Monday, July 26, 2010
"New York? The whole damn place has been turned into a suburb," sneered David Harvey, startling a roomful of New Yorkers who prided themselves on the same things he derided: the makeover of the city's parks; the new network of bike lanes; the pedestrian malls along Broadway. "The feel of the city is losing its urbanity and being made okay for suburbanites to enjoy Times Square," he continued, going on to condemn New York's gentrification not on aesthetic or nostalgic grounds, but for being at the root of the financial crisis.
Harvey is merely putting into Marxist terms the same laments offered recently by Patti Smith ("New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling... So my advice is: Find a new city") and the anonymous blogger behind Lost City, who viciously described Bloomberg's city as "homogenous, anodyne, whitewashed, suburban, toothless, chain-store-ridden, ordinary, exclusive and terribly, terribly expensive. A town for tourists and the upper 2%."
While I personally do not subscribe to Harvey's ideas, they do provide a thought-provoking (or maybe just provocative) frame in which to consider the trend toward urban gentrification in some of America's largest cities. After all, it was not long ago that places like Times Square or large chunks of D.C. were largely abandoned and crime-ridden.
In many respects, the revitalization of these areas has produced good results like increased safety and revenue for cities. Indeed, just last month I spent a wonderful evening in Bryant Park reading a book, dining, and relaxing in that near perfectly formed public space. In that park's relative recent history, this would have been a dicey thing to do. Clearly, the revitalization of places like Bryant Park has been useful and good things on many levels.
But, if you're David Harvey, the likely retort is "At what cost?"
--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.