Thursday, September 20, 2018

#SaveNYC Happy Hour

Sick of watching the small businesses in your neighborhood vanish? Here's your chance to do something about it. Come to the #SaveNYC Happy Hour:

- Wednesday, October 3, from 7:00 - 9:00PM
- Dream Baby Cocktail Bar, 162 - 164 Avenue B, NYC: Extended happy hour for #SaveNYC = $4 for beer and well drinks, $2 off everything else.
- View Facebook invite here

At long last, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is getting a hearing. Come celebrate, meet and mingle, and strategize next steps for this important event and beyond.

Jeremiah Moss and others will be speaking on the importance of this historic bill. David Eisenbach, the anti-REBNY candidate for Public Advocate, will talk about his work and what we can do to get ready for the public hearing later in October.


Speaker Corey Johson Pledging Support for Small Businesses (WNYC Brian Lehrer) from Wheelhouse Communications on Vimeo.

Monday, September 17, 2018

St. Denis Coming Down

Earlier this year I wrote in detail about the death of the great St. Denis building on 11th and Broadway, a building that should have been landmarked but wasn't, a building full of vital history -- from Alexander Graham Bell to Ulysses S. Grant, Susan B. Anthony, and a whole lot of Socialists, radicals, artists, and psychotherapists.

The building was bought by Normandy Partners in 2016 and all of the tenants were removed--hundreds of small businesspeople, myself included, put out. Today, the empty building is being prepped for demolition.



Crain's reported last week that Columbia Property Trust is "paying more than $70 million...to purchase a roughly 50% stake" in the property with co-owner Normandy Real Estate Partners.

The plan is to tear down the St. Denis and replace it with a glass box, "182,000 square feet of boutique office space for New York’s most progressive and creative companies," according to the press release -- which calls this neighborhood below Union Square: "Midtown South."

Of course, the St. Denis was already filled with hundreds of truly progressive and creative businesses, but we weren't the right sort of commodities.



Last week, the awning over the entrance was stripped away, along with a pair of antique lamps.

The asbestos abatement notices have been posted and the asbestos dumpster has arrived, a typical precursor to the wrecking machines.



Back to that press release:

"The new 12-story, loft-style building will comprise 182,000 square feet of boutique office space and will provide a dramatic complement to this quintessential New York neighborhood. With floor plates ranging from 3,600 to 22,000 square feet, 799 Broadway will feature floor-to-ceiling glass, private terraces, and 15 foot high ceilings. This combination of highly desirable location and state-of-the-art design will appeal to New York’s most progressive and creative companies.

'We are seeking selective development opportunities in our target markets to provide value and growth to our high-quality, well-leased portfolio,' said Nelson Mills, chief executive officer of Columbia."


architect's rendering

When the St. Denis is felled, 165 years of real and rebellious history will be destroyed for this cold and soulless sarcophagus.

The Village will be much poorer for it.


architect's rendering

Post Script:

The above rendering shows the dead lobby to come. Here's what one frequent visitor to the St. Denis had to say about its lobby, which was often full of antiques from the first-floor business:

“I loved that every time I visited there were new objects in the lobby. They often seemed to reflect whatever mood I was in. Or they’d reflect the weather. I’d come in on a stormy day and the lobby would be full of dark paintings or bleak statues. On sunny days, there would be golden chaise lounges and chandeliers. There was this one chandelier, massive and dripping in crystals. It was there on a day when I felt really good and it was like the sun was on the inside of the building. This dazzling object.”

Read more about the St. Denis here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Artwashing 14th and 8th

About a decade ago, I had a dream that the southeast corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue was being torn down to make room for WalMart. That didn't happen. At the time, I checked with one of the business owners (there was a popular Korean deli, a bodega, and a liquor store). He told me that the owner of the buildings had turned down offers of up to $45 million for the whole lot.



But then, last year, it all went.

We learned that a 10-story office tower is coming, designed by architect Gene Kaufman and developed by the Chun Woo Realty Corporation.

