Home Subway History In search of an ‘authentic’ New York

In search of an ‘authentic’ New York

by Benjamin Kabak

In 2014, this brightly lit G train covered in fake graffiti is what passes for a view of 1980s New York. (Photo via Shavon Meyers/Facebook)

For those New Yorkers of a certain age and certain background, the concept of an “authentic” city experience always seems just out of reach. We live in the era of super-tall buildings with $50 million apartments, brownstones in Bed Stuy that trade for $2 million, and a designer clothing store inhabiting the former home of the Ramones, Talking Heads and Misfits. Immigrants dressed as superheroes and cartoon characters are a far cry from Times Square’s halcyon days of strippers and drug addicts, and the East Village embodied by Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a distant memory. The Bronx is booming, not burning.

For long-time New Yorkers, the city has lost some of the je ne sais quoi that made it special. Sure, it’s safe, and anyone who bought an apartment 30 or 40 years ago is sitting on a valuable investment indeed, but the grittiness of Old New York is no longer with us. It’s too safe; it’s too sterile; it’s too much of a playground for the rich. The cleanup efforts that started under Rudy Giuliani culminated in a 12-year Bloomberg mayoralty, and today, New York is a big booming city that’s pushing gentrification into areas that, 10 of 15 years ago, seemed impregnable and immune to the coffee shop-and-kale expansion.

Nothing quite encapsulates New York’s rebound from the depths of Drop Dead 1970s quite like the subway. Today, nearly 6 million people per day ride the subways, but in the nadir of the 1980s, Crime — not of the “Showtime!” variety — breakdowns, track fires and derailments were the norm. The Bernhard Goetz shooting came to symbolize an era of unrest when subway ridership was sparse, and on one would ride late night through certain neighborhoods. Ridership in 1982 was 938 million; ridership in 2013 was 1.708 billion. We ride at 2 a.m. without thinking; thirty years ago, this was unimaginable.

For younger New Yorkers, for transplants, for children of the late 1980s who came to New York for that authentic experience, it’s gone. The L train has new rolling stock and is packed to the gills 24/7. The J and Z trains ride through some gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods, and a trip through East New York is simply a means to get to JFK or the beaches in the Rockaways. This is the New York of the 2010s; this is not New York of the movies. Kurt Russell escaped, and the city hasn’t been the same.

Still, that desire for authenticity persists which leads me to Shaina Stigler, a 25-year-old performer who, according to reports, moved to New York in 2007 and this past weekend tried to recreate an era for which she wasn’t alive. When the Daily News first reported on the 1980s recreation set for a G train on Friday, I was inherently skeptical. While I’m no fan of the bank-ification of Manhattan real estate, development and growth should be encouraged, and for many reasons, I find fetishizing nostalgia highly problematic. It focuses on the image of grittiness without exploring what were deep-rooted crises and social ills plaguing the city.

Stigler’s piece though was ostensibly art and a means for self-expression. In one sense, that drive to create and perform has been a part of New York through good times and bad and will always be an undercurrent in the life of the city. And yet, in reading, Sarah Goodyear’s wrap up of the subway takeover, I had the distinct sense that this was the 1980s through the lens of the privileged class of 2014 New Yorkers. Stigler claimed she wanted to recreat what Goodyear termed the “grimy, traumatic, and glorious ’80s,” but from the photos, this was heavy on the glorious, low on the grimy and traumatic.

To recreate the scene, Stigler decked out a car in plastic wrap and had a graffiti artist create the illusion of a tagged car. They even enjoyed the company of old Guardian Angels, though none of them faked any crimes on Friday. It seems and sounds surreal. “My generation romanticizes that time,” Stigler said to Goodyear. “I think as artists in particular, we are definitely feeling a lack of authenticity in the city. As it gets cleaned up and made more beautiful, it’s lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Back then it was more of a life or death thing. It was, How much are you willing to risk to be an artist or whatever you want to be? Through that adversity and through that struggle, amazing, beautiful things can happen.”

The 1980s in New York were not a rough time for everyone, but the adversity that Stigler mentions today involves waiting a few extra minutes for a G train that, thirty years ago, the crowd celebrating on Friday would never have ridden. The adversity of the 1980s included a crack epidemic and the AIDS crisis. It featured parents so overly concerned for their kids’ safety that some of my friends — native New Yorkers at that — took their first ever subway rides when we went to Yankee Stadium to celebrate my 10th birthday. This ain’t no party, David Byrne once sung, and it wasn’t.

