Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is New York "over?" (Part 2)

Jersey City Across the Hudson
Originally uploaded by Richard-.
Part 1 can be found here.

It often seems to me that the typical New Yorker is never satisfied. No matter how well off they have it, and despite living in what is (to me at least) the greatest city in the world, their complaints are legion.

One of the ways this perpetual dissatisfaction manifests itself is in the state of the neighborhoods residents live in or once lived in. The long-ago metamorphosis of Soho is one prime example. The typical scenario goes something like this:

Young urbanite finds that s/he is priced out of a "desirable" area of Manhattan--or later, even Manhattan itself.

A few brave souls, often artists, decide to explore "uncharted territory." Many decades ago, artists began moving into formerly industrial areas such as SoHo. The area was dark and unwelcoming, with virtually no residential amenities.

After the artists had given it their stamp of approval, others became drawn to the now-hip ambiance of the area. Soho became a mecca of the new arts scene, and restaurants and bars sprung up to accomodate the residents and myriad tourists who came to visit what had become a charming enclave.

Soho's main drag, West Broadway, soon became clogged with retail outlets. My friend D used to say everything was a "gallery"--a clothing gallery, a shoe gallery, a jewelry gallery.

Eventually the area became too expensive for all but the most successful artists, and the more monied non-artists who could afford to bask in their reflected glory. The main art scene and the biggest storefront galleries such as Mary Boone moved from Soho to Chelsea, and other struggling artists looked elsewhere for sufficient space and light to live and work in.

BG, who first came to the city in the summer of "69, often reminisces about how accessible and affordable Manhattan used to be. After returning from his periodic "sabbaticals" at his brother's or parent's places in Louisiana or Wisconsin, he could get off the bus and within an hour or so be set up in a cheap hotel. The per day rate at the Bowery flophouse BG used to frequent when he was too poor to get an apartment is now too steep for him to ever return to. The place has been renovated and harbors, in part, tourists who are looking for cheap accomodations, since a typical Manhattan hotel can run into hundreds a day.

So as Manhattan became out of bounds for artists and the hipsters who followed them, Brooklyn started to become the next big thing. Park Slope, which as I recall used to be rather dangerous, is now chiefly home to yuppie families with young children.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Williamsburg, Brooklyn--once an enclave for the ethnic poor and Orthodox Jews--became a true hippster enclave within a few years' time. Artists began to discover it, and soon young people looking for cheap rents followed. At first, the new residents had to endure the same lack of amenities and crime as the old-timers in the area. But when things started to take off, businesses sprung up to accomodate the culture and lifestyle of the mostly young white new residents. Bars, restaurants, and other necessities of bourgeois New York life began to emerge rapidly.

As neighborhood rents inevitably started to rise, would-be hipsters ventured further into the depths of Williamsburg, starting the whole cycle again. The irony was that those who came there to experience the grittiness of a semi-gentrified area often started to complain that the rapid commercial growth of the area had leeched all the original "character" from it. Though these folks' presence was the primary reason for this change, they complained bitterly that the Williamsburb scene was officially "over."

A recent NY Times piece called The Duel Over Cool illustrates the insecurity of nouveau outer-borough residents. Deep in the heart and soul of most New Yorkers is an enduring envy of Manhattan, and so they must always compensate by declaring their neighborhood to be as good, or better than the city's epicenter. This piece described the rivalry between residents of Long Island City in Queens and Williamsburg over which is the most happening place to live.

When I was in the process of putting my Lower East Side coop up for sale, I eagerly scanned all the real estate websites and blogs I could find. One of the best is Curbed. Updated several times daily, Curbed is the place to learn about real estate and housing trends all over the city. It is here, in the comments section, that one can find the snarky, even downright nasty, grumblings and feuds of the perpetually dissatisfied and/or insecure New Yorker. Here readers guess the asking price of overpriced Manhattan coops while declaring that only an idiot would pay those prices, especially when the housing slowdown hit. Some will praise their neighborhood as the best there is, while others will quickly counter that that area sucks for one reason or another. Things can get downright vicious on the hot comment threads at Curbed.