Chun Woo Realty Corp, DNA reported last year, "has owned the two properties for around three decades...noting that redevelopment was something they’d 'been contemplating for over a decade.'"

“We’re not developers who moved in and are pushing small businesses out. We’re actually the longtime permanent owners of the building, and it was actually our business,” the developer said of the deli. He didn't mention the other two businesses or any residents upstairs, or the impact this high-end office tower will have on the neighborhood.



In the meantime, until demolition, they're doing a little artwashing with Bombay Sapphire.



I walked by yesterday to find "Art in Progress" signs on the deli. Bombay Sapphire says, "Stir Creativity."

Security guards policed the installation of several canvases.



The booze corporation has a message for us:

"Creativity has no boundaries. It can flourish in art galleries, and it can thrive on the streets outside them. With Art in Progress, Bombay Sapphire is transforming the city's construction sites into open air art galleries to inspire New Yorkers' own creativity."

This is artwashing.

Defined by Feargus O'Sullivan, artwashing is a "profit-driven regeneration maneuver" in which "the work and presence of artists and creative workers is used to add a cursory sheen to a place's transformation.... It often happens...when developers spot areas that have attracted residents from creative industries, then earmark them as ripe for investment and remarketing to a new kind of customer."



Artwashing attracts hyper-gentrification and it is also public relations. And murky advertising. If you're looking at this and thinking it's an unmitigated good, well, they've got you right where they want you.

This is not spontaneous creativity. It's not bohemian aliveness in the Village. It's the spoonful of sugar that helps the poison go down.

This is a corporate-development collaboration that artists have agreed to participate in, though it would be better if they did a little more critical thinking about that participation.

It reminds me of when luxury neighbor, One Jackson Square, went up next door in 2007. The developers wrapped that site in billboards that capitalized on the creativity and bohemian history of the Village. "To this day," said the ad materials, "the birthplace of bohemian culture is still home to an eclectic mix of artists, iconoclasts and cognoscenti."

On the billboard, it read, "The Spirit of Greenwich Village Is Alive and Well."

Today, One Jackson Square is home to a Starbucks and a TD Bank.









Monday, September 10, 2018

2nd Ave Deli Sign

Now and then, the lost artifacts of vanished New York will resurface.

I heard from a painter who recently moved his studio into a former woodshop's space in the East Village. In the backyard, under piles of junk, he unearthed the double-sided neon sign of the old Second Avenue Deli.



Opened in 1954, the deli (and the sign) stood on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 10th Street until 2006, when it closed due to a rent dispute with the building's new owner.

Reported the Times, "Jack Lebewohl said he faced an increase in monthly rent to $33,000 from $24,000. The space also needed substantial renovations he was unwilling to invest in without a reasonable long-term lease. His landlord told The Times that Lebewohl owed $107,000 and that eviction proceedings had started. They settled for $75,000."

Comic Jackie Mason told the paper, "It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall. A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."


photo by James & Karla Murray

A Chase bank moved into the space, installed just two blocks away from the next nearest Chase bank, and a block or two from several more banks.

As I wrote in my book, Vanishing New York, "Today, the Second Avenue Deli’s Yiddish Walk of Fame remains, out of context and rapidly fading. Carved in stone on the sidewalk are names from the days when this strip was the Jewish Broadway—Fyvush Finkel, Ida Kaminska, Lillian Lux, Ludwig Satz. The names are worn down, ignored and flattened by the crowds walking past, grabbing cash from the ATM before making a beeline for the next pitcher of beer and bucket of Buffalo hot wings...at one of the many laddish sports bars that have sprouted along the avenue."

A new Second Avenue Deli opened in Murray Hill, and then the Upper East Side, but the old signage did not go with them.

I came upon one, some years back, at the City Reliquary museum in Brooklyn.


at the City Reliquary

And now the other has been found and rescued. The painter who discovered it reached out to the Lebewohl family and they picked it up.

The painter says that Josh Lebewohl, grandson of deli founder Abe, was glad to get the sign back. "I think he's going to try and place it with the Jewish Museum," the painter told me, "or maybe the New York Historical Society or Museum of the City of New York."