But we can remember through nostalgia too and hold onto parts of forgotten New York that made people want to come to the city in the first place. If we forget, do we lose that part as well? Dwelling on the negative without celebrating the positive will make us forget why we’re here and why so many people wanted to be here. Authenticity is ultimately what each person makes of it, and it’s a balancing act. Maybe there is no authentic New York and maybe there never was. Maybe authentic New York is what each person makes of it every day.

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Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 1:05 am

There’s always Real New York™. It drives, votes Republikan, is pasty white, and don’t take crap from nobody. Got that, asshole?

But seriously, the sterility in New York is partly because there is actually little tolerance left for vice (which !=crime) or deviance. Entrepreneurs need some latitude to break rules. NYC is probably the biggest westernized city without a red light district, booze is illegal if you’re under 21 (largely New Jersey’s fault), and gambling is illegal. This stuff doesn’t hurt anyone, at least if it’s controlled, but it does offend the prigs who have ended up in charge.

NYC barely manages to have an artisan class because of a mix of high rents, high regulations, and…well, let’s face it, for all their consumption, the “rich” in the phrase “playground for the rich” don’t always have exquisite taste. Philly’s Little Italy has a bunch of shops where people make authentic pastas and other foods by hand. Manhattan’s tourist trap Little Italy is full of bland restaurants selling spaghetti and meatballs to fat midwesterners who think eating the same thing they have for dinner four nights a week in New York is authentic.

Granted, we’re still more socially permissive than most of the USA. But we’ve fallen behind a lot of the wider world.

Edward August 19, 2014 - 1:47 am

Amen brutha! Cities like Philly, Chicago, hell even big chunks of LA are a lot more authentic than NYC has become in the past 20 years. So much faux-this and retro-that in a town that has truly become the corporate capital of America. Unfortunately “corporate” is always done by committee, and is perennially five hears behind any trend. NYC is over, but the drunken frat boys and “Sex and the City” wannabes just don’t know it yet.

Edward August 19, 2014 - 1:48 am


AG August 19, 2014 - 11:10 am

That’s strange because all you have to do is go to Philly and Chicago and listen to their mayors how they are going to “out do New York”. Every city is trying to build a “High Line” – especially those two. Every where wants “mixed use tranit oriented development”… which is what NYC is.. People lived over stores for 100 years here. Now everyone is building a transit system with retail/commercial below and residential on top.
No city wants to be seen as gritty anymore… they just don’t. There is no tax revenue in grittiness anymore.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 2:08 pm

New York fucks up TOD too. Land use regs here are hostile to it. The cities in the USA that are building light rail systems (I don’t think anyone besides NYC and LA is doing a subway this decade) are imitating European cities, where it’s kosher to build such things even in small/medium cities because planners realize it can draw more ridership and is actually cheaper in the long run. New York is imitating Latin America and focusing on more buses – even as Latin America is probably moving past that policy!

We have some good mixed use development, but it’s in spite of our politics, not because of them.

AG August 19, 2014 - 4:10 pm

I’m not talking today’s developments of 2014… I’m talking how the city was built.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 6:28 pm

I understood, but it still seems like the wrong narrative. New York is almost still the odd man out on reforming land use. Look at how cratered with parking lots some cities are that once had decent-ish transit are. They’re not imitating New York when they start building transit, they’re reversing course. New York is not.

AG August 19, 2014 - 11:06 pm

The portion of transit riders to the population is not even close. Not even close. Walkable cities? Only Boston – San Fran – rank anywhere near.

If you want to say it’s “backward” compared to certain places in Europe and Asia – then no problem… But in this country? It would take decades before the cities in question get even close – if NY stood still.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 11:53 pm

Where did I say it was close? But I wouldn’t be so sure about figuring other places are so behind. Virtually every city was walkable from the Bronze Age until the 1940s, so we certainly don’t have an unassailable monopoly on that. Almost everyone can build faster and cheaper than us, and what they need is often infill, road diets, and maybe transit. Road diets and infill are easy, and some cities already have good basic transit, while others are probably too small to need much.

