Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's Past is Present

A couple of recent WNYC segments are worth listening to if you're interested in drawing a line between NYC's past and present. They beg the questions:

What's changed? What's stayed the same?

And what might have been?

This segment is about a recently rediscovered list called "101 Things to Love About New York City." Every year New York magazine and other publications put out similar lists but this particular one is from 1976. This was the year after the financial crises had rocked the city and when Son of Sam and Travis Bickle were terrorizing the city. Still, people found reasons to love what Annie Hall would call the "dying city" -- and some of these reasons still ring true today. Namely: really good street musicians, hating ConEd, losing yourself in a crowd, and, like 1976 itself, "being nostalgic about things in New York that were never so great." A few things are definitely dated, like "East Siders on the West Side" (there is no longer a rich/middle class divide between the East Side and the West Side -- both are stinking rich) and "flipping the change tray in the plastic taxicab divider" (today most people pay for cabs with credit cards). But something things we love about NYC are perennial.

So what might have been? What happened in the past that affected our present? 

Specifically, NYC lost out to Northern California when it came to the tech industry. Silicon Valley is much bigger and more powerful than Silicon Alley.

This fascinating segment featuring sociologist Richard Florida gives a comprehensive history about why the tech sector moved out West. Basically, it came down to two things: space, and Stanford University. First, Stanford was the incubator for the tech industry, and many of the original brilliant minds in tech came from there. Second, many of these companies wanted to build campuses and there just wasn't enough room in NYC. This is changing, of course, with Google and other big tech firms opening offices here. Still, this city is a generation behind California when it comes to tech and we're still struggling to catch up. But what if NYC had been the leader in tech to begin with? What might have been? We'll never know. A lesson we can't always been #1 in everything.

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