I went to the Festival of Ideas to find out what the (mostly) young New Yorkers of today hope for the New York of the future.
So far, the city of tomorrow looks a lot like college life in the Pacific Northwest. It also looks a lot like hipster and brownstone Brooklyn. Which is to say there will be a big emphasis on bicycling, artisanal everything, knitting, gardening, kombucha, and making "no-food processor pesto with park-foraged dandelion and rooftop-grown arugula."
One idea was to make smoothies with a blender powered by a bicycle. Another idea was to turn the subway into a green market complete with amenities like aromatherapy, massage chairs, free wi-fi, and baby-friendly breast-feeding stations.
Much of the Festival of Ideas was given over to foodism, with "Food Tarot" readings and food porn--literally, in one case, as a "peep booth" peeped onto a computer monitor showing videos of cooking food. As usual, tons of people waited in lines for Brooklyn-branded beverages and other edibles.
A popsicle artisan was shaving a big block of ice to make icees flavored with Bartlett pear and other syrups. Passersby marveled aloud at what they seemed to think was a rare and antiquated craft. Of course, on any warm day on the Lower East Side, plenty of local men and women push their carts through the streets, loaded with syrup bottles and big blocks of ice they shave by hand. They don't display antique ice hooks, though, and none of their flavors include basil.
But the idea that most grabbed my attention was Tentstop, "an urban, portable campground facility for NYC." Turning the city into a big campground, Tentstop imagines people sleeping in tents in Central Park and on the streets, sitting around handmade fires, swimming in Dumpsters, and "foraging" at local bodegas. This was once simply called "Homelessness."
"New York Is a Friendly Town" said a sign on the wall of one tent, reminding me of the "Wisco Nice" phenomenon that is sweeping the city. The entire Festival of Ideas, in fact, was very nice. Very friendly and nice, filled with well-meaning, good people. How can you be critical of gardens and bicycles? They're so nice.
The question is: How urban are they?
Urban Disorientation Game
This was the Festival of Ideas for a New City, and yet nothing really brought the idea of a city to mind. I thought instead of forests, suburban backyards, small town picnics, college campuses with vast greens, rocking chairs on front porches, apple-picking farms--all very nice things. Good things. Things one might take a day, or a whole weekend, outside of the city to enjoy. But are these the reasons we live in New York?
Gated New York
Suburbanization of New York
The Joneses Are Here