Monday, August 27, 2018

Silver Spurs to Morgenstern's

The Silver Spurs coffee shop had been around since 1979. The last survivor shuttered on LaGuardia this past March. At the time, Kiki the manager told me their replacement would be an ice-cream place. “Expensive," she said.

Recently, Morgenstern's ice-cream shop papered the windows, announcing their arrival in the spot.



Important to note--they also announce they are "credit card only." No cash allowed. When you're forced to put a $4.50 ice-cream cone on credit, you know the dystopian future has already arrived.

They're not alone. Van Leeuwen ice cream is also no cash accepted. SweetGreen is another one (and they took the space of a great coffee shop on University Place). It's a growing, disturbing trend.



Cashless retail is discriminatory and exclusive. The Guardian recently reported that local government in Washington, DC, is trying to put a stop to it with The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018.

They wrote: "A report last year by the Washington City Paper found that 27% of people in the US would have trouble using only a credit card to purchase products, and that the percentage in Washington DC is even higher. 'I’m concerned with more and more restaurants, businesses and shops going cashless because you’re systematically excluding a group of people who are already disadvantaged and disenfranchised,' Linnea Lassiter, an analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, told the paper. 'And now they can’t have access to this restaurant?'"

One good thing about all those vanishing coffee shops like Silver Spurs? They took our cash.





Den Re-Done

The Village Den was a comfortable, accessible diner in Greenwich Village for 36 years. It shuttered this past May.

A sign went up in the window soon after, announcing that something new was coming: "Better Den You Remember." But the Den I remember was quite wonderful, so probably not.



Now the Times reports that the Den is being re-done by Queer Eye's food and wine expert Antoni Porowski.

The "theme" of the new place will be comfort food, except it won't be the actual comfort food previously served at the theme-free original Den.

It also might not feel as accessible to everyone as the old place. The Times reported: Porowski's "target audience is people like him: the '30s health and fitness' crowd, he said, noting that the restaurant is near an Equinox gym."



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Star Struck Vintage

VANISHING

Whenever I walk past it on Greenwich Avenue, I remember buying my first suit there in 1994, and I wonder how it can possibly still exist. The store, not the suit, which is long gone.


photo via International Traveller

On their Facebook page, Star Struck has announced:

"We would like to take a moment to let you know that after 38 years Star Struck Vintage in NYC will be closing. We will be forever grateful to all of our customers, for you have shown us the true meaning of loyalty. Many of you have become part of our family over the years; and although we will miss you all very much, we are looking forward to retirement. The store will be closing August 31st."


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Appropriating the Neighborhood

Today I published over at the Village Voice, writing about Target, neighborhood appropriation, and hyper-gentrification.



Excerpt:

What the colonizers desire and replicate is gritty New York without the grit. Punk and jazz and poetry without the enlivening shock of unpredictability. It’s a neat trick that works in part because we are starving for reality and a connection to history. Homesick for our lost city, we can be easily seduced by imitations of life.

At Target’s grand-opening event, it wasn’t the pseudo-CBGB that really got to me. I keep thinking about that fake stoop. The stoop, so utterly urban, normally brings the inside out; facing the street, it engages residents with the sidewalk ballet. But in today’s homogenized city, the new developments turn away from the street, like suburban developments often do, shielding their residents inside controlled private spaces that reject the communality and chaos of city life. Target’s fake stoop haunts me as a ghost of the unreal, an empty representation recalling a reality that is slipping away. As urbanist M. Christine Boyer has written, in her essay “Cities for Sale,” “these tableaux are the true nonplaces, hollowed out urban remnants, without connection to the rest of the city or the past, waiting to be filled with contemporary fantasies, colonized by wishful projections, and turned into spectacles of consumption.”

A haunted feeling is part of the package in today’s commodified cities. Hyper-gentrification is a horror movie mash-up. An invasion of the body snatchers, it zombifies what went before. It kills and then reanimates its victims, sanitized and tamed, to sell itself and expand into further territory, all while working to convince us that it has the best intentions and means no harm. It just wants to be part of the community. Part of the family. One of us, one of us. Like a vampire at the door it asks, with a seductive smile: Won’t we please let it in?

