Youth Bombing: A New Strategy to Revive Our Downtown Districts

You can bet your last Bitcoin on it.


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illustraton by brian taylor; photograph by stefan Radtke

Call it youth bombing. It’s the latest strategy in the half-century-long battle to resuscitate Westchester’s cruddy downtown districts.

This isn’t haphazard. Youth bombing is the targeting of large swaths of decayed city acreage that is rezoned en masse and turned over to savvy developers who specialize in building high-density residential enclaves specifically tailored to attract lots and lots of Millennials — that coveted demographic of WiFi-connected hipsters. 

Build the dormitory-sized micro apartments and lofts within walking distance of a Metro-North train station; maybe throw in a fitness center and craft-beer joint — or a Starbucks! Next, create a marketing scheme around the concept of the New Hoboken or Brooklyn North, and before you can say “sriracha hot sauce,” an army of Millennials, with their skinny jeans, designer glasses, pet snakes, tattoos, iPhone 8s, backpacks, and bikes, will descend upon the urban landscape. 

The idea is to saturate, not pioneer. It’s the creation of a human ecosystem designed for the care and comfort of the Peter Pan generation, whose sheer numbers will overwhelm, sanitize, and revitalize tired business districts where nothing new or exciting has happened since, oh, about 1954.

That’s youth bombing, baby! You can bet your last Bitcoin on it.

With a population of 77,062, New Rochelle is the eighth-largest city in the state of New York, but a plan to youth bomb an 11-acre zone with 6,400 apartments — some of them in sky-piercing towers — could add as many as 11,400 new residents to the city’s downtown.

The Queen City’s Main Street used to be compared with Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue because it boasted three palatial movie theaters, a Bloomingdale’s, and an Arnold Constable department store. To the dismay of nostalgic old-timers, those days are long gone and will never come back.

But now the focus is on a new, futuristic New Rochelle — a haven so vibrant that people from Manhattan will want to come there. That’s the vision of Don Monti, the CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, who, in partnership with RXR Realty, is betting that he can unlock the city’s potential to become what he calls “the Sixth Borough.”

“It could be the hottest, hottest place,” says Monti.

Phone booths have no place in this brave new world. According to Mayor Noam Bramson of New Rochelle, the city’s future will embrace Verizon’s Palo, a 13-foot-tall WiFi kiosk that provides Web access and spews instant info on everything near and dear to Millennial folk — stuff like train schedules, maps, and restaurant listings. Twenty-four Palos are planned at street locations all over the city, ushering in what Bramson calls an era of “next-generation technology…that will help make New Rochelle the smartest, most-connected city in the region.”

Here’s a new one for the next generation: hipsturbia. No, it’s not a joint disease, but a neologism coined by a New York Times writer to describe the ongoing transformation of Larkin Plaza in downtown Yonkers. In the 1980s, the plaza was a desolate place frequented by sad souls who had a tendency to fall (or jump) into the Hudson River. Even the seagulls were depressed.

The Herald Statesman’s newspaper offices were across from the train-station parking lot, a dismal collection point for colorful characters. Back in the day, a Statesman reporter by the name of Archie Wilson wrote a classic piece, titled “Mother Was a Hooker,” about a prostitute who plied her ancient trade in Larkin Plaza. 

If you had fallen asleep in the last century and were awakened by the sound of jackhammers, you wouldn’t recognize Larkin Plaza today. Mayor Mike Spano claims Yonkers is only one of only three cities in the state to be named a “top city for Millennials.” For instance, the old Otis Elevator plant has been repurposed as a modern Millennial den of lofts and micro-apartments. The building is dubbed Uno, which, like the aforementioned Palo, is about as Millennial as it gets. 

By the way, the four-story newspaper building still stands — though it closed shop in 1988. Offices occupy the place now.

Not long ago, I went over there and encountered a young man with wires hanging from his ears.

I asked him: “Ever hear of the Herald Statesman?”

“Harold who?” he replied.

Never mind.  


The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think: email edit@westchestermagazine.com

 

 

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