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.