Read the whole article at the Voice

Monday, July 23, 2018

Paperbacks

The paperback edition of Vanishing New York is in bookshops this week--starting tomorrow. Get 'em while they're hot!



There will be plenty on hand at the paperback launch event this Friday night, July 27 at 7:30 p.m., at Books Are Magic. That's at 225 Smith Street in Brooklyn. I'll be signing books and talking about Vanishing New York with Jason Diamond, author, journalist, and founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

You can read more about it at the Facebook invite and the bookstore's Events page.



Here's what people have to say about the book:

“Essential reading for fans of Jane Jacobs, Joseph Mitchell, Patti Smith, Luc Sante, and cheap pierogi.”
--Vanity Fair

“A full-throated lament for the city’s bygone charms.”
--Wall Street Journal

“A wrenching, exhaustive chronicle of the ‘hypergentrification of New York’ [. . .] Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and unequivocally depressing read.”
--Molly Fitzpatrick, The Village Voice

“Moss won me over almost immediately and has written a cri de cœur that is essential reading for anyone who loves this city.”
--Michael J. Agovino, The Village Voice

“The pleasure […] of reading Moss is his purity.”
–The New York Times Book Review

"Moss, a cantankerous defender of the city he loves, chronicles its disconcerting metamorphosis from cosmopolitan melting pot to bland corporate lounge with passion and vigor; New York is lucky to have him on its side." --NewYorker.com

“a remarkable atlas charting where New York has gone, and why.”
--The New Republic

“a compelling and often necessary read.”
--The Daily Beast

“An impassioned work of advocacy on behalf of a city that’s slipping away.”
--Guernica

“There is much embitterment, snark, and rhapsodizing about egg creams to satisfy the downright romantic here […] his humanist odes to bygone businesses can move a reader to tears […] But the book is much more than a nostalgia trip.”
--Citylab

“Moss’ book is very much in the tradition of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, with a more acerbic outrage suited to our nasty, barbaric times. […] His glimpses of New York can be engagingly personal and eloquent.”
--Los Angeles Review of Books

“Passionate, sprawling.”
--Slate

“A vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud.”
--Kirkus

“A very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book [. . . ] brilliantly written and well-informed.”
--Booklist

“A passionate case against the luxury vision of New York that characterized the Bloomberg years […] likely to stir a lot of emotions.”
--Publishers Weekly

“I haven’t read a more impassioned book in over a decade. Jeremiah Moss writes like a man who has lost the love of his life to a junk bond trader. Vanishing New York is angry, incredulous, but also full of insight into a city of legend, where every legend happened to be true.”
--Gary Shteyngart

“Jeremiah Moss came to the party that is New York City just in time to see it turn into a wake. The New York of poets and weirdos and cranks and outsiders and keepers of various flames--and of ordinary hard-working sorts with no aspirations to stardom or wealth--has pretty much receded into memory now, and Jeremiah has become that memory. His book is lucid, eloquent, phenomenally detailed, and terribly sad. Future generations, assuming there are any, will read it in wonder and disbelief.”
--Luc Sante

“Meticulously researched, thoroughly reported, at once a call to arms and a soul cry, Vanishing New York is a love letter to originality and the human spirit. Grab a knish and settle in.”
--Charles Bock, New York Times bestselling author of Alice and Oliver

“I can’t stand going on vanishingnewyork.com and seeing what’s next to go.”
--Andy Cohen, TV personality/ Executive VP at Bravo

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Targeting the East Village

Jane Jacobs is rolling in her grave today. The Target chain has opened a store on 14th Street and Avenue A, and for their grand celebration they have committed what might be the most deplorable commodification of local neighborhood culture I’ve ever witnessed.



Along the first floor of Extell’s luxury monster, known as EVGB for the Trumpian claim of “East Village’s Greatest Building,” Target has constructed a simulacrum of the hyper-local New York street--the sort of street that is being wiped out by corporations and developers--and it comes complete with all the signifiers.

