Thursday, March 03, 2005

New York City

When I moved to New York City, leaving Chicago in the middle of the night a few days after defending my doctoral dissertation (successfully, thank the gods) I was so excited that I drove all night in my borrowed VW bus, almost pushed off the road by huge trucks which flew by me as I struggled, in a that overloaded vehicle, up the fog-drenched mountains of western Pennsylvania. I remember driving toward the Holland tunnel as the sun came up, illuminating Manhattan which waited before me. Ever since I was a young boy and we would come here to visit my grandparents in Astoria, the city excited me in some mysterious way. It had long been my wish to live in a city that was so vital, so bizarre, a place as different from the small place where I grew up as almost any I could find. And I have loved living here, where one can be one's self without self-consciousness, where I hear so many different languages every day, where the friends I have made come from all over the world. And as a musician and artist there is no better place--although I miss the country and my beloved trees and forests--because here people know what artists do, and I do not have to explain myself. Back in Pennsylvania, when I got a scholarship to Vassar and decided to study music, everyone asked "what are you going to do with that?" Most people had not heard of Vassar, and those that had were perplexed that I would study something that, to them, had no value.

However, reading a column in the Village Voice this morning, I realized that I am very sad and worried about what is happening here in NYC. The article was about Dumbo, the part of Brooklyn's tip that abuts Brooklyn Heights. For years friends, artists mostly, of mine lived as pioneers in a place where the streets at night were deserted, where there were no restaurants or stores or caf├ęs or trendy shops. The writer of the column described Dumbo now as looking like the set of some kind of yuppie movie, where baby strollers swarm the sidewalks. In what seems like an instant this old crumbling place, where artists could find cheap lofts, where the energy of creativity crackled in the dark, is now as bland and sterile as so many other places in the city. It would be almost impossible to move to New York City now as a poor ex-student and aspiring artist; things are too expensive, there is no room left, it seems, for anyone who does not have deep pockets, which excludes most people like me. This makes me sad. The city will definitely lose something if this horrible situation continues. Bring back a little crime; bring back some seediness. Take the East Village back to the way it was when I lived there. Erase Dumbo; turn the shiny condos back into crumbling old warehouses. Please. Because what would New York City be without the creative class? And I don't mean the wealthy creative class, who are more about business than creativity. I mean the young creative people who dream, as I did, of being free in a place where creativity is celebrated over money.

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