Lately, it seems that real estate is on everyone’s mind — which is saying a lot when you consider that New Yorkers are usually beset by worries/hopes/dreams/vexations about their apartments. With so little space, so many people, such high prices, how can it be otherwise?
First, in his State of the City address earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio spoke of a plan to create 200,000 affordable apartments in the next 10 years. These low-to middle-income apartments are expected to house up to half a million New Yorkers, a decent percent of the city’s total population. It’s not clear how the housing plan is to be implemented, and there will be strong opposition from many quarters, but the idea brings tantalizing visions of New York as it was not long ago — full of ambitious but ordinary people, neither very rich nor very poor.
Soon afterwards, the New York Times published an investigative report on the owners of some of the most expensive real estate in the city. By perverse contemporary aesthetics, the highest prices buy nondescript cavernous apartments in glass towers aspiring to the condition of obelisks. Because lax laws permit buyers to remain anonymous, the Times reporters had a hard time establishing the identity of the owners. It turned out that while some of the owners are wealthy as a result of legitimate professional talents, others are kleptocrats and oligarchs, many of them foreigners who’ve illegally amassed fortunes in their own countries. In effect, then, these super luxurious condominiums are a form of a safe deposit box or Swiss bank account, a place for stashing loot, and are rarely, if ever, occupied. Who, after all, lives in a bank vault?
While we contemplate the unjust disparity between those who wastefully colonize the center of the city and the rest of us squeezed into the peripheries, it’s good to hear that some vacant New York real estate is being put to good use. The Audubon Society reports that a pair of bald eagles have been seen building a nest on an uninhabited island near Staten Island. For years now, Haliaeetus leucocephalus has been living and breeding in NY State, but it’s been a century since a nesting pair has settled in the city.
The bald eagle is, of course, our national symbol, and a magnificent sight, especially during his astonishing courtship ritual (recall Andrew Marvell’s amorous birds of prey tearing through the iron gates of life). In other regards, however, the bald eagle is perhaps not so admirable. He’s a predator as well as a scavenger and thief who steals other bird’s prey right out from under them. In that sense, the bald eagle is not unlike some of the owners of glass box condominiums. His address too will not be publicly disclosed. But unlike them, Haliaeetus leucocephalus is welcome in our city.