Sunday, November 21, 2010

Face of a Changing City

When you think about how a city changes, it's easy to point to new buildings or public works that have been constructed -- or to remind people about the old ones that have been demolished. You can look at various neighborhoods and see how they've changed -- physically, economically, racially, etc. Cities change in many ways. The most obvious way is to see what exists vs. what no longer does, or to see who lives there vs. who no longer does, in order to measure the rate and scope of change.

Anyone who remembers what Times Square looked like -- or the kinds of people who inhabited it -- twenty-five years ago vs. today know exactly what I'm talking about. But what about the nature of experience when it comes to the face of a changing city? Increasingly, the very daily experiencing of NYC seems poised to change. 

Certainly the physical and sociological changes of NYC over the years have affected how we experience the city but what about the changes that are less obviously but still profound? A perfect example are the newly proposed taxi's that the TLC has proposed. New Yorkers, all of us, can actually vote on the new design and construction of the cabs and one of them will be selected to replace the current version. Personally I think they all look like the equivalent of spacecrafts from various bad sci-fi movies and TV shows, and they don't have anything that screams NYC about them ... but as the city becomes more global, I guess cabs are one of the first thing to lose that special New Yorkness. 

Face of a changing city.

But it's not just the cabs in our streets that are changing. Apparently more and more New Yorkers want to shed their accents -- the beautiful, unique NYC accent is under assault! According to this  article in The New York Times, native New Yorkers are being told to go to speech therapists in order to stop "tawking like New Yawkas'" because people in the global marketplace find them annoying and hard to understand. 

I find this horrifying. I don't have much of an accent but several of my relatives do and I find their accents endearing. The New York accent is so distinctive, so strong, so in your face and unrepentantly urban, that the idea that people are trying to get rid of them (or feeling forced to do so) is awful. Someone, somewhere in this town should be able to say "I'm going to Thoity-thoid and thoid!" without apology. If people from elsewhere don't like the New York accent, so what? 

Since when have New Yorkers ever caved in to outsiders? Since when have we ever given a damn what people outside NYC ever thought? Since when do we buckle and let the global marketplace dictate how we live? NYC is the global marketplace -- we are it's LEADER, not it's FOLLOWER! And lead we must! 

Do you think Fiorello LaGuardia wouldn't be outraged by this?

If we all want to start sounding like we're from Cleveland or something then we might as well all move to Cleveland! Well I don't want to move to Cleveland and I don't want New Yorkers to start sounding like there from there! Long live the New York accent! 

Do you think Southerners wouldn't be offended if we told them to lose their accents? Of course not! You know how much Southerners love guns ... if you told them to lose their accents, they'd probably shoot you. And in the old days, New Yorkers would too! 

Don't get me wrong, I know that NYC has to change -- I'm not one of those statists who wants the past to be ever present and who shuns the future. But change at the expense of identity isn't change -- it's loss. And telling New Yorkers to lose their accents is a loss. So while the face of our city must change and while NYC must adapt to the ways of the global community, I beg all New Yorkers not to lose to ignore what makes this city unique -- and the great leader that she has and always will be.

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