Patronage Plowing and Class Warfare

Yes sports fans, New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is showing his true colors as a liberal by….pointedly not plowing the Upper East Side.

But is this really an effective gesture to stick it to the 1%, or even the top 5% in Manhattan (which is a lot higher income than the top 5% elsewhere)?

From Gawker:


And classist plowing — which generally gets blamed on the Mayor, and which can be a problem in New York — there may very well be. Currently marked out in the yellow streets, which haven’t seen a plow in at least six to twelve hours — are the Upper East Side and SoHo.

Now since I live in the Upper East Side, and am at risk of having my views on this matter misinterpreted, a bit of disclosure is in order. I live all of a three minute walk from former Mayor Bloomberg’s residence. Bloomberg made a point of plowing his ‘hood well. For instance, in a late December 2010 storm, when Bloomberg was criticized for doing a crappy job of plowing after a blizzard, this is how his block looked:


The part that isn’t so evident from the pictures, and probably would not be yet operative in today’s plowing even if Bloomberg were still in charge (we were expected to get up to 14 inches of snow) is even though I can’t any corroborating information on the Internet, I am highly confident our former mayor trucked snow out. Even when you get plowed out pronto, those plows shove snow around, leading to big piles on the corners, where mere mortals on foot make footpaths through. In the old normal of the winters of the 1980s, that snow would hang around all winter, getting really dirty, melting a bit on the surface in the sun and then freezing. So on some corners you’d have treacherous footing much of the winter. There was a remarkable absence of said snow piles under Bloomberg (we must add that dumping snow in the river is an EPA violation, and I see a dearth of candidates for other places to have put it).

Note that the “big icky snow pile” problem hasn’t been much of a problem over the last 20 years due to warmer winters (less snow overall, and warmer temps between storms, so the snow would melt almost entirely between storms). So the Bloomberg trucking looked like serious overkill and a waste of taxpayer money.

So de Blasio’s repriorization of plowing was an long-overdue corrective, right?

Well, it’s not so simple. My sources in Queens say they got the same crappy plowing job they always get, and the guys in my building say the Bronx also got stepchild treatment. So this looks to be a juggling within Manhattan, not an inner v. outer borough revamp.

And the problem is that if he (or some of his staffers) intended to send a message to the Upper East Side, this poke in the eye might have offended the sensibilities of the high and mighty, but it discomfited ordinary people a lot more.

Now I actually had a surprisingly good time today. A flight to Dallas was rescheduled four times before I threw in the towel and moved the trip back to next week. But American did an admirable job each time, automatically rebooking me and the two times I did call, the maximum hold time was six minutes. So that wasn’t terribly stressful. And I was able to move something from next week to tomorrow, so that was fine.

That did mean I had to forage, so I put on snow booties, tons of layers and trundled out. I ran lots of errands and enjoyed the snow falling. So I was not inconvenienced in any way and got about fine (remember, if you are on foot, shoveling is a much bigger deal than plowing). But I did get to see conditions on the streets.

Now at around 1:00 PM, when maybe only 2-3 inches had fallen, there were 10 busses stopped on Lexington between 79th and 86th Streets, some double parked. At 79th, one bus had jackknifed at the corner, and 79th was closed. I also around then saw a bus stuck on Park (not its normal route) and 4 busses parked between 79th and 80th on Madison.

The point is that if the busses stopped moving in the Upper East Side, that shuts down those lines, which affects people all along those routes. And those people are not 1%ers and I’d hazard most 5%s take the bus only if they can’t walk or get a cab. I think someone realized what a mess this was causing, because I did see the Madison Avenue busses running again (I assume Lex too but that looked like it would take more work to restore).

We can probably stratify who is affected more granularly. The really rich may grouse but puhleeze. They for the most part live in doorman buildings and have drivers or car services. They can afford and have the closet space for finely gradated outerwear (as in coats and footwear for various combinations of temperature and inclemency). Many of them arrange to be in warmer climes for substantial portions of the winter, have service people like trainers come to them, and won’t lose points by turning in-person meetings into teleconferences. The same applies to many of the next tier rich (like the people who bought townhouses because the “good” co-ops on Fifth and Park would not take them).

So the people who are really inconvenienced are the working stiffs. That means professionals, Wall Street types, and even more so, the workers who commute into the Upper East Side (they have longer transit times to begin with), namely retail store employees, hospital workers, teachers. And of course potentially people in other neighborhoods to the extent the sort of bus problems I saw at 1 to 2 PM recurred.

