Politics & Media
Jun 24, 2009, 12:21PM

Commoditize Everything

After he was mugged at gunpoint on Christmas Eve, Douglas Rushkoff posted about the incident on a Brooklyn neighborhood message board. The responses he received: How will this affect property values?

I got mugged on Christmas Eve.I was in front of my Brooklyn apartment house taking out the trash
when a man pulled a gun and told me to empty my pockets. I gave him
my money, wallet, and cell phone. But then—remembering some-
thing I’d seen in a movie about a hostage negotiator—I begged him to
let me keep my medical- insurance card. If I could humanize myself in
his perception, I figured, he’d be less likely to kill me.He accepted my argument about how hard it would be for me to get
“care” without it, and handed me back the card. Now it was us two
against the establishment, and we made something of a deal: in ex-
change for his mercy, I wasn’t to report him—even though I had
plainly seen his face. I agreed, and he ran off down the street. I fool-
ishly but steadfastly stood by my side of the bargain, however coerced
it may have been, for a few hours. As if I could have actually entered
into a binding contract at gunpoint.In the meantime, I posted a note about my strange and frightening
experience to the Park Slope Parents list—a rather crunchy Internet
community of moms, food co-op members, and other leftie types ded-
icated to the health and well- being of their families and their decid-
edly progressive, gentrifying neighborhood. It seemed the responsible
thing to do, and I suppose I also expected some expression of sympa-
thy and support.Amazingly, the very first two emails I received were from people
angrythat I had posted the name of the street on which the crime had
occurred. Didn’t I realize that this publicity could adversely affect all
of our property values? The “sellers’ market” was already difficult
enough! With a famous actor reportedly leaving the area for Manhat-
tan, does Brooklyn’s real- estate market need more bad press? And this
was beforethe real- estate crash.I was stunned. Had it really come to this? Did people care more
about the market value of their neighborhood than what was actually
taking place within it? Besides, it didn’t even make good business
sense to bury the issue. In the long run, an open and honest conversa-
tion about crime and how to prevent it should make the neighborhood
safer. Property values would go up in the end, not down. So these
homeowners were more concerned about the immediate liquidity of
their town houses than their long- term asset value—not to mention
the actual experience of living in them. And these were among the
wealthiest people in New York, who shouldn’t have to be worrying
about such things. What had happened to make them behave this way?It stopped me cold, and forced me to reassess my own long-held de-
sire to elevate myself from renter to owner. I stopped to think—
which, in the midst of an irrational real-estate craze, may not have
been the safest thing to do. Why, I wondered aloud on my blog, was I
struggling to make $4,500-per-month rent on a two- bedroom, fourth-
floor walk-up in this supposedly “hip” section of Brooklyn, when I
could just as easily get mugged somewhere else for a lot less per
month? Was my willingness to participate in this runaway market part
of the problem?The detectives who took my report drove the point home. One of
them drew a circle on a map of Brooklyn. “Inside this circle is where
the rich white people from Manhattan are moving. That’s the target
area. Hunting ground. Think about it from your mugger’s point of
view: quiet, tree-lined streets of row houses, each worth a million or
two, and inhabited by the rich people who displaced your family. Now,
you live in or around the projects just outside the circle. Where would
you go to mug someone?”Back on the World Wide Web, a friend of mine— ;another Park
Slope writer—made an open appeal for my family to stay in Brooklyn.
He saw “the Slope” as a mixed- use neighborhood now reaching the
“peak of livability” that the legendary urban anthropologist Jane
Jacobs idealized. He explained how all great neighborhoods go
through the same basic process: Some artists move into the only area
they can afford—a poor area with nothing to speak of. Eventually,
there are enough of them to open a gallery. People start coming to the
gallery in the evenings, creating demand for a coffeehouse nearby, and
so on. Slowly but surely, an artsy store or two and a clique of hipsters
“pioneer” the neighborhood until there’s significant sidewalk activity
late into the night, making it safer for successive waves of incoming
businesses and residents.Of course, after the city’s newspaper “discovers” the new trendy
neighborhood, the artists are joined and eventually replaced by in-
creasingly wealthy but decidedly less hip young professionals, lawyers,
and businesspeople—but hopefully not so many that the district com-
pletely loses its “flavor.” Investment increases, the district grows big-
ger, and everyone is happier and wealthier.


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