The façade is draped in vinyl sheets printed with images of tenements, the same sort of buildings that get demolished to make room for such developments. Here they sit, hollow movie-set shells, below the shiny windows of the high-end rentals. They are the dead risen from the grave, zombies enlisted to work for the corporation.



A red newspaper kiosk announces the opening of the store with a fake newspaper (decorated with a bull’s-eyed water tower, as if hunters have it in their sights), and it brings to mind the lost kiosks of the vanished Village Voice.

There’s even a fake fire hydrant and red-painted park benches.

In front of an Alphabet City bull’s-eye mural, you can pose for pictures with props—a guitar, a record album, a slice of pizza printed on foamcore--the stuff of the once iconoclastic East Village.



Who are the people in your neighborhood?

There’s a storefront gypsy telling fortunes with Target-branded Tarot cards.

And on a pseudo stoop is a hip-hop dancer, his leg encircled with a Target-branded bandanna. At his feet are red buckets, marked with the Target logo, maybe for someone to later play with drumsticks in the style popularized by bucket drummer Larry Wright.



But worst of all, there’s a simulated CBGB, the celebrated punk club shuttered by a rent hike in 2006, replaced by the luxury John Varvatos store, and replicated in the Newark Airport as a theme restaurant for tourists.

This one boasts the famous awning, but it's printed with TRGT -- in the club’s iconic typeface, the western-style lettering created by owner Hilly Kristal’s ex-wife. (Restaurateur Daniel Boulud tried this in 2007 with DBGB on the Bowery, and the CBGB estate’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter.)

Inside, TRGT is printed on t-shirts, but you can't buy those. You can only get free "bands."



However, it's not rock music bands they’re giving out, it’s hair bands, Band-Aids, and resistance bands.

I asked, “What kind of resistance?” thinking of the political climate at the moment, and the woman answered, “They’re resistance bands for doing exercise.”



This Potemkin Village from Hell is guarded by three private security guards, all dressed in black suits with Secret Service-style earpieces, and one officer from the NYPD. All the workers are relentlessly sunny, like actors at Disneyland.

And people are streaming in for the free stuff—who doesn’t want free stuff?—happy to adorn themselves with the red sunglasses and branded bandannas as they rush into the store, where the commodification continues.

An East Village-themed mural provides a backdrop for the cash registers, decorated with street signs and hot dogs, more tenements, "NYC Nuyoricans," Theatre 80 St. Marks, and a book with the words “Poets Café.”

To see the artifacts of my own life, my cultural and spiritual awakening, my home, displayed above the cash registers in a Target store is to be cast into a state of confusion and dystopic dysphoria. What am I seeing? Who are these people? What happened to the world?





Meanwhile, down the block, EVGB has spray-painted the sidewalk with ads promoting their amenities and their worldview with the slogans:

GREATEST BUILDING
GROUP BONDING
GORGEOUS BATHROOMS

GET BUFF
GET BUSY
GO BIG



They’ve constructed a bright arc of balloons and they're giving out free cotton candy with "snappy toppings" like Pop Rocks, Sparkle, and Mango Pixie Dust.

Many of the people in line can't afford the apartments here, which start at $3,695 per month for a studio. They are neighborhood residents who've lost a number of affordable local businesses to this development, places like the Stuyvesant Grocery, a laundromat, a hair salon, the Rainbow discount store, Bargain Express, and the Blarney Cove.

But today there is a bright and shiny simulation of the real and the local. There is cotton candy and free trinkets. Bread and circuses that appease--and even win over. And everyone is having a terrific time.

As Margaret Thatcher said, "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul."




Thursday, July 12, 2018

Coffee Shop

VANISHING

After 28 years on Union Square, Coffee Shop is closing.



From The Post:

Co-owner and President Charles Milite says:

"The times have changed in our industry. The rents are very high and now the minimum wage is going up and we have a huge number of employees.”

