Can We Please Stop Bemoaning the Loss of "Edgy" New York?

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Sex shop does not equal New York City.
The Huffington Post had a pretty cool idea! What if they tackled this whole "New York City" thingamajig head on? What if the loss of Times Square sex shops, Off-Track Betting parlors, and "rock clubs" (in particular, one named CBGB) have changed the deepest nature of our city, making us dull and average and prepackaged like American cheese? Wouldn't an exploration of that be fascinating? Plus, give good SEO?

We know it's a bit of a cheap shot to rib HuffPo (and, as a reader points out, the article was syndicated from the AP, which possibly makes it worse), but this recent attempt to explore our city's psyche -- "As Edgy NYC Disappears, Does Its Character Go Too?" -- was especially grating. This old chestnut, HAS NEW YORK LOST ITS EDGE?, or some manner of it, has been bandied about for so many years that the only "edgy" thing about it is how it feels against the inside of our brain. Please. Stop.

"Edgy." What is that, even? We're pretty sure that very few people who lived in New York back in those gritty, real days of getting mugged by drug addicts in the Village called it "edgy." "Sucky," maybe. "Dangerous." "A bummer." But regardless of what it was called, and how it has changed, can we acknowledge the following?

"Character" is not "edge." Sometimes having an edge can make you a character, but character is not edge. "Edge" is also not, forever and ever, seedy sex shops and smoke-filled betting ops. Edge changes as well; all the sooner to be replaced by whatever the newest "edge" is. When we look back from our fancy flying-robot-desktops in 2040 there will surely be those who describe our New York in 2011 as edgy because of its snarky bloggers who'd just as soon stab you with their unused pens -- and who bemoan the loss of that edge in their present day environment. (Remember the old days? Weren't they grand?)

But perhaps the one unchanging character trait in the hundreds of years of New York City history is its changeability, and the fact that people will continue to complain about how we're just not how we used to be. Like this:

Around countless corners, the weird, unexpected, edgy, grimy New York -- the town that so many looked to for so long as a relief from cookie-cutter America -- has evolved into something else entirely: tamed, prepackaged, even predictable.

But what's predictable, really? That people will continue to move here to do more than they can accomplish elsewhere? Regardless of how many Starbucks we get?

Clearly, articles like these are oversimplifications. Clearly, the entire city has not swapped chain restaurants for all of its "beer gardens" (what?). Yes, sometimes the iconic has been replaced with the ATM. But sometimes the old diner closed because it wasn't very good anymore. Sometimes mistakes or bad decisions have been and continue to be made; certain changes are not always for the best -- but you can't say that the ability to constantly evolve and develop isn't.

So there's good and bad. That doesn't mean New York doesn't have character. That means it's complicated. It always has been.

It's been said before, but we'll say it again: New Yorkers like to complain. We are vocal. We are nostalgic. We are your quintessential grass-is-always-greener types. It's in our nature. Hence, the article's quote from Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York: "I think that's also part of the New York character," she says, "that 'Things were better when ...'" But she's not saying things were better then. She's saying some of us like to say they were.

The thing that sucks most about articles like these is that they proceed to trickle across the United States confusing the rest of America about New York's supposedly lost character, New York's weird love of street fights and switchblades and dank semen-stained haunts, New York's just not being like the rest of us.

The truth is that New York is not like the rest of them -- but it's not in the way these articles attempt to promote. It's not about loss of distinctiveness. The distinction is in how we transition from one stage to the next; how we continue to move forward while standing up for the mom and pop shop at the same time we strive for success along with our special brand of joie de vivre. It's how we find a balance between the old and new that doesn't make us either irrelevant or sell-outs. It's why we continue to love living here, and why articles like this continue to be written about us, so the "rest of America" can talk about how New York has lost its character while also -- we're onto you! -- talking about New York.

[JDoll][@thisisjendoll]


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20 comments
Asdasd
Asdasd

When Bernie Madoff and the trust fund babies take over you get lots of Starbucks and zero class. Always has been that way and thats what they do to every city they covet. These people go looking for the "hip" scene yet have nothing to offer anyone but their presence - which means a big nosed kid with a spare tire hanging around looking for people to entertain them. They age into Bernies. So you get streets full of chain stores selling $500 hoodies and prepackaged expresso. The trust fund babies then complain about "edge". Hey ... its you that took it away.

