and evictions).” In another letter to New York, Sumathy Kumar, an organizer at Housing Justice for All and the former co-chair of the New York City branch of Democratic Socialists for America, countered that this is precisely the time to push for broader reforms. “Office conversions are neither easy nor cheap,” Kumar wrote. “It’s time to look beyond profit-driven real estate developers for solutions. We need a robust plan to tackle New York’s housing crisis—a plan driven by tenants and homeless New Yorkers. That means a real commitment to creating truly affordable, resident-controlled social housing. And it means passing universal rent control and robust eviction protections to stop the ­unwarranted evictions and rent hikes ­driving New Yorkers out of their homes today.” In the Washington Post, Justin Fox challenged Rice’s apocalyptic framing. “The gloomy view of the Manhattan office market is not wrong,” Fox wrote. “It’s just that Manhattan’s challenges are far from unique, and it has recently shown signs of life that other cities have not. Its office vacancy rate, for example, isn’t all that far above the national rate of 19.2% and trails not only obvious problem cases San Francisco (27.1%) and Chicago (23.8%) but also Phoenix (26.1%), Houston (25.2%), Austin (25%), Atlanta (23.2%) and Salt Lake City (22.5%).” And on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Lehrer observed that the city’s commercial real-estate sector has been in a seemingly apocalyptic state several times before, including in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. “Each time people asked, ‘Is New York over?’ Some people thought it was and then it turned out not to be.”


“Sperm Fever”

Simon van Zuylen-Wood charted the business opportunities and strange politics created by a global decline in male fertility. “Jaw dropping,” said @OfHomoSapiens. “Sperm is in the zeitgeist,” tweeted Lauren Berson Sugarman, the CEO of Conceive, a fertility start-up. Noting the very online, fringe political figures in the article, commenter tigersatthezoo wrote, “This whole thing is wild. The Raw Egg guys and the Q-Anon yoga moms are taking over everything.” But @CdnInfluence felt van Zuylen-Wood wasn’t critical enough of some of the personalities’ right-wing politics. “This article just flat-out takes extreme white nationalists’ and eugenicists’ rebranding as ‘pronatalists’ at face value,” they said. “There was almost no real ­critical inspection of these individuals.” And fertility doctor Neel Shah wrote, “Male fertility deserves more attention but exploiting toxic political tropes and male anxiety to make money is highly problematic.” He added that the story “gets the politics right but implies (­inadvertently?) that women in the U.S. and Germany are having 1-2 children due to declining sperm count rather than ­contraception access or female empowerment.”

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Comments: Week of July 31, 2023