31 March 2008

The "Go Back to Kansas" Argument

Who out there isn't thrilled with the pace and quality of overdevelopment in this City? OK, OK, quite a few. Now, who of you who just answered the first question in the affirmative are from Kansas?

Right. That's what I thought. Well, you may not know it, but there's a certain neo-con, knee-jerk, let-'em-build-the-fucking-crap contingent out there in Commentland who thinks you're all from Kansas. Or should be from there. Check out this comment on Curbed today by an Anonymous gentleman (yeah, could be a woman, but sounds like a man) who didn't like that some people didn't like the Trump Soho:

ooooh... scary! Makes you want to just pack up and flee to Kansas where they don't have any big bad skyscrapers to terrorize you. Gee, what evil new construction project should we demonize next, the Freedom Tower? Get over it - the story of Trump Soho is about as New York as it gets.

You'll see these on a regular basis on the real estate-based blogs, usually coming in defense of some crapitecture Scarano, Fischer, the Toll Brothers, Thor or some like-intentioned develo-raper is throwing up to blot out the noontime sun. Sometimes it's Nebraska, or Iowa or somesuch. But usually it's Kansas, which I guess is the anti-New York or the world. Kansas is apparently the place where skyscrapers aren't built, condos don't exist, ugly architecture is verboten and everything stays the same all the time, with nothing new ever built in anyone's backyard.

It's so funny to me. To comment-spewers like the above, New York is the last place a complainer should live. I always thought this burg was Mecca for complainers, and anathema for lemmings and sheep who roll over for any scheming muckamuck who comes along. But perhaps I'm wrong, and I should listen to the Kansas Tourist Board. Because I don't possess any of the qualities that they seemto think make up the perfect, prototypical New Yorker. Those qualities being:

*A dislike of attractive architecture.
*A contempt for history.
*A belief that to be a NIMBY is worse than anything, included serial murder, sedition and matricide.
*The knowledge that you should never call NIMBYs anything other than NIMBYs, because it's a funny-sounding word, sort of like Gumby, and I bet those NIBMYS feel embarrassed when they're called that. NIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY!! Ha! Got 'em again!
*A unshakable faith in the grand plans of rich men. They wouldn't be rich if they weren't smart, right? Right?
*A belief that the two most exciting things in the world are: to tear things down; to build bigger things in their place.
*A knowledge that preservationists are Luddites.
*That Luddites are Cavemen.
*That businessmen are cool.
*That Kansas isn't cool.
*That every neighborhood in New York City is a dump and needs saving.

Gosh. It only New York were populated by people like that, what a City we'd finally be.


Anonymous said...

Another characteristic: Knee-jerk hatred of all renters (often referred to as "bitter renters") and a fervent belief that all those living under rent control are losers who don't deserve to live here, despite the fact that most of them (myself included) were born here.

Anonymous said...

You seriously need to get a grip. You just don't get it do you? You have romanticized an era of life in New York that you we not even here to see for yourself. It's just wasn't that great back in the day.

Look, I like the idea of your blog, but you are the wrong person for the job. You write well - but you really don't understand what you are writing about.

New York is about change. It gets torn down and re-built every 30 years or so. That's just the way it is.

None of us own this city - we all rent. But the old signage you love so much was also accompanied by filth, crime and frequent race riots. You weren't here, so you just don't understand. Believe me, it's not worth turning back the clock in NY unless you were very, very rich.

I was here and so was both sides of my family (all went through Ellis Island in the 1910s and never left Manhattan). I've heard the old stories of the Lower East Side and Hell's Kitchen and I've lived through some major changes myself. Some of it sucks, and a lot of the new buildings are boring and were done on the cheap. I also miss my old middle class neighborhood in Manhattan which has been torn down and replaced with faceless chain stores.

But, I have hung in there, moved to Brooklyn and adapted to a different neighborhood (which is also changing). That's the reality.

This town is all about change, for good or bad. And having read your blog, you clearly fail to understand that simple fact of NYC life. Living here since 1988 does not give you the credibility to write about old New York. Neither does reading old Jimmy Breslin books. You had to have been here to truly understand the dirt and fear that hung over this town. It was all cleaned up by 1988 when you arrived. It caused everyone to leave in the 50/60s and lasted until the mid-eighties when much of that ugly, boxy housing stock went up, and strangely enough, people moved back.

If that is a problem for you, you are clearly not entitled to call yourself a New Yorker - and never will be.

And that's why you should move back to Kansas.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I'm not sure, NY Native, but I'm pretty sure you meant your comment as satire. Very subtle satire. If not, Thanks!—because you perfectly illustrated the point of my post.

Anonymous said...