Asdasd
Asdasd

New York is predictable though. Its all GAP and Starbucks like every other city now is. The Bernie Maddoffs are the only ones living in nice places and lets face it - that’s not an attractive populace. Thus why many people are out in Brooklyn etc including the move trucks.

Mayor Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomberg

I believe that actual live peep shows are against the law now, which is a real shame b/c one of my fondest memories of Times Square was a fun night of buying a bag of pot on the street, watching some 3 card Monty, and blowing every last dollar I had watching some german girl dance and feeling her boobs, and (hangs head in shame) even just talking to her.

It's a shame that most of Manhattan has gone through this gentrification b/c Manhattan - being Manhattan - is where you get that true 'concrete jungle' feel b/c of the huge old infrastructure that is there. That disappears with each neon sign that gets taken down and replaced with an LED "Virgin Megastore" or (g-d help us) a freaking M&Ms store. It's also the destruction of a great history taking place in addition to the loss of a fun place to hang out (and finger german/russian girls at a rate of $3 per minute).

As far as the peep shows go..it's my understanding (from reading VV) that they are now havens for random quick sex acts. How is that better than what they were before?

Iagowasframed
Iagowasframed

I think you feel the way you do because you didn't live here then. You wrote:

"Edgy." What is that, even? We're pretty sure that very few people who lived in New York back in those gritty, real days of getting mugged by drug addicts in the Village called it "edgy." "Sucky," maybe. "Dangerous." "A bummer." 

No we called it home and while we complained about the grime and the crime we also reveled in the idea that without taking the subway you could walk to see real artists working, real(sometimes horrible) punk bands playing in filthy clubs full of people who did indeed have an edge. When I went to the theater I could spend a couple of bucks and watch a complete idiot molest the very idea of acting, or see a moving life changing moment in a dirty walk up theater in SOHO....yes that place with all the boutiques. You don't drive art, dance and theater by living among parentally financed NYU students, and you don't drive it when a tiny walkup studio costs $1600.  

Is NY a nicer place to live now? Sure, but that doesn't make it a better place to live. It is quickly becoming the mecca of the banal.

javaman8263
javaman8263

The "edge" has moved to the suburbs because they can't afford to live in the city. They have been priced out by bloombergs bizarre need to clean.

Jonathan W. Hendry
Jonathan W. Hendry

Video peeps don't even really count. It's not a real peepshow unless there's someone gyrating behind glass, like the Madonna video. (I doubt there are any like that in New York, anymore. Video is probably cheaper, and having the performer there probably leads to prostitution sometimes. There were some like that in Philly in the late 80s, but were taken out later and replaced by video. So I hear, anyway...)

Video peepshows are just skanky semen-stained closets where (probably closeted) gay guys loiter hoping to hook up.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays

Honey, as long as you're writing in this city, you damn right NYC's lost its edge. You're softer than a carton of pampers.

Northern Manhattan still has it. Da Bronx still has it. Most of Brooklyn (despite hipsters' best efforts) still has it, and Queens never lost it. But yeah, the past 15 years has seen a ton of folks moving in that never woulda spent more than 3 hours in the city beforehand.

Way to smooth over all them years of Giuliani and Bloomberg-led gentrifying. You should go into curling. Might be a better career for you than journalism, Doll.

j. smith
j. smith

When the planes hit the Empire State building, I stopped looking at what was happening there.

JS,Topeka

dark1p
dark1p

I kind of agree with Jen in that it's a balance, really. Living for a long time in the East Village...just part of the Lower East Side until the real estate clowns renamed it...I think that the early to mid 1990s were pretty good. There were still some interesting places and neighborhoods to visit at night, but a lot of the crime and danger of visiting them had given way by then. My neighborhood fell into that category, too, which was great. Now everything and almost every place is gentrified and run with a slicker commercial edge, and it does feel like blujork said, like I'm one step further removed from the 'real deal'. Maybe there is no real deal anymore, period. Maybe this era has just marginalized it so much that it's a lot harder to find than it used to be. I'm not sure. But I'm glad I was here before all the Carrie Bradshaws moved in and can remember the atmosphere and the feel. It was very different, a lot less crowded, and more interesting, at least for me.