The thing is, what helped preserve New York then is what is hurting it now. As much damage as Moses did, a mix of high real estate values and the same standpat political culture we have today actually stopped New York from turning more of the city into something like this.

Edward August 19, 2014 - 6:18 pm

The High Line was copied from a similar structure in Paris. Thank you for proving my point about NYC being a follower and no longer the leader.

AG August 19, 2014 - 10:58 pm

Ahhh brother… The point is none of these American cities is saying “oh we’re going to make our own park like the one NY copied from Paris”. they are saying – we want our own “High Line” to try to get economic activity like NY.



Yeah – sure NY copies… All cities copy going back to Babylonia and Sumer.
Point is there is reason the “sterile” NY has the highest population it ever had.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 12:03 am

Hell, New York would be better off if it copied more. The NIH attitude with regard to urban planning and transportation is much more stifling than any creative shortcoming we have.

But I don’t think there is one single reason for New York’s population or relative popularity. And there is one rather counterintuitive reason: it’s actually quite cheap to live here and have a lot of mobility. A $1000-$1500 apartment in an okay neighborhood in the boorughs is probably cheaper than living in a typical middling major metropolitan suburb with a car. Share some with multiple bedrooms with a roommate or three, as many people in their 20s do, and it’s often a downright bargain.

AG August 20, 2014 - 8:53 am

None of the old northern cities are even close to their population peaks. Not even booming Boston or DC (that’s borderline southern). Not all of the 1.5 mill added since 1980 are rich. So yes – as you stated – not having to own a car makes a big diff. All I’m saying is I grew up in the grimy 80’s in NY. I only miss some of the individuals – but the state of the city itself? No way!!! People who want that atmosphere can try Baltimore or New Orleans or a good number of others. I have no problem with that.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 10:23 am

You realize they destroyed a lot of their building stock, right? Literally wiped it out to make room for housing projects that never came or parking lots that usually did. Similar things happened across New York State’s cities, which also never recovered.

The only things that protected NYC from that fate were a large subway network that was impractical to demolish, a lot of high-value real estate, and a political culture that couldn’t grope its way out of its own ass with night vision goggles.

I’m not so sure Boston or DC would have much trouble doing infill to attract population fast, but for their own rather staid political cultures. I could be wrong, but I’d be really curious to see that theory tested.

Eric August 21, 2014 - 6:14 am

NYC has a big enough population, and enough geographic obstacles (rivers) that it was never possible to rebuild the city to be car-friendly. If they tried (and Robert Moses did try without getting too far), it would end up like Los Angeles but with 10 times worse traffic.

Bolwerk August 21, 2014 - 5:47 pm

Well, most east side tenements from the Brooklyn Bridge to the 20s were demolished. That whole walk is practically an endless series of housing projects all the way up to Stuyvesant “WE DON’T LIVE IN A HOUSE PROJECT” Town and Peter Cooper Village.

Mike August 19, 2014 - 8:21 am

Even some Midwestern cities do Little Italy-type neighborhoods right. Cleveland’s Little Italy and St. Louis’s The Hill are two really good examples of this.

AG August 19, 2014 - 4:50 pm

No Italian American considers Cleveland and St. Louis examples of their culture. For one thing – a little Italy can’t really be “done” right. The Little Italy in Manhattan has become for the tourists. It mainly dissipated with the decline of the mafia – who still used it and preserved it for their businesses. Neighborhoods change. East Harlem was once mostly Italian too. Throughout the tri-state (and into Pennsylvania) – they will still travel to Arthur Ave… which simply never changed.
Expect to see less “Little Italy’s” throughout the country – simply for migratory reasons. Most of the “german towns” in ciites dissipated long before for the same reason.

Edward August 19, 2014 - 6:20 pm

Most of Staten Island is very authentic Italian. In fact, Richmond County a higher percentage of Italian-Americans (39%) than any county in the United States. Many more “authentic” Italian restaurants/delis than can be found in the other four boroughs combined.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 6:34 pm

Meh, they’re not “\”authentic\” Italian.” They’re descendants of Italians, and they kept some traditions and often the religion. Otherwise, they have more in common with Irish-Americans than either have with their respective great-grandparents’ lifestyles, cuisines, music, or language.

