Shiny Apple

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I haven't been back here in New York for 27 years. That's a long time.

And things have changed.

27 years ago this place was crap. It was my own personal vision of Hell. Everybody was angry, everybody was out to get you. Everybody had 5 locks on their doors. And needed them. The parks were dangerous: healthy and muscular young men like me feared to enter them in broad daylight. The economy was crap, people were exiting, and every census revealed this and other large American eastern cities to be losing yet another round of people and jobs.

Now, Central Park is covered with young mothers and their children. Every section ssems to have a new condo development being built. The Bowery no longer has its bums. Where did they go? I dunno. And where are those lines of creepy menacing weirdoes who used to sit by the hundreds in Grand Central Station. Likewise gone to parts unknown. Washington Square Park is full of students and yuppies watching professional-quality jazz bands at noon. For free. 27 years ago, one simply didn't go into Washington Square Park. The whole of Manhattan is brimming with people on the streets, people relaxed, people happy, people actually looking you in the eye and smiling. Women walking around at night in dark areas with nary a worry. Jesus! I seem to have landed in an urban version of Disneyland. It's fantastic! It really is. Statistically, it's now safer than any American big city. Safer than London, safer than Paris. And the suburbs contain Knucklehead instead of raging French neo-Jihadis who want to burn your car. Your choice.

What's the downside? Well, prices are higher than a cat's back. I'm spending $400/night at my "cheap" hotel. 27 years ago, that exceeded my budget for the entire summer. I just met Catherine Johnson and family for dinner at a lovely place directly behind the New York Public Library—and at $260 that single meal would have kept us going for ten weeks in Boulder.

Still, New York today seems to be safer and more interesting than any other place in the US today. The streets are akin to a huge ongoing unending party. There are little bits and pieces of street life in other American cities. There is (or was) the French Quarter, the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Pike Place Market in Seattle, a couple of blocks near Uptown in Minneapolis, parts of San Francisco and Chicago, Harvard Square in Cambridge, and of course the Pearl Stree Mall in Boulder, but mein Gott! this is a whole city full of this stuff. It goes on for block after block, mile after mile, better and more exciting than anything I've seen in any of those places listed, and I've visited them all in the last couple of years. Better multiplied by a hundred. It's like Schwabing in Munich, but without the provincialism.

Twenty-First-Century New York has retaken its rightful place as America's cultural capitol, retaken it with a vengeance. Maybe it will become the first successful capitol of the world after all. Save up your pennies and come take a look—while you still can.


brylun said...

Don't forget to see the World Trade Center memorial.

terrye said...

While we still can????

David Thomson said...

Few people have any interest whatsoever of visiting Buffalo, Albany, or Syracuse. New York City is essentially mooching off the rest of the state. Unemployment and economic distress is almost the norm for those living outside of our nation’s largest city. The state itself is almost financially destitute. Sooner or later, the stuff will hit the fan.

The citizens of New York City are mostly a bunch of silly liberals. Still, they had enough sense to vote for Rudy Giuliani. He saved their rear ends.

Eric Blair said...

Dave, where do you live? Not any place near New York state, obviously.

David Thomson said...

Many of my relatives still live in New York. I personally visited Watertown about seven years ago. The area is one step ahead of economic devastation. New York City generates few new private sector jobs. Most of the better ones are provided by the government. Lastly, my brother recently moved to Pennsylvania because of New York's high property taxes.

loner said...

I'm going to side with David here while advising all that the last time I was in New York City and state was in 2000.

New York City, or more particularly the island of Manhattan from Central Park south (the only occaision I had to go north was to take the subway up to Yankee Stadium so I don't really know if it's the whole island) is a wonderfully entertaining place and, as cities go, certainly had something of a renaissance during the past couple of decades, but then so have parts of other cities. Baltimore and Chicago come immediately to mind and one thing the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake certainly helped do (because one result of it was the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway) was revitalize some of the bayside areas of San Francisco.

In 2000, as I made my way across the United States on my journey back from the Philadelphia area to the Los Angeles area, I made a stop of a few days in Niagara Falls. I'd been told by people I worked with who'd come to the parts of New York along the Canadian border (the cable company I worked for served some of those areas) that the economy seemed to be permanently depressed there and Niagara Falls, the town, was easily the most depressing place I visited on my meandering month-long journey. Easily...and they have a tourist attraction! Maybe something has changed. Maybe.

truepeers said...

When I visited Manhattan, way back in 1999, the much talked-about revitalization was under way. But juxtaposed with the evident wealth and dynamism, were so many buildings on the Lower East side, in lower Manhattan, that were frankly derelict. I couldn't quite understand how world-leading rents could exist alongside squalor that hadn't yet been sent packing off the island. Obviously there is a need for all those wealthy people to have several times their number in low-paying service jobs near at hand. Still, I can't help but wonder if there is something fantastical and temporary in a social situation with such stark contrasts. ALong with the economic freedom there must be a lot of government and socialism keeping things pasted together.

chuck said...

were so many buildings on the Lower East side, in lower Manhattan, that were frankly derelict.

I knew some folks living in an apartment down there in the late 60's. The area was full of addicts and thieves, the entrance smelled of urine, rent control was in effect, and their rent was $15/mo. I don't know what rent control is like these days but I do know folks who have been paying the same $500/mo for thirty years while subway fare has gone from 15¢ to $1.50. In college I rented a room from an old French lady who had lived in her apartment on 113'th, just south of the Columbia campus, for many years and paid something like $20/mo. So I expect rent control has had a major affect on upkeep. New or remodeled apartments and condos get a fresh start, and this may drive new construction over the upkeep of old buildings whose owners would just as soon see them go away.

NYC Conservative said...

Thanks for the kind words about New York City. Yes, the place is crawling with liberals. Yes, we have bad neighborhoods, although fewer than pre-Guiliani. I would blame the economic problems of the rest of the state on the long history of incompetence and corruption in New York State government. Warts and all, New York City is one-of-a-kind, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Syl said...

New York City generates few new private sector jobs. Most of the better ones are provided by the government.


Look, it's obvious that people who don't live there are just as clueless about NYC as Manhattanites are about flyover America.

Maybe we should just leave it at that.

offworld said...

NYC is amazing. Definitely there is plenty of private sector. The private sector is so huge -- who do you think fills those office buildings? It boggles the mind to turn every corner and realize there are 100 businesses you never heard of eeking out a living, thriving and dying. I love NY. It makes me feel ALIVE. Maybe I will keep an apartment there someday. There is definitely a big part of leading edge culture that you just cannot get if you are not THERE.

Bird Dog said...

Yes, it is darn nice, isn't it? We have written about it. Give thanks to Rudy and Mike - they have done one heck of a job.

What a great city!