Recently, Curbed had a short blurb called "The Half-Life of a Trendy Neighborhood," which linked to an audacious article in New York Magazine entitled "If You Lived Here, You’d Be Cool by Now," which started off like this:

"Hot Neighborhood Entropy
Red Hook? Already over. Lower East Side? It’s hot—no, wait, it’s not. No, wait, it is again! The life span of a trendy neighborhood used to be measured in decades. Now it might not last long enough for you to make the subway ride out there."

The jist of the article was that gentrification had accelerated so rapidly that a neighborhood could go from hellhole to cool to "over" in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, the author claimed that Jersey City, which seemed to be showing signs of rapid gentrification, would become the next hot thing--despite the fact that it wasn't even part of New York City.

This provocative post set off an avalanche of comments at Curbed, with various folks sounding off on what neighborhood was cool and not cool. The comment string is well worth a look, but here are a few typical examples:

"The real estate boom and rags like NYMag have created the impression that you can take any poor non-white neighborhood, sprinkle in a few artists, add a yoga studio and a "brunch place" and blammo - the next cool neighborhood! It used to be (I THINK, anyway) that artists and musicians moved to a neighborhood because it was cheap and they wanted to create their own scene, and it was only later that the cool vultures came. Now people think they can make it all happen at once. But I guess the definition of what's "cool" has changed too - turn your lifestyle into a brand, etc."

"Greenpoint and Astoria aren't on that graph, so that dude doesn't know what he's talking about. I think those two neighborhoods trump the South Bronx (SoBro? fck you) as far as the h*pster thing goes."

"new york magazine is for recent transplants and brief reading at the gyno office. by transplants, i mean nonnative new yorkers (not necessarily from the midwest)."

Even though as a typical New Yorker, I can sometimes be under the delusion that the rest of the country is nothing but an arid "wasteland" of cookie-cutter suburbs, I know that other urban areas around the country have seen the same trend emerge. It's just that as with everything else about New York, the trends seem to emerge earlier and be more spectacular in scope than elsewhere.

As for me, I'm moving from Manhattan to the Bronx--in all it's semi-pre-gentrified glory.


At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think New York will ever "be over" in the true sense of the phrase. Having said that, I can get enough of self proclaimed hipsters. After all, how cool are you if you are defining it by where you live and what you wear?

I live in Rego Park (actually in the Forest Hills side). We live in an attached home with a great backyard that's like a little forest. To me, this is our own little slice of heaven - close enough to Manhattan, and we're as cool as we want to be in our own multi-cultural haven. Thank you very much.

I loved these New York posts :) Happy New Year Elvira and good luck on your move.

At 4:56 AM, Anonymous al said...

I'm with G :-), these NY posts of yours have been great. And, G, my friends who live there there say that Rego Park is a terrific place to live and raise kids.

Up at 4:30 AM on 1/1/2007 (Happy New Year again, BTW), I suppose I'm one of those restless New Yorkers? I'm pretty sure that's not exactly wat you meant.

If you've ever been downtown, Elvira, you probably remember it as a deserted-nights-and-weekends place. Well, that's still pretty much true, with most of our few shiny new restaurants shuttered Saturdays and Sundays.

But somebody's building a Carousel in Battery Park. Ever been? Ever imagine a carousel in it?

So I guess somebody's thinking it ain't gonna stay that way down here much longer. We'll see about that.

But probably not until 2008.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


I'm originally from Queens myself (Glen Oaks) and it was a nice atmo to grow up in.

I'm familiar with the Rego Park/Forest Hills area too. One of my uncles lived in Forest Hills, and I always loved to visit him. The area was so beautiful, and he had a lovely rose garden in the back that I used to love to explore.

My mom was a bridge fanatic, and she used to take me to bridge clubs in the Kew Gardens area, and a friend of mine was from Rego Park as well.

I've found that as I get older, quality of life issues tend to prevail a lot more than when I was in my 20s. I want someplace that is a real "home"--especially since I've become a real homebody. Manhattan is still just a train ride away.


At 7:57 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


A carousel sounds way cool--and I predict that the weekends will be more abuzz soon, for better or worse. I'm also assuming that a lot of Wall Street bonus babies are looking to buy down there as well.

