So as a New Yorker, Spike Lee is a NY presence. Certainly Do The Right Thing was an incredibly authentic and wonderful capture of what NYC was like in the late 80's. He's also a Knicks fan, like our version of Jack Nicholson, except the Knicks are terrible. So it wasn't really a surprise when Spike went on a tirade about gentrification and compared it to Columbus discovering an inhabited land.
And some of what he said was absolutely correct. I did respond to noise complaints by new white neighbors next to Mt. Morris Park who complained about the constant drumming from a drum circle. I vividly remember the conversation going like this:
Me: So you just moved here, right?
Me: And you probably would have rather lived on the Upper West Side or Upper East or West Village, but the rent was too expensive, right?
Him: Uh yeah?
Me: These guys have been drumming in this circle for over 50 years. This is what they do. You can't come into this building and expect that to stop. I can go down there and talk to them, if you want, but you might not find people very friendly.
But I knew my attempt at street counseling wouldn't stop the influx and if the new residents did stop the drum circle at Mt Morris Park, then that's a shame. Spike had the right concept, but the wrong line. He made it about race, which of course made lots of people turn off, and that's all wrong. Hell, he moved to the Upper East Side. Along those lines, people on Park Ave could say the same thing about him.
This is not gentrification along national lines. It's not like thousands of North Koreans are pouring into Brooklyn and replacing all the bagel and pizza shops with kimchi parlors. That I would be more okay with. This is a gentrification of money and boredom.
Let's take Grey's Papaya down in the Village which is closing after losing its rent. It provided food and sweet papaya juice for thousands of New Yorkers, including drunk NYU kids and the homeless. The landlord wanted to raise the monthly rent from $30,000 to $50,000 a month, which was too much for a place selling two hots and a drink for under $5. It's being replaced by a juice place, offering cleanses and other high priced drinks. It probably won't last, and then it will be vacant and might turn into a retail clothing store or some sexy maternity store. But it will never be a place that sells 2 hot dogs and a drink for $5 ever again.
This is happening all over the city. Locksmiths, hardware stores, my local pizza place, diners. All gone, to be replaced by banks and Duane Reades and boutique stores. The trend though is the same, once these places leave, they will never return. If they do return, you get some new take on the concept. Take Empire Diner for example. My mother would take me here as a kid and it was so much fun. And it was a diner. This new concept, headed by Amanda Freitag (No one knew who was the chef when I went there as a kid) will have matzoh ball soup with bone marrow and skate.
This is the existential threat that faces New York City. It becomes a city that loses its sense of place while the chains and feel of Times Square creep outward until they're next door. I don't need Lululemon to buy yoga pants. I can do that online, but without a hardware store, how the hell do I fix my sink. Sometimes Youtube videos aren't good enough.
If you want to be really sad,about NYC, then read this blog.