Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My kind of town

Getting this blog back on track (at least the one spelled out in the banner), here is an interesting article on the urban experience, specifically on New York City, a place I have woefully neglected in the three years I've been writing this blog.

Ostensibly a piece focusing on her recommendation of five books on New York, author and talkshow guest, Fran Lebowitz provides an insight into the city, what it has been, and three recent events that changed it. New York has always been a refuge from the stifling mores and values of Anyotherplace, USA. The freedom it afforded its inhabitants inspired a cultural environment unparalleled in this country. The AIDS epidemic wiped out not only a significant proportion of the city's cultural elite, but also in Lebowitz's words, many of the consumers of that culture. In addition to the obvious horrors of 9/11, Lebowitz considers a lasting legacy to be the acceptance of New Yorkers (and the rest of America) of giving up their personal liberties in the name of security. And the administration of Mayor Bloomberg according to Lebowitz has gone to great lengths to turn the city into Anyotherplace, or at least a place that people from Anyotherplace would want to flock to.

It's hard for me to believe that the New York City of the 1990s (the decade where I spent the most time there), as portrayed in the novel Cheap Novelties by Ben Katchor, is now a bygone era.

Lebowitz is known for her mastery of the snappy one-liner and this article does not disappoint, here she channels the late Henny Youngman:
I said directly to Michael Bloomberg, “You know what sitting around in bars and restaurants, talking and smoking and drinking, is called, Mike?” He said, “What?” I said, “It’s called the history of art.”
One liner after another she hits the nail on the head about the urban experience, here she sounds a little like Jane Jacobs:
Density creates that (intellectual) dynamic. You don’t get that in Los Angeles, I don’t care who claims it. I don’t care how many rich people build museums in LA. To me, it’s not a city if people spend half their day in a car.
In the end, Lebowitz sees New York as tremendously resilient and the changes, temporary:
What is immutable about New York is that it’s always changing and it’s relatively hard to live here – relative to the places where people drive from mall to country club. It’s expensive, it’s not necessarily clean and you have to walk. So I think, in the end, the people who will be in New York are the people who deserve to be here – people like me.

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