Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Suburbanization of New York

This week, The New York Times City Room hosted a Q&A with Jerilou Hammett and Kingsley Hammett, the editors of The Suburbanization of New York: Is the World’s Greatest City Becoming Just Another Town? I asked a couple of questions and they answered.

Jeremiah Moss: I run the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which chronicles the changes that have been steamrolling New York for the past several years. Like global warming, this trend is not just the natural shifting the city has always managed, but a major demolition that is, in large part, irreversible.

The fantasy that New York is not changing any more than it ever has is an illusion, just like the illusion that the global climate is not taking a cataclysmic nosedive. It’s a fantasy that people use to comfort themselves or to justify their way of life.

People ask me what can be done to stop the overwhelming destruction of this city. I hope the editors of this book might offer some solutions.

Mr. and Mrs. Hammett: Thanks for your great comments. The first step is to analyze what this change is really all about, who is benefiting, at whose expense, and how the city’s largess is being used to support change that serves only a small percentage of the city’s population.

Jeremiah Moss: I own this book and enjoyed reading it. I wish the writers had gone further in analyzing why New York is being suburbanized. What is the psychology of this new wave of suburbanizers? What do they fear and what do they desire? Why is it happening to the city now?

Is it due to a generation of narcissists moving in? Is it the ultimate triumph of free-market capitalism? It seems like a quintessentially American evolution. Just when did New York become Americanized and provincialized? Did 9/11, when New York was embraced by middle America, push it over the edge?

Mr. and Mrs. Hammett: We too wish the analysis had gone further. But at the time we started the book few people were openly critiquing the changes that have engulfed the city. So we felt that opening the debate was the best we could do. We hope it will deepen. As for why New York went in this direction, you have to look back to the post-war era when much of the white population fled to the suburbs and the city was left for dead. In 1982, Mayor Koch was already trying to lure that suburban money back when he said, “We’re not catering to the poor anymore … there are four other boroughs they can live in. They don’t have to live in Manhattan.” What you’re seeing today are the results of that strategy.
And with that in mind, here's a quote one of Vanishing's readers sent in recently:
"The city has twice been humiliated by the suburbs: once upon the loss of its constituents to the suburbs and again upon that constituency's return. These prodigal citizens brought back with them their mutated suburban values of predictability and control." --Harvard Project on the City, Mutations

astor place: here's a barnes & noble, a walgreens, & a starbucks in one shot -- can you find all the cell phones? (hint: there are at least 5)

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