Edward August 19, 2014 - 9:43 pm

Still better than faux-Italian restaurants in a self-styled “Little Italy.”

AG August 19, 2014 - 11:02 pm

Staten Island is the least urban place in NYC. In case you didn’t know – “Little Italy’s” formed as the centerpiece of immigrant communities. The Staten Island population are descended from people who first migrated to Brooklyn. Most of the people are not first generation. Staten Island developed when Italians were moving to the suburbs. To the Brooklynites who moved there – it was the suburbs. And it is a fact that you can’t just get everything you can get on Arthur Ave. that you do everywhere. That is the reason many of them still go there.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 6:31 pm

The Italian-Americans in those places might, and they’re just as legitimately connected to Italy as Italian-American New Yorkers – mostly several generations away now. (There are/were Little Italys scattered across the entire Northeast and Midwest. Even West Virginia had a small influx of Italians working the coal mines.)

AG August 20, 2014 - 8:43 am

That’s not what I mean. There are Cubans to be found in many places – but the epic-center of Cuban American culture is in South Florida. By the same token none of the ones you named are epicenters of Italian American culture.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 9:17 am

Italy is a strange pastiche of formerly independent regions itself. Some can barely even understand each other. Different North American cities often ended up with people from different regions, and neighborhoods might have built around that.

So I’m not even sure about this contention there is a single Italian-American culture, or that many Italian-Americans would agree as to what represents it best. The only robust Little Italy neighborhoods left happen to be in New York and Philadelphia, but there are still small ones across the country.

Tower18 August 20, 2014 - 11:39 am

I don’t know about Cleveland, but if you’ve never been to the Italian neighborhood in St. Louis, you might be surprised. I agree with what you’re saying in general, but you should get out some, your provincialism is showing. New York’s version of x isn’t always the only one worth knowing about.

AG August 20, 2014 - 9:36 pm

Travelled to many of places in this life thank you very much (my family are immigrants)… but I have no business in St. Louis. No disrespect to them – but they don’t get that many visitors compared to most cities.

AG August 19, 2014 - 10:50 am

The real Little Italy is on Arthur Ave. in The Bronx.

R.V. August 19, 2014 - 2:05 am

Maybe Manhattan isn’t authentic, but if you come to Queens you will still find a more authentic NY. But of course only Manhattan/parts of Brooklyn matter.

sonicboy678 August 19, 2014 - 5:10 am

First I’ve heard about Brooklyn being of tourist concern.

John-2 August 19, 2014 - 2:16 am

If they really wanted to be authentic they would have graffitied the door windows.

And the seats.

And the route signs.

And the ceilings.

And turned off the air-conditioning.

And turned off the lights.

And they would have done it to one of the decrepit R-42s running on the J, instead of to the R-68s on the G, which barely made it into service at the tail end of the worst of the MTA’s first two decades of operation.

Mike August 19, 2014 - 8:18 am

Agreed. But what else would you expect from a bunch of trust-fund hipster kids who weren’t around during the actual 1980s and have the luxury of romanticizing the decade from movies and TV shows they watched growing up? They get to pick and choose the things they liked the most. These people wouldn’t know (or care) about the difference between an R68 or R42 subway car. All they know about the subway in the 1980s is graffiti.

What a sad joke.

John-2 August 19, 2014 - 9:24 am

They’re really the same as those 30-40 years ago who had the money to wall themselves off from the worst of New York’s problems, including taking cabs or private vehicles to places in lieu of having to ride the subway. To them, the overall decay was ‘vibrancy’ and the fear of crime or breakdowns on the subway was an exciting form of urban street theater they could be spectators to, but didn’t have to participate in, because they had the cash resources both to opt out and not live in or near the most scarred neighborhoods.

Same deal here. The trust-fund hipsters love playing as if they would have excitedly welcomed being part of the edgier New York of the day. But if their gentrified neighborhoods around the G or L trains reverted to those days, and those lines went back to being the MTA’s dumping grounds for the worst and most unreliable of their equipment, they’d be screaming and writing online screeds about how the city has to do something now to fix it.

Larry Littlefield August 19, 2014 - 9:35 am


“We ride at 2 a.m. without thinking; thirty years ago, this was unimaginable.”

