Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Facelifts of NYC

The definition of plastic surgery is, "the process of reconstructing or repairing parts of the body ... either in the treatment of injury or for cosmetic reasons."

As this definition indicates, sometimes plastic surgery is necessary -- when people get disfigured, it helps them restore their appearance and improve their lives. But most of the time, plastic surgery is just tinkering, an attempt by people to "improve" their appearance even if they look fine to begin with. And, of course, the fact that it's plastic surgery means that they look less than natural, their appearance is no longer organic. The reality is that people who get plastic surgery usually look worse than they did originally. Most people who get plastic surgery do so because they want to look younger than they are -- but, in reality, they don't look younger, just weirder.

NYC has never been this boring -- or this weird. 

Boring, because the city is getting gutted and homogenized, the businesses and buildings that made them unique are being destroyed and replaced by mega chains and uninteresting glass constructions. Weird, because there's something unnatural about this transformation, about how the city no longer feels like a special place but some kind of McCity. We talk a lot about "gentrification" but really, in my mind, it's the equivalent of urban plastic surgery -- tinkering with the face of NYC in an attempt to improve it but that really just ruins it.

And there's a reason for this beyond the usual complaint about gentrification -- tourism. As this exhaustive article from VICE indicates, the bending over backwards to tourists in NYC is one of the reasons why this city feels less and less like it belongs to the people who actually live here.

Of course, the face of NYC has always been changing -- just in a more organic way.

Once upon a time, on Riverside Drive, there used to be amazing mansions lining this most beautiful of boulevards. However, as these mansions became more and more expensive for their residents to maintain, and as the demands for housing exploded, these mansions were torn down and made way for apartment buildings (the building I grew up in used to be the site of an old mansion). This article is about one of those mansions that, before it was destroyed, was touted to become the official residence for the Mayor of New York City (the plan fell through when Mayor LaGuardia quashed it and, instead, Gracie Mansion was chosen). So the face of NYC has always changed -- but it used to be for the benefit of the people, not the visitors.

That said, some wrinkles of the past still appear on the face of NYC today. Take, for instance, the Ear Inn, the watering hole in Lower Manhattan. It's over 200 years old and still in business. I recently went there with a friend and it's still a vibrant, busy place. We quite enjoyed ourselves and felt, for once, at home in our hometown.

As long as we preserve some aspects of the past, NYC won't be entirely plastic -- and its soul will never die.

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