Don't know if this is exactly where you are, but I used to love to visit the World Trade area, and the Winter Garden in particular, which had those wonderful palm trees and free concerts to boot. And I remember the beautiful Battery Park City promenade as well. Because of its historic treasures, I don't think your area will be altered too too much, which is a good thing, no?

I'm glad you guys liked the piece. I have a collection of all my New York Stories to date over at Blogcritics on a special page.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Brink Craven said...

Hi E and thanks for sharing such an interesting article.

However, I take issue with some of the opinions cited therein....

Im really put off by all the outright elitism, braggery and snobbery that I hear from so
many NYCity-ites. (Present company excluded)

Personally, I think its uncouth, and being prejudiced concerning other cities, people and areas around the US (when it's obvious that many of these critics/elitists have never lived, or even visited any of them) is even more so. The implication seems to be that people and places outside of NYC are inferior in some very fundemental, undeniable ways.

I find these bourgeoisie attitudes rather offensive. Im probably perceived by many as just another schmuck who isnt fortunate enough to live in the great world of NYC. No doubt that its a wonderful place. I lived in Westchester for 21 years (we could see the skyline from the hills and river) and I visited NYC often and still do, but I never pined to live there. Does this make me somehow less sophisticated, hip, succesful or intelligent?

I live in Austin by choice, and Id like to share a bit about what its like to live here....

Austin has one of the most educated populations of any metro area in the US. (43% hold some kind of advanced degree)
It has the greatest number of bookstores and libraries per capita in the US. Which translates into it being one of the most literate, liberal populations in the country.
It's been recognized as one of the "greenest" cities in the US.
Its also one of the most hi tech cities in the US, it being one of its major industries. This also makes it a cleaner city, because manufacturing computer chips and components creates little pollution.
It has an immense and diverse cultural scene, considering its relatively small size. (approx. one million)

As for me, I pay 900 bucks a month to live in a 3 bedroom house ontop of a quarter acre of tree lined greenspace. It was built in the 40's, its beautiful, charming, its got hardwood floors, a multitude of big windows, ceiling fans, washer and dryer and CA/CH too!! Im only 10 minutes away from the city center and downtown (which is strikingly beautiful, in my opinion). And, urban decay is virtually non-existent. The list goes on...

Ok, now I am guilty of being a braggert too.

No doubt that it also has its "issues", but doesnt every place that is inhabited by humans?

Just my 2 cent rant for the day.


At 4:06 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


You said it, girlfriend! The typical Curbed commenters are snobbish, snyde, and downright nasty types. Many, of course, comment anonymously.

On a somewhat related note, I also discovered a lot of "bubble blogs" when I was digging into the real estate sites. These folks wrote with a fiendish glee about how America's economy was set to go down the toilet, and how real estate would be in the gutter. Many felt that these bubble folks were bitterly frustrated renters who hadn't had the bucks or the timing to get in on the real estate boom of yore. In any case, the pro-bubble contingents could be incomparably vicious.

I could see on the one hand how folks would feel bitter about the fact that real estate had become so ridiculously overpriced, with speculators making killings by flipping properties--and there was definitely a lot of greed involved in some of these dealings. But not everyone was in it for the bucks--many just wanted a piece of the American dream.

One of the things that rattled me the most was when commenters would say snide things about the Lower East Side, and how ghetto-ish it still was. Not the thing you want to hear when you're trying to sell your apt, but of course it all worked out and someone was "unhip" enough to buy it after all.

I guess my point is that somehow, when it comes to real estate, many people take it very personally. It seems in some very real sense to define who they are. And thus, whenever I read a real estate comment thread such as Curbed, this sense of defensiveness about these readers' turfs was plain to see in all its ugly glory.

Your place sounds like a dream. I knew that Austin was known for its prime music scene, but thanks for sharing all the other wonderful aspects of your city as well!

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous pia said...

I love NY with all my heart. Could even see the fireworks from the park in my living room.

But New Years is a magical NY night, and I have to weigh the pros of staying in an overpriced hood--Upper West Side to somewhere else. Don't think that it could be another borough--tried it

I do become angry when I hear stereotypes of New Yorker's because so many of us identify so firmly with America--and have traveled in it

Does it make me hipper because my parents then I happened to be born here?