Still unthinkable to me. I won’t let the kids do it.

Benjamin Kabak August 19, 2014 - 9:41 am

…how old are the kids? If you haven’t done it at any point in the last 15 years, you’d be pretty surprised at the demographics and crowds on the subway at 2 a.m. these days.

Larry Littlefield August 19, 2014 - 3:01 pm

Age 22 and 20. Not really kids anymore.

But I say if you will arriving back in Brooklyn after midnight, take a taxi. Or call me, wake me up, and I’ll meet them at the train.

Younger people don’t understand the risk. The risk is in the station and on the street, if you are the only one getting off and exiting. If you are young woman you could be raped, and anyone could be robbed.

I’m still not comfortable if there is no one around — or just one person around, walking behind me.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 3:06 pm

Anywhere busy is not a big risk, and many stations are busy at night. The L Train is packed late into the night every night.

AG August 19, 2014 - 4:43 pm

you said: “I’m still not comfortable if there is no one around — or just one person around, walking behind me.”

well in my era of growing up that was called simple street smarts. that doesn’t matter if a person is in the city or in a rural place. the current situation is so crazy – they long for the days when crime was rampant claiming there was more “character” – but still don’t have the sensibilities to avoid crime nowadays. While nowhere on the same level – robberies and rapes can still occur – especially when persons make themselves an easy target.

sonicboy678 August 19, 2014 - 4:48 pm

“If you are young woman you could be raped.”

Who said only women can be raped?

Alon Levy August 20, 2014 - 4:37 am

…you realize that the young woman’s immediate family and friends are a far bigger sexual assault risk to her than a random stranger, right? How many sexual assaults (as opposed to exposure incidents and such) do you think even happen on the street at night by a total stranger?

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 9:19 am

Here’s a safe bet: nearly 100% of the rapes you hear about on the news are random stranger rape, probably of white women, because they are most sensational.

AG August 20, 2014 - 9:32 pm

Alan – you are right about who is most likely to do it, They are rarely reported though. Most of the reported ones are by strangers.

Alon Levy August 21, 2014 - 1:16 pm


Anyway, I don’t know what the situation for reported sexual assaults is, but it doesn’t really matter, unless the parental fear is “my daughter will get assaulted AND WILL REPORT IT.”

Bolwerk August 21, 2014 - 5:54 pm

I’m sure saying “My dad raped me” to a stranger does add a whole extra level of awkwardness. Especially if that stranger has the empathy of an average police officer.

I don’t know about most, but if he said plurality maybe he’d be right. OTOH, the samples are to be taken with a grain of salt anyway.

AG August 19, 2014 - 10:55 am

“screaming and writing”??? They’d be on the first thing smoking out of town. They are not “real” New Yorkers. Real New Yorkers don’t pine away for some edginess they saw on television. Real New Yorkers never found it fun having to dodge gun shots and step over the heroin addicts everywhere. Many “real” New Yorkers left town back then.

AG August 19, 2014 - 10:52 am

Yup – these jokers are not much different than people I’ve seen in the south re-enacting the “genteel days” in their regalia… You know – slavery times… Those people are the exact opposite. Both romanticize terrible times!!!

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 2:22 pm

Uh, they’re a lot different. For all its problems, the New York of the 1980s was still an interesting and creative place, and the violence had more to do with economic strain than institutionalized racism and class hierarchy. The people re-imagining the South really do think things were better when the big bad federal government let the state enforce Jim Crow and ignore that whole lynching fad.

Alon Levy August 20, 2014 - 4:38 am

Okay, so benign neglect was not about institutional racism and class hierarchy. Got it.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 9:38 am

WTF are you talking about? Who said anything about benign neglect?

He’s complaining because some people are nostalgic for the 1980s, which he (wrongly) interprets as nostalgia for Ed Koch-era crime, and then compares the people exhibiting that nostalgia to stars-‘n-bars waving neo-confederates.

Alon Levy August 21, 2014 - 8:20 am

I’m saying that the violence in New York in the 1970s and 80s was about racism.

Bolwerk August 21, 2014 - 5:56 pm

The policies that drove it were often racist? Yes.

Did typical street violence involve people acting on racist thoughts? I seriously doubt it.

