Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NYC: Past, Present, Future

Ecclesiastes 1:9 "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun."

Compared to the other great cities of the world, New York is relatively young -- around 400 years old. Rome, London, Paris, Beijing are thousands years old so NYC is a baby in relation to them. But compared to most American cities, NYC is quite old. And one of the joys of living here is discovering spots where the past isn't past at all but still very much present. Walking on the twisting streets of Lower Manhattan you can imagine what our city was like in Colonial times. Go to Staten Island and see the old homes and stately mansions of the pre-Industrial era. And on and on. Sometimes the past jumps out at you. There's nothing I like seeing more than a building with an generations-old advertisement for a product or business that's long since gone -- like the Corn Exchange Bank or Gimbels department store.

Preserving New York's past is a hard job and not all of it can be salvaged. Some wonderful old buildings have been destroyed and others have been gutted. There are even literally pieces of the old city that have been preserved -- but that are now being shipped away. But there are also movements afoot to revive the old city (or at least parts of it), to resurrect that Old New York flavor. And yet this is controversial. Many bemoan gentrification and argue that the city was so much better in the "good old days." Then again, some people argue that the good old days weren't so good.

Amazingly there has been a lot of debate lately about old and new NYC, about whether the city has lost its soul or is better than ever. Like anything, I think it's a mixed bag: in many ways, our city is safer and more beautiful than it's been in a long time, and with better schools! Our government is more efficient and less corrupt than it's been, well, ever. And people are moving here at a furious rate. At the same time, the middle class is being squeezed out, glass monstrosities are going up everywhere, and transportation is worse than ever before.

So I fall on the side of the argument that things are somewhat better than ever but there are still big problems in NYC. And while the problems past aren't entirely gone neither are its wonders ... so NYC will continue to evolve, devolve, improve, recede, and survive ... as it has, as it does, as it always will.

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