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Creating The Most Desirable Address in the World (by Coen Nij Bijvank)

Datum:14 mei 2014

On Manhattan’s 57th Street, just south of Central Park, a huge building has been under construction over the past few years. With its 1004 feet (306 meters), One57 is the tallest residential structure in the Western hemisphere. The apartments in the skinny skyscraper are being sold for millions, with some of its penthouses bringing in nearly 100 million dollars – record prices for New York City.

The apartments are extremely spacious for New York standards (one penthouse is nearly 11,000 square foot in size), have all the facilities one could wish for, and offer great views on the city. However, all of this does not fully explain why the apartments’ price tags seem so ludicrous. The extremely high prices mostly come from what One57 signifies in relation to other sky-high residential buildings: it is even higher, offers a grander view, and its apartments have a more luxurious interior. Even though the differences are actually not very significant, the marketing of the building makes the differences seem highly significant and the building extremely desired.

In the PBS documentary, “The Billionaire Building,” the marketing and sales team behind the One57 apartments sheds light on the promotional language used to distinguish the building from similar luxurious skyscrapers. For instance, One57’s Director of Sales, Dan Tubb, says that “one thing about One57 that is entirely unique is our centered position on Central Park; it really sets the building apart.” Mr. Tubb also tries to convince viewers of the building’s unique grandeur by commenting on the use of marble in the apartment’s bathrooms, which he says “is in very large slabs, [which] really communicates a level of luxury in the design.” The producers of the documentary do not attempt to critically assess these statements; in fact, they themselves help strengthening the idea that the building is “more unique” and more luxurious than other skyscrapers, and thus extremely desirable. The documentary only features people who are involved with the marketing of One57, and even the presumably neutral commentator says that the view from the building “will be the most sought-after view in the city,” and the building will have “the most desirable address in the world,” without any evidence or experts supporting these arbitrary claims.

Some other residential projects attempt to attract the attention of the richest of the rich as well. In 2015, 432 Park Avenue will open, and it will be nearly 1400 feet (427 meter) high. In the near future, two similar residential buildings are planned to be constructed in the same vicinity, one of which will be the Nordstrom Tower, topping at 1424 feet. All four new high-rises will be promoted as unique and the most luxurious of all. Although the skyscrapers’ penthouses might indeed be highly desired by the earth’s richest, many not-so-rich New Yorkers actually oppose the plans to build various 1000+ feet buildings near Central Park. They argue the constructions will block sunlight in the park and negatively change the view on the iconic row of buildings aligned at the edge of the park. All of this just because a few billionaires would like to have marble bathrooms and a slightly better view.

Proponents of the projects, like businessman and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, counter that the city needs these extremely tall constructs “because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else,” by which he means that people who are going to live in the expensive apartments will pay tons of dollars in taxes from which the city’s residents will all benefit.

However, it remains unclear whether much tax money truly will be retrieved from the new billionaire apartments. As is the case in other extremely expensive houses, the new apartments near the south of Central Park might mostly be used for investment purposes. Indeed, real estate remains for many a relatively safe place to stock money, especially considering Manhattan apartment prices have been rising relatively fast over the past years. That means potential buyers have a major interest in One57’s marketing efforts, which lifts the prices by creating an idea of a high degree of luxury and uniqueness, ensuring high prices when the apartments are being resold after some years. Owners might not actually live in New York, using their expensive apartment merely as an investment. By officially residing elsewhere, they avoid paying city income taxes and pay comparatively low property taxes for these new luxury buildings.

This strengthens the underlying, fundamental criticism that New York’s skyline is being sold to plutocrats at the cost of the “99%.” Indeed, because of the fact that many of the luxurious apartments in the new skyscrapers will function merely as money storage, one could say the New York City skyline is modernized and elevated by and for the sake of capitalism. Despite this criticism, new, taller buildings will be erected in the near future. The Chrysler and Empire State Buildings were also criticized during their construction, but became icons afterwards. An essential part of New York’s identity is urban progress, especially to the sky, even though it is questionable whether New Yorkers actually benefit.

Coen Nij Bijvank is pursuing a Masters in American Studies at the University of Groningen. He recently interned in New York City at the U.S. correspondents’ office of RTL Nieuws, a Dutch television news service whose evening news is the second-most watched news broadcast in the Netherlands. Nij Bijvank worked as a Junior Producer assisting RTL’s New York correspondent, Erik Mouthaan, and his team with the editing and production of news stories for RTL’s television news broadcasts.