The Inequality Between Business Improvement Districts of New York City


Business Improvement Districts are held all over New York City yet the reasons for their creation and outcomes after creation vary greatly.  These two videos promote the establishment of BID’s in two separate parts of New York City, one in Chelsea and the other in Harlem, showing great contrast between BID’s throughout the city.

The first video is a promotion video of the Meatpacking District which demonstrates Sharon Zukins’ point on the effects that private corporations have on public space.  The businesses taking part of the BID are all wealthy designers, investment bankers, tech moguls and can be considered, under Richard Floridia’s terms, as the “creative class.”  The video promotes the Meatpacking District as the new public destination for New Yorkers to enjoy the culture New York City has to offer.  What’s missing from this video is what went missing as well when Union Square became a public-private partnership, the meaning of a true public space.  Although the video boasts about public attractions and open space for leisure, the “entire” public of New York City is not included.  Zukin often mentions that the true meaning of a public space is one in which people from all classes inhabit the same space and interact, including the homeless.  This video promotes an elitist city, with shots of people who seem like they have enough money to spend on the luxuries the Meatpacking District has to offer.  The businesses in the Meatpacking BID also mention that they are happy what the BID is doing not only for business but also residential life.  However, the Meatpacking district is no longer, “zoned for residences” (Mooney) and its main purpose is to feed to the night-life indulgences of New Yorkers.

This makes one think whether all BID’s in New York City turn the rich parts of the city even richer and for the sole benefit of large corporations.  However, this is not totally the case and is seen in the second video where Harlem’s 125th BID was created in an attempt to fix the food desert Harlem was experiencing.  Harlem has long been neglected by the public and private businesses who did not see Harlem as a place worth investing their money.  Grocery stores were not willing to open in Harlem from fear of a lack of a market for their goods.  This left the residents of Harlem with unhealthy food choices comprised of chain, fast food restaurants around their neighborhood and the nearest Costco accessible only by automobile or long transit rides.  Barbara Askins, the CEO of the 125th BID talks about how the creation of 125th into a Business Improvement District has only helped fix Harlem’s most pressing problem.  Now 125th street is the heart of Harlem and new businesses including various grocery stores have opened up in the area.

The BID in Harlem has solved a pressing problem and brought attention to a long-time neglected part of New York City yet the difference of the purpose of the BID’s between Harlem and the Meatpacking District is heavily apparent and is due to what Sharon Zukin identifies in her book, The Naked City, as the inequality between BID’s.  Zukin states that, “BID’s in areas of the city with high values can raise more revenue and carry out more ambitious programs than BID’s in poor areas.”  This is seen between the Meatpacking BID and Harlem BID which are both on opposite ends of class spectrum and neighborhood needs and clearly accomplish different things, one accomplishing luxury while the other satisfying a basic human need.   In this way, BID’s can neither be seen as good nor bad but certainly unequal.

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