Personally, I never went there except once or twice. It was too expensive and full of models. But, you know, the rent. And God save that neon sign.


Monday, July 9, 2018

One Manhattan Expands

Your own private driveway. Your own private bowling alley. Your own private movie theater. Your own private spa. Your own private lookout.

These promises of privacy are repeated on banners that circle Extell's One Manhattan Square on the Lower East Side, the latest luxury monstrosity to vandalize our skyline and bully its way into our low-rise neighborhoods. (There will also be a private golf simulator, a private pet spa, a private fitness complex, a private squash and basketball court, and an entire acre of private gardens.)



With so much private space, why venture out of the complex at all? Why engage with city life? The insistence on privacy and the turning away from the street exemplify the suburban mentality come to the city in the 2000s.

One resident of a luxury building loaded with suburban amenities told The Observer in 2008, “Everything's always convenient, always safe, always clean. You don't have to worry about gross things. Like mice! And creepy things like that." Said another, "It sometimes feels like I'm not in New York when I'm in the building... It's trying to have things that a suburban housing complex would--everything at your fingertips, where you don't have to leave [the building] much if you don't want.”

As Sarah Schulman has noted, “They came not to be citified, but rather to change cities into places they could recognize and dominate.”



This process of domination has just begun.

Under the FDR, along the East River Esplanade, someone has taped several flyers from One Manhattan Square, saying: "Join us for weekly complimentary cross fit classes." They are posted all over the spot used by local Chinese people for Tai Chi and other exercise.

It's clearly some kind of tool for selling more condos, but we have to ask: Why, when the people of One Manhattan have so much private space, do they also need to expand into the public space?



I was recently watching the 1979 movie "Breaking Away." It's about conflict between working class townie kids and upper class college kids. On hot days, the townies swim in the quarries where their fathers once cut stone. When the college kids go to swim at the quarry, one of the townies gets angry and says, "They've got indoor pools and outdoor pools on the campus, but they still got to come here!"

One Manhattan has a private spa, a private fitness complex, and an acre of private gardens, but they still have to use the space long enjoyed by the lower income local people.

It doesn't matter if the cross fit class doesn't happen at the same time as the Tai Chi sessions. It doesn't matter that it's free for anyone to join. It is quite clear who the cross fit classes are for. Just look at the people on the flyer.



Recently I was introduced to the concept of "ontological white expansiveness." Shannon Sullivan writes, "As ontologically expansive, white people tend to act and think as if all spaces—whether geographical, psychical, linguistic, economic, spiritual, bodily, or otherwise—are or should be available for them to move in and out of as they wish. Ontological expansiveness is a particular co-constitutive relationship between self and environment in which the self assumes that it can and should have totally mastery over its environment."

I would add that it's not only whiteness, but also the power of class that convinces people that the whole world is for them. Try making this argument to the people who benefit from that expansiveness. They will often tell you that this is public space and "We have a right to be there." They might even say, "We're integrating this neighborhood." And they'll use language like, "Everyone is welcome here."

But all of that covers up what's really going on--the semi-privatization of our public space, and the turning of public spaces into amenities for luxury developments (like we've seen at Astor Place).



The thousands of new people who will flood in to this neighborhood are already changing the East River Esplanade.

More upscaling is coming.



The city just installed a ferry landing nearby. It is an absolute eyesore, blocking formerly uplifting views of the harbor as you walk or bike downtown. But as City Realty pointed out, "Residents of the Lower East Side apartments for sale at One Manhattan Square will have access to a brand-new stop on the NYC Ferry at Corlears Hook."

Who is the ferry meant for?



And, of course, the whole gritty, open esplanade is being renovated -- better to fit the needs and aesthetics of the condo developers and their clients.

More mega-towers are coming. Activists are fighting them.

When the towers come, they will bring more people who don't want to engage with the city as it is. They will emerge from their private pleasure gardens and they will expand into the public space, only to alter it to their taste. And it will be too late to fight it.






