Sunday, June 5, 2011

The NYC Generational Divide

It's part of the great American story: the conflict between young and old, between parents and children, between keeping up Old World traditions and breaking them apart, between The Hip and The Square, between those who want to change and those who don't. 

Our nation's current political divide is largely the battle between those who want to restore some kind of idyllic 1950s America that never really existed (Red America) between those who want to realize the dreams of the 1960s that probably never will truly exist (Blue America). 

This conflict is at the heart of our identity and, if I may sound pretentious for a moment, represents the duality of the American character.

Here in NYC, that duality is presented in many forms, some of which are also contradictory. A few things I read recently demonstrate this perfectly:

For example, this review of some new books about NYC, show how the city has changed. There's a book about an old school NYC columnist lovingly remembered by his movie critic son -- in particular, lovingly remembering an NYC that didn't quite really exist. There are other books, one about the "other" islands of NYC (like Governor's Island) that more New Yorkers are accessing and that is changing the experience of New Yorkers in their city and will continue to do so for years to come.

There's also this funny, short dialogue between the writer Erica Jong and her daughter Molly, and their attitudes towards S-E-X. It's a perfect case of what's old eventually becomes new again: in this case, prudishness. In this dialogue, Molly talks about the new sexual cautiousness amongst her generation while her mother Erica talks about her generation's libertine-ness and how she doesn't understand how sex suddenly isn't quite so cool anymore. You should read it, it's a hoot, but one thing left unmentioned is that Molly (and mine's) generation is the first one to grow up in the era of AIDS -- an era which, coincidentally enough, began thirty years ago this month. Sometimes the battle lines between the generations are re-drawn for reasons far outside their control.

Finally, two New York Press articles, to me, at least, show how the face of our city is literally changing. First, there's an article about a Lower East Side bartender who has said that he's basically done with the LES since all the rich people who have moved in don't like the noise and craziness of his bars. Imagine that: people who now live on the LES, a neighborhood defined by it's loudness and boisterousness, are turning into fuddy-duddies who want to live in a "quiet" area. That's like moving to Florida and complaining about all the palm trees! So while the funky bars of the LES are beginning their said decline, you can literally look into the East River for our city's future. Someone is designing a public pool that will literally float on the river and will contain water filtrated from the river itself. This is what you might call "visionary thinking", out with the old school and in with the new school, the New York of the future. 

And that's what our city is fast becoming: less a city of funkiness and more a city of sleekness, less a place of comfort and community and more a place of dynamism and strident individualism. The generational divide in this city is, if these stories are to be believed, changing how the city is imagined, how it's functioning, and how it's experienced. 

Some of these changes are good, some not so good, in my opinion, but they are, I suppose, completely inevitable.

1 comment:

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