It's not satire. You just are too close minded to understand truth. I have not illustrated your point at all. The true problem is that your understanding of old New Your probably came from what you saw at the movies, not the gritty and dangerous reality that some of us lived with.

I do not like cheap architecture, but it should not be dismissed wholesale by people who don't understand the total history. I do not like that Yankee Stadium is being torn down, but even that was not the original home of the Yankee's. I miss the Horn and Hardart automats, but in retrospect they were really unsanitary. The list goes on.

The point is you need to take the good with the bad because the overall progress is better than the past. That is the way it has been since the Dutch left town. Change is the engine of this city and is what makes it great. You take that away, and the city will stagnate and fall apart.

You have taken an extreme and unsupportable position based upon fallacy and fiction. You are going through your first major NYC shift, and that can be disturbing for any person who remembers an older version of the city. But, by the time you see the third or fourth change (if you are still here), then perhaps you might truly understand the real New York.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Now that I've given you the short answer, NY Native, I'm gonna give you the long one. Sorry, but you got my dander up.

Just because you were born here doesn't mean you understand the City better than other people; it just means you've lived here longer. And being here since 1988 may not mean much to you, but to the rest of the world if means 20 years, and 20 years is a long time no matter how you slice it. I'm not a native New Yorker, but I'm a New Yorker and I know plenty about the City and its history, certainly enough to offer commentary on what's going on today. In fact, I believe a person who has lived here one day has the right to speak up on whatever they feel.

I understand the City went through rough times in the past. I read the papers (And no, NYC wasn't thoroughly scrubbed up by 1988. I lived in Harlem, the Lower East Side and the East Village in my early years here and they were pretty dicey.) But how does that lead to the logistic jump that the signage and buildings and stores that existed back then are to blame, and should be torn down and replaced by ugly buildings that are not "guilty" or "grimy."

As for your argument about change being the nature of New York, I suggest you read my previous post on the hollowness of that knee-jerk defense. Things are the way they are, until people decide they should be another way. This isn't a fatalistic society. Sure some things will get torn down. But that doesn't mean they all SHOULD get torn down, or DESERVE to get torn down, or that the people doing the tearing have right on their side.

As for romanticizing New York—sure, I cop to it. The City is eminently romanticizable. How could anyone who's lived here their entire life not realize that? Haven't you noticed all the books, movies, plays, poems set here. Were all those artists fools? It wasn't all great, but a lot of it was pretty damn great! And a lot of what we have today is pretty damn dispiriting.

Finally, I never liked Jimmy Breslin.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

"You just are too close minded to understand truth"? Oh, baby! Please, sir, tell me the truth.

My understanding of NYC didn't come from the movies. It came from living here, just as yours did. And I don't understand your argument that I'm not permitted to condemn cheap architecture until I understand every scrap of New York history. Crap is crap and I'll call it so not matter what excuse they give for erecting it.

Please look up my post entitled "The Nature of New York Is Change" to see why I don't put much stock in your change=good arguments. Change can be good, yes. Change IS good, and always IS good--no.

Anonymous said...

I've been here all my life, too, born and raised, and I have to say that I don't necessarily like the changes that are happening in this city. The facts that BoS takes all this time to reminisce about our history is symbolic of how we wish we could actually afford to live here just a little bit longer. With all these hi-rise, hi-rent buildings, more of us are forced to live in boxes for double the price. It's no wonder why, even after we thought no more people could possibly live in NYC, the city's population jumps another few million: because they're forced to live with other people where on the same (adjusted) salary, they could afford to live by themselves.

Again, I don't glamorize my neighborhood at all, but I remember when people didn't almost literally run away from their birthplace because the rent got too scary. To prove that point, look at all the completed buildings that weren't there previously: they're 1/2 empty even with all the cush and pomp. As New Yorkers, we need to wonder what it means to be a real New Yorker in the face of that term "native" becoming less and less frequent ...

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Ah, yes, Jose, you've stumbled upon a potentially interesting argument: The Real New Yorker vs. The Native New Yorker. Are they one and the same? Are they two different species? Is it a case-by-case basis thing?

Anonymous said...