Monday, June 25, 2018

Bring Back Mom and Pop

In my latest op-ed for the Daily News, I debate the myths that the real estate industry is putting forth about the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and the demise of brick and mortar retail:

More and more, in rapid succession, our streets are dulled by corporate chains, big banks, systematized “concept” shops and too many vacant storefronts. This is not New York.



If you want to stop massive commercial rent hikes that put small businesses out of business, take action:

- Write to the mayor and ask him to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). Here's a quick form you can fill out in just a few easy steps.

- Write to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and ask him to support a strong SBJSA and bring it to a vote. Here's a quick and easy form for that, too.

- Here's more you can do.

- And talk about it. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. Tell them that mom and pops aren't vanishing "because of the market" or "all because of the Internet," they're vanishing because the city and state support landlord greed -- but this can change. There are solutions. The first step is raising consciousness. We have to imagine a different city.

Friday, June 22, 2018

High-Rent Blight Monopoly

You may have seen them popping up on high-rent blight around town. Monopoly cards pasted to the windows and walls of shuttered shops. They list outrageous rents and come with a Jane Jacobs quote.



They're the creation of an artist called Symbol. I asked Symbol to explain the project and what inspired him to do it. He told me:

"Everywhere I walked in Manhattan there were empty storefronts, and it seemed like one big game between landlords and tenants. All these landlords waiting for a pharmacy or bank to sign a 10-year lease. Is there a better analogy for that then the game of Monopoly?

Seems like no one really wins at Monopoly but everyone just tires out. All the little stores just seemed to disappear. There were no replacements and Manhattan lost its juice. Bleecker went from high rent/Sex and the City famous to an empty side street.

The signs on Lexington are Amazon-colored orange. The online shopping has only added to the problem and added to my tipping point. Yeah, I can buy cufflinks on Amazon but where's the fun of wandering into some old lady store and finding a cool pair? Same thing with flea markets. Sure, it was mostly crap, but it was fun crap.

I'm not sure what the answer is and I doubt the politicians can deal with what is essentially a free market issue. Hence the Jane Jacobs quote. I'm an artist in a different medium and I wanted to make a statement instead of crying about what was happening. (And buying a box of Kleenex on Amazon Prime.)

I grew up idolizing the city from nearby and have lived here for some time. Every kid growing up just outside of Manhattan has that same feeling. Let's go to the city are the words that are electrifying. I mean anything could happen on a Friday or Saturday night and usually did. Fell in love, danced, drank, got lost, ate at a now closed diner, ended up at home as the sun came up and before my parents woke up.

I hope kids still feel that way. I don't. You want fun? Move to the boroughs."

You can find more Monopoly cards on Symbol's Instagram page



This is actually not a free market issue, although the politicians and real-estate industry want us to believe that. As I explain in detail in my book, Vanishing New York, the market isn't free. It's rigged heavily in favor of big developers and landlords, giving them tax breaks and other incentives, and it works against small business people. There are many things that can be done to remedy this. One is the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

If you want to stop massive commercial rent hikes that put small businesses out of business, take action:

- Write to the mayor and ask him to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). Here's a quick form you can fill out in just a few easy steps.

- Write to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and ask him to support a strong SBJSA and bring it to a vote. Here's a quick and easy form for that, too.

- Here's more you can do.

- And talk about it. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. Tell them that mom and pops aren't vanishing "because of the market" or "all because of the Internet," they're vanishing because the city and state support landlord greed -- but this can change. There are solutions. The first step is raising consciousness. We have to imagine a different city.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Legacy Records and Black Branding

In his Times review of a new Hudson Yards restaurant, Pete Wells writes that Legacy Records has "ginned up a history for itself that brings together sloppy research with a superficial tribute to black culture."

I haven't been inside the place, so I'll leave it to Wells, who describes images of black musicians on the walls, stars like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, who supposedly recorded in a studio on the site. Except they didn't. There was a studio there for a few years in the 2000s, he says, "mostly used by orchestras, Broadway cast recordings and commercials."

There's also a photo by Mickalene Thomas of a black woman with an Afro in a sexy pose.


photo by Gary He

Wells concludes:

"Legacy Records has taken this shred of history and turned it into a fantasy of black American music.

