Wednesday, June 01, 2005

My City Was Gone

Tim and I had the walkin' jones this past weekend.

Not as bad as that time in Philadelphia when I dragged him on foot from South Street to the Museum of Art. He's never let me live that down. Some cities are made for walking. Like San Francisco, where just a couple of weeks ago we walked from the Castro down Market all the way to the old Mint (not that scary building looming over the Safeway) and then back up to the Eagle. Boy, did that first beer taste good! Even Provincetown is good for a decent hike on Commercial Street all the way back to Route 6.

New York is one of the great walking towns. We hit the both upper East & West sides this weekend, areas we rarely seem to travel to check out what was going on in the silk stocking and cotton sock districts.

This city is changing again. Perhaps we've lived through a long stagnant period without major architectural developments. New York has undergone building booms before. The 60's and 80's were rife with demolition of staid old landmarks, to be replaced by a multitude of spanking new towers, gleaming and otherwise. Most of this occurred in neighborhoods we didn't generally frequent, as a rule. But as more and more money is invested in this small island, all areas are fair game for development. Witness the mutation of Times Square from it's 100 year tradition as flesh purveyor to Disneyland manque.

I've lived in Manhattan since 1975. Prior to that, I was in school here from 1969 on. I've seen a whole lot of changes in 36 years. Often in my mind's eye, I will picture some locale, only to realize I'm imagining it as it was 20 years ago. After the plague years, it seemed to me that the city was a ghost town, haunted by spirits and times departed and gone. I've seen neighborhoods change and cultures vanish wholesale, all in the name of progress and profit. Consider this an elegy for the East Village, the Lower East Side, The Meatpacking District, even Chelsea. I've seen the Brooklyn I fled from decades ago become the hippest place on earth. Go figure! I'm currently watching our ancient stomping grounds, Christopher Street and it's environs beset by conquering hordes of heterosexuals, claiming it as their own, while the last few gay businesses hang on by their proverbial fingernails, press-on or otherwise. A hike through Hell's Kitchen is revealing many of the same signs of impending mall-dom.

I'd say I'm not a curmudgeon, or even a luddite, but that's just a downright lie. Things change. I generally don't like when they do. Lots and lots of people are just thrilled by the prospect of hundreds of new and oh-so-exciting clubs and restaurants and clever little shops in places where small businesses flourished and folks led quiet lives. Every generation gets the opportunity to look down it's nose at the ones that came before. Its a god-given right of passage. The neat thing is that there's yet another generation of young'uns breathing down their back as well. As Stephin Merritt says: "You think your youth a permanent truth". Ha.

I guess the real reason for this typically all-over-the-lot semi-rave is the fact that within a block and a half of my home, they're tearing down a 150 year old church and a 103 year old movie house. To be replaced by luxury condos and who knows, a new entrance to the NYU dorms, respectively. Both were amazing structures that lent this neighborhood much of its interest, if not charm. Newcomers will now have the benefit of living here minus the very things that made the area interesting.

New York was our abandoned playground; we were able to romp among the unpatrolled ruins of a great shadowy metropolis, all but ignored. Now its a corporate theme park.

Tim and I will just have to keep on walking.

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