An inquiry on Love, Architecture and Ownership by Jana Leo
New York-Madrid 2007-09
...The transformation of “I love New York” into “I condo New York” reflects a cynical form of disbelief. For some people to love something is to conquer it. New York is dominated by developers who build icons rather than homes. For a house to be home, it must be easy to leave and easy to return to. If the house were to empower a person, providing both freedom and roots and not just as a convenient image of freedom and roots, then the regulations for constructing and trading real estate would strongly prioritize values such as attachment and mobility over profit. On a practical level, if the house were considered a real vehicle for a dream it wouldn’t be treated as just another product exchangeable by the laws of the market. The house is in fact a priority product in the economy, for developers, for contractors and for real estate agents.
...Condos are a very common form of property used as resorts for retired people who don’t want to be bothered to put any work into the house (or to take care of any “stuff”). The fact that they began for the retired couples and have been extended to the general population, but especially to young couples, suggests a young couple inhabiting a condo may, in reality, already be retiring from life. This is the way a condo is advertised: <<“Gotten to the point where you just can't keep up with maintaining that single family home? Or maybe your lifestyle is so busy and exciting there's no room in your life for all that stuff. Condo or co-op? What's the difference? By Wayne Grover • Bankrate.comhttp://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/real-estate/condos1.asp July 2003>> Some residents of condos are single-family owners, returning to the city, or conquering it for the first time. In the case of New York, retirees who left when the crime rate was up and the city was dangerous and also threatening to their moral standards are coming back to the rich areas of Manhattan, such as Lincoln Center or Central Park. In less spectacular or even marginal locations, for instance Harlem, the condo is presented as more affordable than a single family house. These condo residents are family oriented, people that otherwise would be living in single family homes in New Jersey or Connecticut and now live in the city. But the bulk of condo residents are made up of potential suburban single-family homeowners, living as domestic partners or recently engaged, who see the city as a place for work and entertainment (as opposed to a place for change). These condo dwellers go to the more scenic locations such as Williamsburg or Long Island City next to the riverside with a view of Manhattan.
The “L” Line. The “L” stands for Love under control. Construction happens everywhere in New York but more intensively along the “L” subway line. Crossing Manhattan horizontally, from the Meat market to Stuyvesant, the “L” line continues to Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. The Meat Market district was once was a zone for sex: sleazy bars, the dark side, a place to pick up guys, high sexual activity, transvestites and prostitution. This area was badly hit by the AIDS epidemic. Uptown of the Meat Market, Chelsea was inhabited by galleries and now by condos and even romantic parks like The Highline; the artists were pushed to Williamsburg around Bedford Avenue, and years later the condos have been pushed there too. The character of the artistic lifestyle and the edgy night life has disappeared. The “L” line is the only route on the subway map that has no color. It is in black white, grey.
The suburbanization of the city. New York, once a city of singles, is suddenly full of couples living together in a new kind of building: the condo. This can be only explained by the suburbanization of the city. The values of the suburbs and the architecture style of the suburbs are translated to the city. In some cases the translation is literally a vertical suburbia. Not a real suburban life but an idealized one: teen-agers reading magazines on the lawn, barbeques, and happy couples. A party-like appearance is imposed on the condo, just as it is over suburban homes, as a need to convince the tenants to think they are in a party place when in fact they live in isolation. The image of the fifties American house wife, perfectly made up, waiting in her apron on for her husband to come home, surrounded by the latest time-saving appliances and stainless steel cookware and filling the shaker with ice in preparation for the evenings cocktails, goes hand in hand with the agoraphobia and depression of the suburbs. The couple who lives in the condo is not only in love but living in an eternal honeymoon. It is not only a celebration of love but also a triumph of the couple as an icon of happiness.
These couples can drink champagne and make love with a view of Manhattan. But in order for these couples to have their view, the building has been erected as a screen blocking the views of neighbors and visitors. Unlike single-family houses that have a symbolic barrier, or other forms of gated communities that have a fence, the condo building is in itself a fence. The residents live in icons, thinking of themselves as work-hard-play-hard types, Wall-Street insiders, aggressive and young, who willing inhabit a wall.