Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New Yorker Lessons from the Sociologists

Judith Regan, the undisputed queen of come-backs and a powerhouse in anyone's right, wrote a short article for The Hollywood Reporter yesterday (which I read today) and it caught my eye for many reasons. For starters, Regan is someone I always pay attention to because she's one sharp lady. I might say she's my Faith Popcorn when it comes to media matters, major hitters and publishing. I like reading her perspective and her no-holds-barred discourse on all of it. Lady, you sure do have your share of moxy.

New York ain't what it used to be, Regan writes, and I must, as a native New Yorker, have to agree with her. The changes have been fast and furious and I recently decided I don't really like it much anymore. Not that it's lost its luster as a diamond among the world's cities.  New York City has wrapped itself in so much artifice and banter, comme the nouveau riche, that it's like one of those tacky Statue of Liberty hats they sell in the Broadway tourist traps.

I suppose I sound like one of Edith Wharton's characters from "Age of Innocence." No, I don't know that I need a silver knife to cut a cucumber, but I do know kitsch when I see it or hear the verbal equivalent of it. How do those housewives manage to keep all that stunning discussion going? Quite marvelous.

Regan bemoans the lose of affordable housing for the New York-bound, starry-eyed young adults who come to make their fortune in this fabled Oz of sorts. Now, she writes, they have to settle for a crash pad in Queens, of all places.

Well, Queens was never really that bad, Judith. I grew up there. I only knew the reputation Queens had for those who were confined to the urban areas of Brooklyn when I attended an out-of-town seminar. "Oh, Queens," the woman said, "my husband said that was where the people with money lived. He lived in Brooklyn." Not really, madam, because Queens was always a mix of the wealthy (think Jamaica Estates and Forest Hills Gardens) and those in cold-water flats. I imagine it still is as the property developers encroach on gritty Long Island City, Astoria and its environs. The seamy waterfront is now becoming swell for the newcomers.

Thinking back on courses I took in college on sociology, I can see what Louis Wirth, Max Weber and others envisioned as the concentric ring arrangement in cities. The city, by virtue of its size and population, sorted itself out into rings which were populated by groups in terms of income and culture. The central portion was retained by the wealthy and the trapped poor who lived in communal pockets.

Now, if you look at New York City development, you will see that former dense communities of ethnics and the artistic have been demolished in favor of the absentee, very wealthy owners. What they bring to the city isn't community but a lack of it. How much connection can there be when the tenants don't tenant? It creates empty streets and social disconnection. Have they created a new urban ghetto only, this time, one exclusively for the new-rich?

No wonder you've grown disillusioned with NYC, Judith, because it sure has changed and even the poor and abandoned are having a hard time of it. There was a time in NYC's life when free showers were available for all but I suppose the one near Bellevue Hospital has been demolished.

I still remember walking by that squat, granite structure and wondering who bathed there. Did anyone still use it or know of its existence? I had no idea. I walked by the bakery/restaurant on First Avenue (long gone) and thought it was a wonderful combination of commercial ventures. Now entrepreneurs in the city have rediscovered this type of eatery for the foodies now so prevalent.

I have to agree with you, Judith, the City sure has changed. But I don't know if the factory town of Los Angeles is that much better as I imagine it, too, is being gobbled up by the One Percenters. And so it goes.