How can we make downtown great again? In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of empty storefronts in many downtown areas.
Many North American cities have their fair share of empty skyscrapers. Even in small towns, main streets have become desolate wastelands, with, in some areas, crumbling buildings and overgrown weeds choking the pavement.
Our cities have become skeletons: empty storefronts and abandoned buildings like the bones of a long-dead beast. Many of us live in urban wastelands. Littered with the remnants of a bygone era. A hollowed-out downtown a haunting reminder of better days.
But why and how have our downtowns become like this? And what can we do to reverse it? What can we do to make downtown great again?
9 Reasons Your Downtown Sucks
To make downtown great again, we have to understand what went wrong. Why are there so many empty downtown storefronts in North American towns and cities? Here are nine possible reasons:
Competition from e-commerce: The rise of online shopping has led to decreased foot traffic and sales at brick-and-mortar stores.
Changing consumer behaviour: Consumers are increasingly seeking experiences over material goods and are spending more money on services such as travel and dining out.
Economic downturns: Economic recessions can decrease consumer spending, causing retailers to struggle and potentially close their doors.
Increase in rents: A rise in commercial rents, particularly in desirable downtown areas, can make it difficult for small businesses to afford to maintain a physical presence.
Shift towards experiential retail: The trend towards experiential retail, which includes entertainment and hospitality offerings, has led to a shift in the types of businesses that occupy storefronts, causing some spaces to become vacant.
Urbanization and migration patterns: Urbanization and changing migration patterns can lead to shifts in demographics and consumer spending patterns, affecting the viability of certain retail businesses in certain areas.
Technological advancements: Technology advancements have led to increased automation and efficiency in the retail industry, reducing the need for physical storefronts and potentially leading to closures.
Government policies: Government policies and regulations, such as property taxes and zoning laws, can impact the retail sector and contribute to the number of empty storefronts.
BlackRock and other large institutional investors have been acquiring significant amounts of real estate. Whether they’ve acquired commercial space in your downtown will depend on where you live. But if not BlackRock, then some other ESG-touting hedge fund.
BlackRock Owns Your Neighbourhood
If the idea of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund buying real estate and renting it out to the masses sounds dystopian, it’s because it is.
BlackRock is one of the largest investment companies in the world, managing over $10 trillion in assets. They have partnerships and investments with several large corporations. Including but not limited to:
Johnson & Johnson
Procter & Gamble
Whether residential or commercial, BlackRock and other large institutional investors have been acquiring significant amounts of real estate. There is nothing wrong with buying and selling property in a free market economy.
But this is not a free market economy. And neither BlackRock nor the companies listed above have come to their fortunes in a free, competitive system.
BlackRock has been adamant about “resetting” capitalism to further its goals. Which is, of course, an increase in their power and wealth under the guise of helping humanity and the climate.
This begs the question – if BlackRock is a fraudulent, crony-capitalist investment firm, do they have property rights over these empty downtown storefronts?
From a legal standpoint – yes, they do. But what’s legal isn’t always what’s lawful. Just ask North America’s Indigenous population forced into government-run boarding schools.
Which brings us to our solution: Land Back.
Make Downtown Great Again With the “Land Back” movement?
Some Indigenous people call for returning their traditional lands that European settlers took through colonization and displacement. This is known as the “Land Back” movement.
The movement seeks to empower Indigenous communities and restore their sovereignty over their lands and resources. It also focuses on the protection of sacred sites, the preservation of traditional ways of life, and the restoration of traditional governance structures.
Essentially, it is the resurgence of Indigenous culture and identity.
“You have to quit crying on the shoulder of the guy that stole your land,” Arthur Manuel used to say, one of the intellectual leaders of this movement.
Do you want to make downtown great again? Have the Land Back movement occupy BlackRock-owned real estate to assert their sovereignty over their traditional lands.
Of course, the Land Back movement is diverse, with different goals and tactics. Not all groups or individuals within the movement may agree with my approach here.
But hear me out.
Make Downtown Great Again: Is Occupying Land Justified?
