new york changing

I mentioned in my last post, my idea for NaNoWriMo has a historical plot. One of my protagonists lived through New York City in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and I’ve been researching important historical events of these years.

My thinking on the last 50 years of New York City history would probably take a whole book, but I will say 2 things: 1) there’s a part of me that always wanted to “be a part of it”; I grew up in the Jersey suburbs and spent a fair amount of time in the city as a kid, but more than that, I wanted to be a part of the New York as seen on TV, even the rough, nasty parts of it. I can’t really explain why. 2) There’s a lot of weird nostalgia for the Way Things Used to Be that puzzles me because it’s like people don’t remember how awful the city was, or they, for some reason, want to increase the odds they’ll get mugged. Maybe that makes them feel like a real city dweller? I’ll take the safer city, thanks.

But it’s hard not to get nostalgic, too, since the New York I live in is not the one I saw on the TV as a kid in the 80s, not the place I wanted to live when I was a teenager. And I think the cleaner New York has lost something, some edge to its creativity, as the mom and pop stores give way to Starbucks and the Gap.

Well, anyway. Speaking of 70s nostalgia, Scouting New York has a really cool series showing how New York has changed since certain iconic New York movies:

Taxi Driver: part 1, part 2, part 3

Ghostbusters: part 1, part 2

On Taxi Driver, Scout says:

Personally, I don’t look back nostalgically on the grittier New York of the late 1970’s. As I never experienced it first hand, I believe it’s dangerous and naive to romanticize something the city has worked so desperately to rise up from. In 1976, a large portion of New York’s population people simply didn’t care, and the city suffered for it. If you pine for this level of apathy, there are plenty of other American cities going through some pretty bad rough patches you could move to, and I promise the rent will be much cheaper.

In 2009, people care. A byproduct of people caring is a city that is safer, more g-rated, more expensive, more museum-like. I agree that such an environment leaves very little room for growth, artistic or otherwise – frankly, you CAN’T have a Belmore diner at the corner of 28th & Park anymore (if you owned the place, would you not sell the property for countless millions?). While I dislike the fact that so many of the FAR more interesting locations in Taxi Driver have been replaced by Duane Reades, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Sephora’s, I can only look at it as part of the unfortunate social evolution of New York. Ultimately, if New York City didn’t want them, they wouldn’t exist for long.

And, yeah, that pretty succinctly sums up what I believe also, and it’s going to be one of the themes of my novel. See also this LCD Soundsystem song: