Someone in the West Coast of Scotland is reading the wrong web sites. As if a visit by the Pope might not be divisive enough, somebody, with the best of intentions, has invited none other than Ex-New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani to address the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s International Awards dinner on 19 November 2010. I’d like to remind the powers-that-invite something my grandmother taught me years ago: Good intentions pave the road to hell. And, if anyone thinks Rudy’s ideas will do anything positive for Scotland and/or Glasgow, get ready for a lot of division, fire, and brimstone. I’m an expat New Yorker, I was forced to endure King G’s iron fist.
“Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it.” – Giuliani 1994
The last thing Scotland needs is misinformation from a mayor who arguably, had it not been for the fortunate PR boost from 9/11, would have left office the most hated mayor in New York City history. I witnessed first hand the deliberate unravelling of almost every shred of community fabric in New York’s five boroughs, at the behest of Rudy and his henchmen. As a result, rents went way up, private/small enterprise went out, and Corporate America trampled the pavements and a people that once produced greatness — from original art and music to innovative commerce. Now, even the hot dogs carts in Central Park are licensed, taxed and regulated to the point of extinction, in favor of McProgress.
Take for example, my own apartment which is located on East 13th Street, Manhattan. When I moved out, the rent was 574.00 per month. Now, it is going for around 2500.00. It seems a fair argument that my landlord, most certainly benefiting from Giuliani’s destabilization of the housing market, and weakening of housing enforcement, was able to skirt the rules and name his price.
Legally, Mr Landlord should have been only able to raise the rent 1/40th of the cost of a renovation. Surely, on some paperwork, buried somewhere deep within city hall, overlooked by inspectors, must be a construction receipt for a $75,000 renovation, right? But I find this hard to believe, as all my neighbours witnessed was a rushed paint job and quick move-in of some transient students. For a better-bigger picture, just look at the recent mess in areas known as Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan, where corporate jackal developers were allowed to concoct a shakey financing deal, and try to force ‘luxury living’ into very old community, while simultaneously forcing out existing tenants at every turn. It’s a nasty business which they’re still fighting over.
From around 1995, I watched as my local dry cleaners, grocers and landmark institutions shut one after another under the Giuliani ‘market-will-handle-everything’ wrecking ball. In their place? Corporate chains, banks, and restaurants which carpet-bag profits for shareholders who have no way of being a part of the communities their investments occupy and devastate. Scotland take note: the angels have been driven out, and Disney, Starbucks and Bank of America rush in where fools can’t afford to tread.
It’s no secret where Giuliani got his inspirations. The gruesome team of Fiorello Laguardia and Robert Moses left a long, controversial legacy of destroying neighborhoods. As ill-conceived as the UK housing schemes of the 1960s, Laguardia and Moses preceded in the 50s by laying waste to vast areas like the South Bronx, displacing tens of thousands of middle-class people and creating immediate slums, all in the name of an expressway and the almighty automobile. Moses was known for many debacles in the name of progress, all coated in corruption. Mayor Laguardia was his ambitious, willing enabler for much of it. Both were known as egotistical, media-seeking opportunists. Both are among Giuliani’s heros.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg continues the big-business fatheading of the Giuliani legacy. With the arrogance of a bailout-and-bonus-banker, Bloomberg spent his way into a third, illegal term in office – setting aside a clear decision on the part of voters to set term limits to a maximum of two. (Of course, setting aside elections and voters is nothing new now, see George W. Bush, round 1). The results? Your coffee will be served from Seattle, your local shops will give way to giant world banks. Now, in New York City, more attention is paid to building high rise buildings for transient rich people, and forcing baseball stadiums down the throats of New Yorkers than paying attention to the well being of their communties.
The slogan of Glasgow is ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’, not ‘Force Glasgow Corporate’, but if the powers of Scotland allow this and other cities to be led by the fallacy that is the Giuliani rationale – forcing is exactly what will happen. As for Glasgow, an urban area grappling with knife crime, sectarianism, abject poverty and a sheer lack of opportunities for many young people (despite alot of dedicated efforts) the very last thing that the city needs to do is take tips from a disgraced politician. Britain has its own Tony Blair, thank you very much. So, beware, beware and be wary of the devils that gunsling the word ‘gentrification’ and show little or no regard for those who will suffer from the collateral damage.
Take Merchant City in Glasgow, for example, where although signs of positive progress are evident, there are barely enough permanent residents to fill all the luxury apartments. Many of the upper floors of the buildings stand empty – space for perhaps some non-luxury people, creating a social mix where the culture could flourish and support the local businesses. As it stands, the area seems dangerously close to becoming a weekend-warrior booze barrio. All that is not needed are Disney shops, even higher rents, more coffee joints and nail salons.
I am no civil planner, but it does not take one to see that growing new, vibrant neighborhoods requires a delicate touch, with time to allow them to develop. The key ingredients: human beings who generate an autochthonous culture and subtle encouragement. Ingredients politicians like Rudolf Giuliani either don’t understand or treat with contempt and disdain.
But don’t take it from me, take a trip to what has become the overpriced, inaccessible (except to tourists and rich folks) city of New York. Speak to some middle-class locals who were there before the reign of King G, and ask what they think of the man who tried to be President. More than likely you’ll discover the real truth: Rudolf Giuliani did not “clean up New York” — a good economy under Bill Clinton did. The rest is just post-9/11 hot air, and corporate bullying that Scotland does not need.
“Families are significantly less important in the development of children today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Religion has less influence than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Communities don’t mean what they meant 30 or 40 years ago.” – Giuliani
Consider yourselves warned.
–Martin Belk, August 2010