It's two different things; always will be. There's a commonality of experience and memory. Natives have a mental palimpsest (remember Alexander's? Korvette's? Jahn's? When Brighton wasn't Russian?) that a nonnative can never have.
I seem to know an extraordinary number of Minnesota transplants who have been here for many years; we share a great deal, but this city is in my blood and my bones in a way it can never ever be for them. If I moved to Minnesota, would I become a Minnesotan? No. (Oh, and if you go someplace called "home" for the holidays, forget it.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I was born in 1961 so I have very vivid memories of when the city was "scary". I am not nostalgic for the muggings, open air drug bazaars, and all that. And it's true that the city is always changing. But that doesn't mean that it is overly romantic to point out the places, people, businesses, and institutions that are cherished, wonderful, inspiring, and/or historic and now endangered or defunct. Or to recall the positive side of a less pro-development, big money driven, relentless drive to replace small-scale with humungo-scale, modest local businesses with chains, funky neighborhoods populated by folks of different income level with luxury, luxury, luxury! And ny native, it actually WAS great back in the day...IN SOME WAYS! Not everyone here is knee-jerk about old always being better than new. I, for one, do not miss the old Coliseum and think Time Warner Center is a much better use of the space. I DON'T think everything has to be preserved, but I'm definitely going to speak up when it comes to certain buildings and districts that can validly be said to be of unique architectural and/or historic interest. This shouldn't be used to protect the mundane; but I also believe that on the other side, eminent domain has been abused in many cases.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Well said, Carol.

William Christian said...

In addition to Carrol Gardens' statement - The city has been about change since the Dutch were here. It's remained one of the most dynamic cities on Earth, and it's buildings are all that remain through all of that change. That's why we have landmarks in the first place, so that people can have some sense of the history that binds all generations together, through good times and bad. As a NY native myself, I agree completely with Brooks' assessment that one need only be here for a year or two to feel the draw, pull, and character of this great city. With the destruction of certain (but not all) buildings, that character and uniqueness can be lost to all non-natives who come here. Leave the changes for Times Square!

Unknown said...

I would have to agree more with ny native. NYC is constantly changing. In some ways for the better and in others, not so much. I think the biggest change in my lifetime (born in 1960 and have lived in Manhattan until now) is the loss of a sense of community in many neighborhoods. New York is so expensive that there is little time for community. Most residents are high earning, dual income families (many from other places)that see NY as a place to make money and further careers. There is nothing wrong with that. People wanting to come here for career advancement and lifestyle helps to make NY the great city that it is. Same goes for recent arrivals to this country (many of whom take jobs in the service industry that has grown to meet the demand of the working rich). Many of these folks go on to be real NYers (wouldn't think of living anywhere else) and others go back home (and not just for holidays). The result is fewer real NYers willing to be a part of their communities.

On the bright side, I am seeing more kids being raised in Manhattan (including my own) and affordable education options are increasing. Maybe that will be enough to retain a middle class element here and maintain the neighborhood feel in certain locations.

As ny native said there is a lot about NY's relatively recent (70's/80's) past that is not worth romancing. Real danger in the streets, open air drug marts in virtually every Manhattan park, prostitutes working the streets in broad day light, lack of tolerance/poor race relations. Many of these ills have been erased or improved by our long term economic prosperity (currently threatened) and NY's physical changes that have risen with the tide.

Anonymous said...

Neil, can I have the stats indicating that most residents are part of a high-earning, dual-income couple?
In *some* parts of Manhattan, perhaps, and parts of near Brooklyn but, otherwise, I ain't buying it.

Queens Crapper said...

I was born and raised here during the height of the crime wave of the 1970s-1980s. Quality-of-life seemed to be at its best during the mid-to-late 1990s, when crime was low, rent was affordable for most, businesses were thriving and we weren't overrun with overdevelopment. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong. The city now ties its success to how many new building permits it issues and points to numbers from previous years to prove that we have an improved quality-of-life, which of course is ridiculous. Some developer building a piece of crap on my block is only adding strain to the infrastructure and making my quality-of-life worse, not better. No one bothered to make sure that the structures people cared about outside of Manhattan were preserved, and even what's in Manhattan is endangered. When they're planning to bulldoze an entire block in Greenwich Village and announcing this with confidence and a straight face, there is something fundamentally wrong. As for the native vs. non-native debate, if you didn't grow up here, you had a much different experience than those who did. It's not a bad or good thing, it's just different. Those who did grow up here will always share a bond and an understanding just as strangers who meet and find out they're from the same town outside of the city. But if you just moved here and did so because of all the shiny new buildings and make the argument that they should be allowed in areas where they never were before because change is inevitable, then be prepared to be chastised and laughed at.

Anonymous said...

Sure, let's do demonize the Freedom Tower, what a sickening name, you know it's going to be a through monstrosity. Short of rebuilding the original towers, there was only one good idea concerning their replacement and that was the Gaudi plan, and without that, let's face it, it gonna be horrible. I dread the erection of the Freedom Tower.

Anonymous said...

Queens, could not have put it better. I miss my city so much that it's like a constant toothache. My neighborhood used to be full of artists, writer, musicians, and working class families. Now it's full of shrill girls who think they are Carrie Bradshaw.