June 14, 2010

Goodbye to Lost City

Posted in City life, Uncategorized at 12:51 am by chavisory

In sad news this weekend, Brooks of Sheffield has announced that he’ll be ending his Lost City blog, which chronicled the loss–and occasional preservation–of historic New York City establishments and architecture, after almost five years, of which I had only become a regular reader in the past few months.

Much as I enjoyed this fascinating blog, the need for it was always a melancholy thing in itself, necessitated by the constant loss of New York the way it used to be, not just the danger (which I won’t mourn) and grit, but appreciation for beauty and grace rather than just functionalism and profit–which I can’t say I ever really knew myself, having only moved here about 6 years ago this summer, but even so, I can feel the difference between the first time I visited and now.  The proliferation of bank branches, chain drugstores, and Starbucks is…disheartening.  St. Mark’s Place looks like a tourist trap, a theme park version of the countercultural haven it used to be.  Brand new giant glass luxury condo towers blight the skylines of my own neighborhood–crassly discordant and out of context in this largely Hispanic working class neighborhood of townhouses and pre-war walk-ups bordered by three parks.  And don’t even get me started on Williamsburg.  I don’t consider myself a privileged young transient or a long-term tourist here; I’d like to stay for many more years, and yet I worry seriously about the continuing affordability of doing so (not that I know where else I’d be able to live and still earn a living) if something doesn’t change drastically.

What makes me sadder, and more anxious, is when Brooks says in his farewell letter that in five years of keeping the blog, he doesn’t feel that his writing has made any real difference in the course of events.  That makes me wonder what kind of chance writers, artists, and agitators of all kinds really have when up against the basically unlimited money and power of business interests and callous and opportunistic “leaders.”

Still, I’m not quite as pessimistic as Brooks.  Change is really the only constant; old New York is worth mourning, but nothing, nowhere, ever gets to stay the same.  That doesn’t mean that things only get worse.  Last year we got the High Line Park (an abandoned elevated train track converted into a floating garden walk), and next year we’re scheduled to get the High Bridge pedestrian promenade back.  My neighborhood (which shall remain unnamed) has also seen the opening of several eclectic small cafés and bars, and the best cheapo Chinese takeout place ever, in previously empty or ramshackle corner storefronts, not just the monstrous luxury condos.

I went walking in Central Park at night for the first time last week…and that’s not the death/robbery wish that it used to be.  I am pleased to report that no harm came to me.  Teenagers, college students and hostel visitors were clumped in the grass around the pond with picnic blankets, guitars and open containers.  A whole tent city of children was camped out on the Great Hill.  I saw a night heron swoop silently across the water to a ragged old willow tree that seems to have served as home base to several different birds of prey the last few years, and the first fireflies coming out.

In no way do I intend to try to take over where Lost City is leaving off, but I will continue, in my own way, to document and share my own personal and favorite aspects of the city–the corners of New York which still remain magical, genuine, cryptic, romantic, obscure, unfinished and unpolished.  And even now there is no shortage of them.


  1. Mike Ruby said,

    I like this perspective. Optimism is difficult when one strongly identifies with preservation of specific structures and systems against the macrohistorical or metahistorical processes like evolution and decay. Faith in the human capacity for renewal works better.

    I also can’t wait to walk across the High Bridge.

  2. Byron said,

    When we visited Seattle a few years back we ran into the same sort of thing when we took the underground tour. (In the heady days of the late 1800s, street level was 8+ feet below where it is now, the history of the streets and buildings is quite fascinating.) The tour guide pointed out a number of different early 20th century buildings that developers wanted to demolish (including all the neat underground stuff around them) to build high-priced ocean-view condos.

    I’m sure that, like NYC, there are plenty of other neat old spots that no one will get to for a long while, but replacing cool early 1900s architecture with cookie-cutter early 2000s buildings is still a bummer.

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