Book Review — Vanishing New York

Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul
Jeremiah Moss

Hyper-gentrification. It’s happening in nearly every city, in varying degrees. Currently, there is almost zero affordable housing in most major cities around the globe, with New York probably being the worst scenario.

Starting with the East Village, Jeremiah Moss, creator of a blog by the same title, moves through the various neighbourhoods of Manhatten and Brooklyn, outlining the efforts made to push out the poor, the artists, the gay communities, in order to make way for condos for the wealthy, where they don’t even actually live, but allow the places to sit empty.

An ongoing process of pushing out the poor by various means (luring the “acceptable ethnics” — Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians — to the predominantly WASPish suburbs) and cutting down existing services to “redlined” neighbourhoods to make living there miserable, was the MO for mayors whose goal was to turn a city that was all about the different cultures, artists and weirdo, into a sleek, Disneyfied place for rich white folks and tourists. There is real evidence of white supremacy at work as these efforts predominantly targeted Blacks and Puerto Ricans.

Reading Vanishing New York, I see a lot of Toronto in these scenarios, although we still manage to keep many of our most unique neighbourhoods intact (Kensington Market, for instance, where residents have vehemently fought gentrification), although the flight to the suburbs is real, and areas such as Chinatown and Little India are shells of their former vibrancy.

Moss has been accused of being overly-nostalgic, and there were situations in the book that felt over-inflated to prove a point, even if they are true.

The trick for everyone, Moss included, is to find the line. We are all gentrifiers. If you went to New York, or any other city, from somewhere else, if you enjoy a craft beer, some artisanal pickles or have recently started buying music on vinyl, you might be part of the problem. And while some people might long for the energy and brashness of the East Village in the 70s, I doubt anybody misses being mugged.

A great analysis of how New York City is changing, but Moss might be too invested in his topic.


Wildflower – Crazy ‘Bout You, Yeah

However you feel about gentrification – and it has it pros and cons – it has to be said that part of its purpose is to clean places up. Clean out the grubby building, the grubby litter, the grubby people and all that grubby scrub at the side of the road. Gentrification means pristine lawns and swept walks. Sure there are flowers, but they’re there on purpose – well trimmed and watered and chosen to make a statement.

Continue reading “Wildflower – Crazy ‘Bout You, Yeah”

Through the Cracks

This neighbourhood is an odd blend of rich and poor. Gorgeous Victorian homes on one block, crumbling low-income apartment buildings on another. It’s a struggle between the NIMBY dreaming of idylic times and high property values and the down and out cruising for a fix of something – sex, drugs, lotto tickets – to dull the pain for a few brief moments.

There is always a sad collection of lost souls on King just west of Dufferin every morning. It’s worse in the summer when tiny apartments or rooming house rooms become stifling in the heat. Then they sprawl across the doorsteps of shops, take over stoops and sometimes just situate themselves in the middle of the sidewalk – drinking, smoking, puking, turning tricks and getting high, as necessary, lather, rinse, repeat. Garbage seems to collect around them, like they’re magnetized; paper coffee cups, cigarette butts, broken beer bottles and fast food wrappers gathering at their feet as they sit through the night, getting high or coming down.

It’s better in the winter, when it’s too cold for them to spend the night on the side of the road. Then they all disappear, leaving the streets empty and nonthreatening, only crawling out of bed in the late afternoon to gather in front of the usual haunts, bleary-eyed and hoping to score.

Continue reading “Through the Cracks”

Why Go to New York? We’ve Got the Lower East Side Right Here!

As an urbanite who understand the issues regarding urban sprawl, I realize that we’ve got no choice but to accept the presence and growth of condo developments in the downtown core. Better that we create density in an area where people don’t need cars than to continue to force people out to the burbs where their ugly houses destroy valuable farmland and their hour-long commutes create pollution.

That doesn’t mean I have to like the whole “lifestyle marketing” scheme that comes with so many condo projects.

Today in the mail, I received a postcard for something called Kormann House (note – bullshit Flash website – click at your own risk!). This is a historic 19th century building at Queen Street East and Sherbourne that is in the process of having an ugly glass tower perched atop it. These types of buildings are accepted and encouraged because the facade at street level remains virtually unchanged, but the overall structure often comes off looking like two very disaparate buildings mushed together.

Continue reading “Why Go to New York? We’ve Got the Lower East Side Right Here!”