Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vanishing NY in the NY Times

October 28, 2007
New York Times, City Section
Witness to What Was, Skeptic of What’s New

By Paul Berger

From the island at the center of Astor Place, a frustrated man who goes by the name of Jeremiah Moss can see three Starbucks. Towering overhead is Charles Gwathmey’s Sculpture for Living, a 21-story, aquamarine-tinted glass building shaped like a wave. Almost directly opposite, on the former site of St. Ann’s Church, rises a steel-and-concrete skeleton soon to be a 26-story New York University dorm.

When Mr. Moss moved to the East Village, the island at the center of Astor Place was a hangout for squatters and punk rockers. Now, the rapid loss of such places fuels a despairing blog called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York that offers a running commentary on what many regard as the city’s grim metamorphosis.

The scheduled departure of Astroland from Coney Island, the move from Greenwich Village of the fabled Shopsin’s restaurant, the ouster of the Playpen sex shop from Times Square — the gentrification of swaths of New York is hardly new. But when the changes are chronicled in one place, their pace is staggering and, seen through Mr. Moss’s eyes, alarming and depressing.

Those who contend that an unprecedented influx of money, combined with rapid development, is causing the city to lose its soul need look no further for evidence than Mr. Moss’s blog. It reads like an obituary to a disappearing city, with Astor Place as the “epicenter of evil.”

Until a few years ago, Mr. Moss used to exit the No. 6 train at Astor Place. On his way to his apartment, he cut through a parking lot where the Sculpture for Living now stands.

"There used to be such a great view from here, and now there is this glass wall,” says Mr. Moss, who conceals himself behind a pair of tortoise-shell sunglasses and a gray Fedora, bought 15 years ago in a store in the Village. (“The shop has gone,” he said, “but the hat remains.”)

He also conceals his real name, worried that disclosing it will jeopardize his day job as a freelance writer. He chose the first part of his pseudonym, he said, because Jeremiah “was the prophet of doom who nobody listened to until it was too late.”

In recent years, still more of Astor Place has changed. The first floor of Astor Place Hairstylists has been replaced by a Cold Stone Creamery. Astor Wines and Spirits has moved down Lafayette Street, to be replaced as early as next month by a Walgreens.

One of the only holdouts from Mr. Moss’s quirky Astor-Place-of-old is Jim Power, a homeless mosaic artist who is often found working next to the huge cube-shaped sculpture on Astor Place titled, perhaps fittingly, “Alamo.”

As Mr. Moss wanders the neighborhood pointing out landmarks on his Vanishing New York “death watch” — the Polish-Ukrainian East Village Meat Market on Second Avenue and the B & H Dairy restaurant one block away, “another last of the Mohicans” — he ponders the most unfathomable aspect of it all.

“These places are always packed, and then you walk by one day and they are gone,” he said. “How can that be possible?”

Copyright New York Times, 2007


Wayne King said...

Congrats on the writeup--well-deserved. Of course, with the Times, rather than actually deal with the issues of a vanishing New York from a political perspective, they prefer to offer vignettes on some of those most directly affected, usually after the jig is up. There is supposed to be a steel curtain at the the newspaper of record between the corporate and editorial fiefdoms, but I have never been able to take them seriously on the crucial subject of NYC real estate since the whole Renzo Piano skyscraper/Liberty Bonds/eminent domain saga started playing out with their new building.

Anonymous said...

Kudos on the article. Just wanted to let you know that I check in daily to see what's gone or soon to be gone.

Currently, I'm writing a novel, which laments how the city has changed and I use your blog as a reference. If I get lucky and get published, you will be mentioned in the acknowledgement.

Anonymous said...

Also congratulations on the article. Like the other city newspapers, the NYT is mostly prodeveloper, but this piece if anything romaticized your POV.

A big barrier to conciousness that NYC has gone beyond gentrification ito some sort of Dubai or Singapore twliglight zone is the idea, held mosly by tourists, that the place hasn't really changed. Articles like this in the manstream press do a service in terms of validating more peoples' suspicions in that yes, it has changed.

Also good for them to note the appropriateness of "Jeremaih Moss" as a tag. Of course, if you were female, a similar blog name would be "Penolope".

L'Emmerdeur said...

I'm shocked and ashamed that I've been screaming about these issues for at least a decade, and it took a NYT article for me to become aware of your blog.

There is a silver lining to all this. The economy is about to take a very severe and long-term nosedive. All the chain stores and banks will cut costs by cutting and running, and a lot of the bozos who drove the condo blight will leave when their jobs disappear. Then the filth and the crime will settle in for another nice, long stay, the NYPD will revert to its corrupt old self (not that it ever left, but anyways), and with any luck, a lot of the new construction will collapse inside of ten years, as it is all very, very poorly made.

By then, the Chinese will be looking to build here with the trillions we spent on knick-knacks and iPods, and I'll bet they will want old New York grandeur, which means solid construction and beautiful architecture.

laura said...

last time i stayed in the EV was 9/08. (2nd ave & 13th-14th). is "little poland" still there? they had really good pure wholesome food. "johns" resturant? on e.12th & second? i 1/2 liked the natural foods store on 1st & 10th, "commodities"- loud music, pretentious, but a small business never the less. (far cry from "whole foods" which is despisable). most of all i was angry that the "greistites" closed on 14th near 1st.- quiet, small, had natural products, low music, the cute hispanic boy brought my groceries to the house. i would go there @ 8 am the next morning after a 12 hour international trip. he had the most fabulous tattoos, spoke no english. they kept it real, my kind of people. no in your face mood enhancing shopping experiences. the "pantry" was a small business w/a nice bench outside. they gave personal service as well. & last but not least, "joe the tailor", 14th & 2nd. he overcharged, but he was there for over 40 yrs. i would drop off my cleaning & repairs there, after the puerto rican would bring me my food. next door to "joes" was a small shoe repair. it was these small businesses that kept me going during my 3 week NY visits.