Guest
Guest

The real, "edgy" NYC still exists; people are just looking around the wrong corners. It's no longer in Times Square and the Lower East Side. It's in places like Bed-Stuy and Jackson Heights. People often forget that New York City is a very big place; I've lived here almost all my life and I haven't come close to seeing the entire city.

esquared
esquared

yes nyc still has a character but it's a dull and whitewashed character. apparently, people who are moving to nyc nowadays are mostly dull financiers, trust fund kids, or scary sadshaw wannabes, who do nothing but shop and consume, and not to contribute to the arts or something original.

as for the sex shops it doesn't mean we have to go to them; it just means they need to be there. the wantons and the desires are still gonna be there (just look at how billions of dollars the internet porn industry make), so why not have it; at least it's out in the open.

that old diner did not close because it wasn't good anymore, nor mistakes or bad decisions were made. it's because the rents have become too damn high for them. the greedy landlords have raised the price of the rents that only the chains and real estate developers can have the business.

what happened, and is happening, to nyc is that the seedy places, and all mom-and-pop stores are being replaced by chain places, with prices only tourists and trust fund babies would afford. when all of new york city becomes becomes just like any other suburbia -- filled with chain stores, walmart, the chipotles, the starbucks -- if all of the country is gonna have all the same thing, then what's the attraction for nyc, or what would it make any different than cleveland or ann arbor; nyc ,thus, just becomes another one giant mall. does a mall has a character and an edge -- perhaps, but so does paris hilton, but that's not nyc character and edge.

Evan
Evan

My hot water goes out at random. That's edgy enough.

blujork
blujork

Don't you mean?:"Dull and prepackaged like (Artisanal) American cheese."

Character is substance. It's built from experience. It's built from hardship, struggle, illness, perceived difference, agony, dark nights of the soul far away from what most people live vicariously through on TV or internet "entertainment" or newsbytes. It comes from connecting with life in a much deeper way. Some people have to do this because it's what they are born into. Character is people hustling, trying to survive. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes are human beings connected to larger stories. When people say I miss the old Times Square they aren't saying they miss the crime and the destititution what they are saying is I miss a time when things seemed realer than real. No gloss. Straight up. Times Square was merely a tiny manifestation of that. But for me in my city, it was across the board with people and experiences - good, some not so good. All in your face. Raw. Times Square is a miniscule percentage of what edgy New York is/was all about because it's more popular than thousands of neighborhoods spread throughout the boroughs. What people who are relatively new to this city do not understand is that what native New Yorkers miss the most is the CULTURE of New York. Very similar to what people miss when about an entire country's culture and way of being. The raw experience that comes from living and learning to thrive amidst poverty, religion, violence, racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. People come here thinking they know a lot about this place and its people or don't really give a shit. Although change is the only constant, its not only damaging, it's disrespectful when people come to place and try to develop it in ways that go against its overall culture. It's such a tired historical pattern. If the natives are annoying the settlers with how much this place has turned to fake, bland, corporate shit, then go "discover" another "really cool" place. Please.

Jen Doll
Jen Doll

Previously unconsidered career suggestions are always appreciated, Mr. Mays! Nonetheless, think I'll stay put. Far too soft for the Olympics.

Adrian Fussell
Adrian Fussell

+1

Manhattan might become a playground for "supergentry" and out-of-towners, but there is real culture going on in the outer boroughs.

Jen Doll
Jen Doll

esquared, i respect your opinion, and i think you make good points, but isn't generalizing in the reverse just as bad as the presumed "de-edging" of new york city? can't we accept that some changes are good and some are bad, and that this is how life and cities exist? i know many people who have moved to new york not as dull financiers or trust fund kids, but as big dreamers who wanted to create lives for themselves, which is not unlike thousands of new yorkers who came before us. there's a dialogue to be had here, but the snowball effect argument demeans it.

Stratleswattz
Stratleswattz

HEY ESQUARED I WISH I COULD HAVE PUT IT THAT WAY, BUT SISCE I DIDN'T I'M GLAD YOU SPOKE FOR ME !!!

Willie Mays
Willie Mays

Wander uptown sometimes. There's a big world past 110th street. And I don't mean at the Magic Johnson plaza or whatever they call that part of 125 these days.

blujork
blujork

Rents are rising in the outer boroughs. Lots of NYers are being priced out of places they've lived for years by people who can afford 1500-3000 dollar/month or more rents. gentrification is going on all over New York. It's happening more slowly but it's been happening for years now.

blujork
blujork

I live past 110th street

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