Exhibited in a museum or gallery, Ms. Thomas’s photo might be taken as a comment on the different postures and personas available to black women. Hanging it next to the counter where pastries and coffee are sold by day strips out some of its meaning; it looks like an attempt to buy a personality for a restaurant that doesn’t have one of its own.

If anyone gets to decide who can use black culture for what purposes, it surely isn’t me. But Legacy Records uses it in a gratuitous and offhanded way that made me uncomfortable. Stevie Wonder will always be cool, but a restaurant dreamed up by real estate developers doesn’t automatically become cool by putting him on the wall."


photo: Mo Gelber

What Wells describes is not just cultural appropriation, it is "black branding" for the purposes of commodifying an urban space for the wealthy and mostly white. It is a trend that comes with hyper-gentrifying cities across America.

In his book "Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City,” Derek S. Hyra writes: “Not long ago, an urban community’s association with blackness was mostly perceived as detrimental. But nowadays...neighborhood-based organizations, real estate developers, restaurant owners and urban planners commodify and appropriate aspects of blackness to promote tourism, homeownership, and community redevelopment.”

We saw it most famously at the Summerhill restaurant in Crown Heights, where locals protested the use of supposed bullet holes and Forty Ounce Rosé.

Black branding is happening in hyper-gentrified cities where actual black people are being removed. With hyper-gentrification, New York City is getting whiter. And, as we've seen in many recent news reports, as middle and upper-class whites move into black and brown neighborhoods, they call the police on black people--for barbecuing, playing music, and just hanging out. These attacks happen simultaneously with the commodification of blackness.

Lower-income black people are pushed out. Their images and symbols are kept by the race/class victors as trophies and marketing opportunities. It can be seen as a form of revenge.


Barbecue Becky, Oakland, CA

“The rallying cry of the revanchist city,” wrote urbanist and gentrification expert Neil Smith, “might well be: ‘Who lost the city? And on whom is revenge to be exacted?’”

The notion of the lost city, the stolen city, goes back to white flight, a phenomenon engineered by the federal government beginning in the 1930s. Without Jim Crow in the northern United States, the government had to use stealthier methods of segregation. They developed the racist housing practice of redlining to confine black and brown people in disinvested cities, while luring whites away with good deals on houses in whites-only suburbs. This drain of the city’s tax base played a major role in the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, which provided the economic excuse for New York’s reorientation away from social democracy and towards neoliberalism, the radical free market, aka "trickle-down economics." And it is from there that hyper-gentrification, as a top-down tactic of state and city government, began.

We cannot talk about hyper-gentrification without also talking about racism. The story of American capital cannot be disentangled from the story of slavery in America. Neoliberalism, while it is an economic approach, was a white supremacist solution. It was, and continues to be, a powerful method to “take back” the city -- and, ultimately, the country—from black and brown people and to re-establish the power of the wealthy white elite. 


Inside Legacy Records, photo: Gary He, via Eater

So it seems appropriate that this restaurant is part of Hudson Yards, the fake city within a city, a curated space for the ultra-elite, and the perfect product of neoliberalized New York -- with all its corporate welfare, Hudson Yards has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

As I noted in my book Vanishing New York, Hudson Yards is a "dreamworld of exclusion," one of those places Mike Davis describes in Evil Paradises: “where the rich can walk like gods in the nightmare gardens of their deepest and most secret desires.”






Monday, June 18, 2018

Cafe Espanol

VANISHED

On Bleecker Street since 1976, Cafe Español has shuttered.



There's no note to say why the sudden closing, only a sign that reads: "This restaurant is closed. Trespassers will be prosecuted."

On their website, they write, "Thank you for all of these years by our side, the Cafe Español family."



This is the latest in a string of closures for Manhattan's old-school Spanish restaurants, including El Quijote, El Faro, Francisco's Centro Vasco, and El Paso.

What remains? There is Spain on 13th St., an absolute treasure, and Sevilla on Charles.

Go while you still can.