In other words, the people at the very top of the food chain can insulate themselves from many of the downsides of the interconnectedness of urban life. The rest of us, not much or not at all.

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  1. psychohistorain

    I hope that everyone on the East coast stays safe through this latest storm.

    Here in Portland, OR we are having mild and sunny weather with lots of things blooming… January.

    And then there is California that instituted a drought alert, yesterday I believe, also in January.

  2. j gibbs

    Thanks for reminding me why I left Manhattan 25 years ago. Anybody who contends that rich people are smart will have to explain why those who don’t have to live there do.

    1. optimader

      Good for a couple years when your young, maybe not such a good place to grow old.
      Still an amusing place to visit maybe once a year, if for no other reason than to just to reinforce your justification for not living there.

    2. neo-realist

      Anybody who contends that rich people are smart will have to explain why those who don’t have to live there do.

      Rent Controlled Apartments? Which leaves enough $$$ for vacations, theater, and good restaurants.

  3. jjmacjohnson

    Well last year and the year before last my street in Brooklyn did not get plowed and the snow just had to melt for the streets to be cleared. We even had a police car stuck then abandoned for a while in the street. I think it is strange when folks complain about snow plowing being done ASAP. Even Upstate New York I have noticed in recent snow storms has let things go longer and less plowing. Places that usually keep the roads clear quickly. Could this also be budget related not just so called class related?

  4. dcb

    the reality is most of manhattan should be the last plowed. bus routes perhaps???
    you really can get around the city with mass transit, get to work, or get basics walking. those
    in the outer areas need to plow to often just get to the mass trasit area to be able to get to work. force ride shares at crossing, or keep cars out for a while. force mass transit use and increase schedules. it won’t do jamie dimon or lloyd (god’s work) blankfien any harm to suffer with those in mass transit evey once on a while

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Considering the nature of their jobs and the state of mass communication, one might conclude going to the office is merely an ego trip. The President of the United States doesn’t even need to commute.

      Since these firms largely deal with ownership of actual businesses which provide their real worth, one would think the best method would be to avoid NYC and see the actual operations. Of course, this would be assuming the FIRE sector was a healthy function of the economy instead of a cancer.

      1. optimader

        “Considering the nature of their jobs and the state of mass communication, one might conclude going to the office is merely an ego trip.”

        Wasn’t that the real 9/11 object lesson?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Buses are a really big part of mass transit here. We have not only busses within Manhattan but also express busses that go to the other boroughs. And people who are infirm need the busses even more, bus stops are much more densely spaced around the city than subway stops (and don’t require navigating anywhere near as many steps).

      Agreed the obvious thing to to is at least prioritize plowing along bus routes. But if you know the routes, you can see that didn’t happen per the map. You can see major avenues in the Upper East Side that were yellow as of the Gawker posting time (evening).

  5. garbagecat

    I’ve lived in western Queens for 20+ years. We typically get rotten plowing, often waiting three days or more to see a plow after the flakes stop. And, in the big Christmas storm a couple years ago, we were among the districts which observed sanitation crews with a bad case of blue flu, during contract negotiations with the city. Some streets nearby weren’t plowed for nearly two weeks. (Official report: no fault found with the union.)

    This time, mirabile dictu, we saw plows during and after the storm, and the streets here are in very fine shape.

    Did I mention that my locality is represented in the City Council by one of the early members of deBlasio’s Working Families Party?

    1. Ulysses

      No complaints from this Queens resident either!! :) I highly doubt there was any intentional screwing over of the poor beleaguered Upper East Siders. Rather, the limited resources of the city were deployed promptly all over the 5 boroughs in a way that the folks living all over the city appreciate very much– as a welcome change from the long years of Manhattan favoritism (not just in the matter of plowing!!) shown by ol’ Mayor Mike.

  6. Min

    “Bill de Blasio, is showing his true colors as a liberal by….pointedly not plowing the Upper East Side.”

    I know that Manhattan used to be farmland, but — Oh, you mean snowplowing!

    But seriously, how does being mean-spirited establish liberal bona fides?

    1. Min

      Oops! The rest of the article did not appear before I replied. Now it has. So please pardon my ignorance.

  7. susan the other

    Much the same kind of comment from my daughter. She comes from snow country – 12 feet plus. So snow in NYC was something she enjoyed. And the cold air. She said the only thing that was difficult in Manhattan was the corners and walking across, and sometimes in, the street, and sometimes the buses. No problem with the subway. Interesting that Bloomberg plowed his own street and may well have trucked away the snow to unknown places. I wish all problems could melt away so conveniently.