Once in a while, an Indigenous-led demonstration will shut down roads, highways or infrastructure to make their voices and concerns heard.
(Although, in some cases, the protestors aren’t Indigenous but “woke” university students who will contradict what the local Indigenous leadership is saying).
Nevertheless, whenever these demonstrations occur, they often expose underlying biases. For example, there is a movement to build homes to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline from crossing into Secwepemc Territory.
Want the RCMP to destroy those homes but support the Freedom Convoy’s occupation of Ottawa? Check your premises. This is why it’s essential to read Rothbard.
Murray Rothbard was a prominent anarchist and proponent of the “Austrian” school of economics. According to his philosophy, occupying space and homesteading it is justified if the State currently owns it.
Rothbard believed that the State’s land ownership was illegitimate and that individuals should have the right to homestead unowned or abandoned land and property.
In Rothbard’s view, the State has no legitimate claim to property. But what about private property that results from “public-private partnerships” like BlackRock’s relationship with various North American governments?
(Or how private actors with the World Economic Forum have “penetrated” governments to advance their agenda).
Although he didn’t specifically write about occupying land owned by private corporations working in collaboration with the State, we can infer from his principles what his views might be.
That is, occupying land owned by a public-private partnership is legitimate if the person (or business) obtained the land through coercion or by violating property rights.
What About Legitimate Homesteaders?
As mentioned, there is a diversity of thought and belief within the Land Back movement. Rothbard says if you obtain the land through coercion, then it’s not really private property.
Ergo, BlackRock owns nothing.
However, the issue of land ownership and the treatment of Native Americans by European colonizers is complex and controversial. From a Rothbardian perspective, the theft of land from Native Americans would be considered a violation of property rights and an illegitimate form of acquisition.
Obviously, the historical treatment of Native Americans and the acquisition of their land by European settlers was often a violent process that was not always consistent with property rights and homesteading principles.
This results in ongoing disputes and tensions over land ownership and compensation in the present day. So what’s the solution? Well, in this context, we’re trying to make downtown great again, not resolve centuries of a complex conflict.
With that in mind, Ludwig von Mises writes,
Ownership in the market economy is no longer linked up with the remote origin of private property. Those events in a far-distant past, hidden in the darkness of primitive mankind’s history, are no longer of any concern for our day. For in an unhampered market society the consumers daily decide anew who should own and how much he should own. The consumers allot control of the means of production to those who know how to use them best for the satisfaction of the most urgent wants of the consumers. Only in a legal and formalistic sense can the owners be considered the successors of appropriators and expropriators. In fact, they are mandataries of the consumers, bound by the operation of the market to serve the consumers best. Under capitalism, private property is the consummation of the self-determination of the consumers.
Make Downtown Great Again
There is a belief among some Indigenous activists that they should “Shut Down Canada.” As in, block roads and critical infrastructure until the government meet their demands.
I have a better idea. Occupy empty storefronts that global hedge funds and developers own.
But this isn’t an occupation like a protest. This is more like the 4/20 Cannabis Farmer’s Protest in Vancouver. The demonstration is that Canada’s cannabis consumers can safely buy and sell weed without Big Brother watching over their shoulders.
Likewise, Indigenous people can occupy BlackRock-owned downtown empty spaces. They can “Shut Down Canada” by refusing to accept the authority of the Crown.
Imagine a small town where Indigenous-owned businesses now occupy the once-empty storefronts. Think of the possibilities:
The “Land Back” movement can “Shut Down Canada” by enticing Canadians to join them. Canadians fed up with the fascist system (for that’s what “public-private partnerships” are) can become honorary members of the local Indigenous tribe. Then they can take part in these low-cost, locally-sourced business ideas that encourage local artisan culture and environmental preservation.
They can trade in a currency that isn’t a fraudulent debt instrument. They can pay local taxes to a local Indigenous tribe instead of the centralized corporate State.
Whether your background is Native American, European, or whatever – we are not enemies. The enemy is the State and its minions, bootlickers, and enforcers.
If we are on the unceded territory of Indigenous people, then the Crown has no legitimate claim of authority.