America's a big country with much room for diversity and opinions.

New York's just one city--and a mindset that never goes away even if we leave

People who live in Austin, hippest city in the country, should be the first to understand.

What happens when it begins to get a bit shabby around the edges?

Don't mean to begin another civil war, just curious

happy New Year, Elvira, may you get everything that you wish for

At 4:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa, it's been awhile.
The Blog Explosion people are dicks and that’s all I am going to really say on that subject.
I had said more but I lost that comment.

I think it comes down to many factors.
I see it here.
The core of the city used to be cheap because people wanted to get away from the grime and crime in the inner city and moved to the suburbs.
The problem was that the commute was longer.
In time land owners realized they needed to lure these people back so they started renovating their properties to lure in the tenants willing to pay a higher price in a safer building but to be closer to work.
This caught on and started to drive out the low income people.
As the ones with the money saw opportunities to get into the center core so did the landlords and land owner hears the cha ching of the cash register and cranks up the price to where the well off can afford it and the poor can’t.
That’s progress and it’s happening all over the world.
I know the house I live in was $13000 when I got 30 years ago and today because its in the center its worth $250,000, 5 miles in any direction and knock off $80,000.
Then the city itself likes this because they could push out the undesirables from the view of visiting tourists and dignitaries.

Happy New Year Elvira

At 6:15 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Here's a comment I got on Part 1 over at BlogCritics from the aptly named rabblerouser Arch Conservative:

"Why is it that every pretentious, superficial, liberal, NYT reading, New York city asshole thinks that the whole world revolves around their city and that the rest of us are just pining to make the trip to live there ourselves.

The fact is that the rest of us in "flyover country" want nothing to do with your city, your "scenes" or your "hip factor." Is New York over? The only thing that needs to be gotten over is most of the people that live in New York and other big cities. "OOOHHH look at me.....I'm so liberal.....I'm so sophisticated.....I live in a big city and am so much better than everyone else...oooohhh I'm so superior in every way to you ignorant rubes that live outside the city." it's you people that need to get over yourselves and your grossly inaccurate sense of importance."

Nice, huh?

As you and I have both touched on in our NYC writings, folks new to the city often have no idea of how rough things were, especially back in the 70s when most people who could afford to move out of Manhattan did so, and tourists wouldn't be caught dead here. Being a New Yorker wasn't such a status symbol back then.

Brink and I are very tight, and I know she isn't one to stereotype anyone. She was reacting to some of the horrible comments from the Curbed contingent, and they are very obnoxious.

No matter what, I'll always be proud to be a New Yorker.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


What you say is oh so true. It's just funny the way things can go full-circle.

Aside from some poor being run out of their city apts to make room for wealthier tenants, there's been some disturbing eminent domain issues coming up around the country. Folks who own homes they've lived in all their lives are being forced out when the city decides to "develop" the area. It's pretty disturbing.

Ooh, I'd love to hear more about your opinions on BE!

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After I read your post I decided to go look because I KNOW I am registered there.
I have been reading your blog for quite a while now and I can’t see anything wrong with it as far as it being obscene in any matter or form.
What I am trying to say is that as far as language and obscenities go, next to me you’re an Angel.
I’m rude, lude and downright crude at times but there I was with my blog on their site when I logged in.
I don’t use BE, it was just something I added when I first started blogging.
Since then I found that the best way to find people was from their comments on other peoples blogs.

What I am now wondering is, do these idiots read past the fucken title of the blog that is being submitted because if they did, they would have tossed me out a long time ago.
Another thing, if you go into your settings on BE, it does give you the option to filter out blogs with adult content in your searches.
Why have that there if you are going deny blogs with adult content?
Or do they conceder anything past “Golly Gee” adult content.
You know I am almost tempted to re register there and change my blog title to “Lost Here And Beyond Your Shit”
There is no logic in not letting you on their site.
I don’t even think this is censorship and I HATE censorship.
This is just plain stupidity and an administrator being either to overwhelmed with work is s moron.
They should be happy having blogs such as yours on their site to give it some credibility.

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