  8. diptherio

    When Harold Washington overcame all odds and was elected the first black mayor of Chicago, people asked him if he was going to neglect the parts of town that didn’t support him, like his supporter’s neighborhoods had been neglected by previous administrations. His response was something like, “We’re really gonna mess them up: we’re going to be fair to them. We’re going to be so fair to them they won’t know what to do.” Would that de Blasio we so enlightened.

    BTW, This American Life did a great show devoted to Harold Washington, which can be found here:

    1. alex morfesis

      there was only one harold…must have come from the planet “Cares/Ceres” because he was not your average politician…I was in a redneck part of town when Harold was accidented

      (funny how when you annoy the friends of Bill Ayers father by suggesting you are gonna privatize his daddys old utility how things can happen…not that having a daddy who is the head of a large utility could be of any help when you are a weatherman…oh yeah, i forget…just around when daddy took over ComEd, the government decides to drop charges against good old Bomber Bill…must be nice being a 1 percenter…)

      everyone in the bar knew what had happened…there was silence…and tears…then some old drunk in the corner raised a toast to celebrate the death of the “n”…but all he got was a couple of people telling him to “shut up old man”…one or two cried “why did the “n” have to go and die on us now…
      he had totally changed Chicago…for everyones good…he had neutered “the machine” to everyones benefit…but then he was gone…and those he left behind just went back to picking up the crumbs like they used to from the machine…only Lu Palmer kept trying…

  9. Ulysses

    My guess on the actual plowing (or lack thereof) here in NYC is that it had a lot more to do with the storm arriving hours earlier than the weather folks predicted than with anything else.

    1. Natas

      Yea, I don’t buy. The mayor of NYC is sitting around plotting the snow plow routes based on politics? This seems a little desperate, Fox News-esque, I would even say.

      And how exhausting, to feel the need to politicize every damned thing.

      1. bob

        I have to agree. Most of the people doing the work have enough to do before petty pol fights. It’s hard enough to do what needs to be done, there is little time for spite.

        What’s the answer? Get a pol in the middle to yell?

        There is nowhere for the snow to go. Do the math on the rent we should be charging some of the snowbanks. Take the per sqft value and measure away.

        This year seems different in that the snow storms are being followed by long, very cold spells. You have to have temps above 15F for salt to begin work to get rid of some of the bulk. The “bulk” of snow is the problem, it takes up much less space as water. It depends a lot of temp, but one inch of rain is about a foot of snow. The rain flows to the storm system on its own. The snow doesn’t.

        Yes, in years past it has been as cold, but not with the snow storm that preceded it. The cold usually settles in separate from the snow, and in reality makes snow much less likely. Clear, cold skies.

        Bottom line, it won’t get better until it gets warmer, no matter how much fuel they burn. They can push it around, but they can’t make it go away.

  10. FluffytheObeseCat

    I love the city. Truly. But……… the thought of the Upper East Side getting stiffed on behalf of Queens just fills me with pleasure. Twisted masses of splendid Schadenfreude.

    Still, he should have prioritized bus routes.

  11. YankeeFrank

    What surprises me is how crappy the sidewalk corners are in the city — aren’t the building owners required to shovel the sidewalks adjacent to their property? Don’t they realize the tenants need to cross the street? So why should the corners be blocked with snow when, given the property values of Manhattan real estate, there is no reason at all they can’t afford some burly youths with shovels to keep the pedestrian traffic moving.

    In the ‘burbs, and even in the Bronx, corner properties always made sure to provide clear walkways into the street at the corners. Something called property liability exposure… so what’s the deal with Manhattan?

  12. skippy

    Just one small observation – the snow and temps from weather events 20ish+ years ago happened on a different planet, these currant events, have to be observed in light of all the changes that has taken place since that time.

  13. Pat

    I saw a twittered photo from the UES during the snowstorm asking the Mayor what was going. The street had obviously been plowed once, you could see some black top but lots of slush/snow with tire tracks.

    I had to laugh. I live in another section of Manhattan on a major thoroughfare with major cross streets. That is what my street looks like in the middle of the storm every freakin’ time we have snow. Well except for that major one about five years ago. I swear nothing got plowed that year, there were even drifts in the middle of Eighth Avenue. The buses still manage to run up and down these streets easily with the level of plowing that was outraging that twitterer. Hell they managed to run during the one storm I mentioned, not well and with much sliding but they still ran.

    The East Side is just used to a level of plowing that none of the rest of us have had during the entire Bloomberg administration

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