Saturday, September 30, 2017

New York City as Surrogate: Tracking America's Hyper-Gentrification One City at a Time


A contemporary syndrome not limited to examples like those found in San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle, where we've seen the upscale homogenization of what were once economically diverse, cultured, urban centers at the hands of the tech industry. Reading spanning a decade on this stratification of the American urban space, the corresponding accelerated retail marked and all the consequences therein, can be found in the pages of The New Yorker's "California Screaming", Bloomberg's "How Big Tech Swallowed Seattle: Two Tech Titans Made Billions and Remade the City. Is it Any Better Off?", NPR's "The Struggles Of Austin's Music Scene Mirror A Widened World", and The New York Times', "Dystopia & Backlash by the Bay: Tech Riches Alter a City". But it should be stressed that these effects and their source aren't just limited to the impact of the tech industry and its influence on the acceleration (and polarization) of the American city's communal and economic continuity. In a more expansive and broad sense, the 2008 recession created conditions which opened the way for the racially, culturally, and economically diverse urban centers of America's major cities to be replaced by upscale boutiques, luxury condo towers, and national chains. In the following decade these factors have largely remade modern urban life into a model of suburbanized luxury zone, with a price tag select few can afford. Mapping a single example of the accelerated "hyper-gentrification" of a city's often longstanding cultural and communal identity, Jeremiah Moss' "Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul", finds in NYC a graphic surrogate for many of the nation's other accelerated urban shifts.

Interviewed for the Village Voice in 2017, which “The Village Voice’s Magic Mirror“, is itself to come to a conclusion as one of New York's most influential and longstanding cultural institutions, "Jeremiah Moss Mourns the Loss of New York’s Soul". Ginia Bellafante's review framing Moss' work within the larger context of the city's two concurrent, humanitarian and cultural crises, "Tracking the Hyper-Gentrification of New York, One Lost Knish Place at a Time". As detailed in the below excerpt from The New York Times: "Bemoaning the changes that have plagued New York in recent years - the proliferation of $20 million apartments, the banks now on every corner visualizing the centrality of money to the city’s consciousness, the substitution of culinary virtue for a broader civic morality - has been an avocation for many people living in and around Manhattan for well over a decade. If you came of age in the city at any time from the earliest days of the Velvet Underground to the peak years of the Strokes, the conversion can feel acutely personal because the city that defined you belongs to history, and the one that has replaced it belongs to those on the winning side of its Darwinian economics - financiers who do what you don’t understand and real-estate businesses that build and displace with an impunity that remains all too clarifying."

"The 21st century has delivered two related crises, running concurrently: a humanitarian one, as Michael Greenberg, writing in The New York Review of Books recently described the housing emergencies that have left more than 60,000 homeless in New York and tens of thousands of others on the edge of vagrancy; and a cultural unraveling that has devalued, if not hostilely rejected, the significance of workers, bohemians and eccentrics (the struggling ones) to the city’s operating system. It is the second of these profound rearrangements that compels Jeremiah Moss, the pseudonym for a writer and psychoanalyst named Griffin Hansbury, "An Activist for New York’s Mom-and-Pop Shops", who has applied his formidable skill for vivisection to the various troubling outcomes. Ten years ago, he started a blog called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York that sought to record and investigate the closing of nearly every bar, luncheonette, florist, gas station, strip joint, bakery, knish place and so on that in the individual instance, and dramatically so in the amalgam, represents the razing of a foundational authenticity - the flattening of what, for so long, represented the city’s character."

"In the comparatively quaint days of the 1980s and ’90s, gentrification referred to the ways in which neighborhoods changed at the hands of largely well-meaning renovators who slowly remade their brownstones. Today we have “hyper-gentrification,” something far more insidious, and this is what concerns Moss most - the complicity between municipal government and big private money to reconfigure whole sections of a city, with dubious consequences, chief among them the ceding of space, goods and social currency from the ordinary classes to the ruling order. The phenomenon is best exemplified in the upending of the far West Side of Manhattan from Midtown on down, which Moss chronicles in rich, methodical detail. Twelve years ago, with the support of those who backed the High Line, the elevated rail track turned into a glistening public park (and a model for abandoned industrial land around the country), the city allowed property owners along the route to sell air rights. Those developers who paid for certain amenities to the park could build their towers even higher. Small businesses disappeared; ultraluxury condominiums followed, in some cases directly adjacent to public housing complexes whose residents lost many of the stores that serviced them. But the city’s mission was accomplished: a corridor to Hudson Yards, an entirely manufactured, high-end science-fiction neighborhood just north and under construction - “the cold artificial heart of new New York,” as he calls it" - was established." Photo credit: David George Brommer