Quirk August 19, 2014 - 8:07 am

Some of these transplants need to do this elsewhere, say in their anywhere, suburb, USA.

Quirk August 19, 2014 - 8:17 am

Also how are gun shootings/”downright” creepy thug “artwork” real New York? I believe people miss their youthful days which us why they dwell on the past and confuse it for something else.

Don’t get me wrong though, you can still experience the “Real New York” of the 70-80s, in the southern states or in Detroit. Just make sure that you stay there permanently and don’t come back, PLEASE.

Larry Littlefield August 19, 2014 - 9:40 am

Exactly. The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are an outlier. Historically the Northeast has had less crime and social disorder, not more.

AG August 19, 2014 - 11:01 am

Not really – the 1860’s to the early 1930’s were rampant gang warfare in NYC. Obviously the drug wars didn’t exist yet – but there were tens of thousands of youth gang members in NYC… Many who slept in the streets. Those were the people who later got into organized crime (if they lived). That’s not to mention the street gangs that terrorized the city during Tammany Hall days even prior to the Civil War. That wasn’t just a Scorcese movie – it’s actually city history.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 2:28 pm

Southern cities had gangs too. The rural South had Jim Crow, extrajudicial lynching, sharecropping, etc.. The whole region was both poorer and more belligerent, which is probably enough to figure it regularly had higher rates of violence.

The South also retained this rather medieval-ish honor culture. Dueling was still common in the postbellum south. To some extent these hangups probably still exist, as an FBI crime report cited it as a reason for higher crime in the South as recently as the early 2000s.

AG August 19, 2014 - 4:39 pm

The only place in the south that had street gangs on the same level was New Orleans… The south was rural.. of course there have always been criminals everywhere. To say that criminal gangs were not more concentrated in northern cities is false.
I’m no fan of the south – but there were duels here as well. Alexander Hamilton wasn’t the only one to die in a duel. There was nothing genteel about NYC in those days.
Besides – what does Jim Crow have to do with NYC living conditions at that time?

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 5:28 pm

A lot, actually. People escaped to the shitty living conditions of northern cities, including NYC, because postbellum living conditions were that terrible. The treachery of Jim Crow certainly fed that exodus. The Hamiliton/Burr duel was at least two generations before the period you specified.

I know there were spectacular acts of violence by NYC and other northern urban gangs, but I don’t see how their existence proves the north or NYC in particular had higher rates of anti-social behavior. Going by today’s studies of youth gangs, they usually bother each other. Actually, one of the bigger victims of gang violence/bullying are gang members harassed by members of the same gang.

Then there are criminal mobs, which may be what you’re talking about. They more sophisticated. They are the ones bootlegging and murdering, and sometimes manage to wield real political power.

AG August 19, 2014 - 10:47 pm

I still don’t get why you are comparing life in the South and life in NYC…

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 12:08 am

I wasn’t. I was comparing, as Larry put it, “crime and social disorder.” There just happens to be a cultural reason why those things have tended to be worse in the South than any other region of the country.

Shannon August 19, 2014 - 9:59 am

Riding the subway without fear of being stabbed is such a hassle

Spiderpig August 19, 2014 - 11:21 am

Yeah, I really missed out on that time when NYC “was more of a life or death thing.” Wish I were born earlier.

Justin Tokke August 19, 2014 - 10:23 am

Great piece Ben! Let the hipsters know that their romanticizing isn’t exactly accurate.

Every day I’m thankful that the subway is such an amazing place when I remember or read about how bad it used to be. How its safe and reliable and relatively clean compared. Could it be better? Sure, but so could everything.

Alon Levy August 19, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Eight and a half million New Yorkers, each thinking they and their immediate social circles are the representatives of Real New York. That’s why the city’s so great: whoever you are, you can be guaranteed a huge fraction of the city thinks of you as not a Real New Yorker. There’s no mainstream; every culture is a subculture.

AG August 19, 2014 - 4:13 pm

Good point… the one thing I do feel was better was it seemed that each neighborhood was indeed like it’s own “town”. other than that – just about everything about today’s NYC is better than the one I grew up in (I wasn’t around in the 50’s).

BruceNY August 19, 2014 - 10:33 pm

“8½ Million New Yorkers”, but in the “good ole’ days” the population was plummeting as people fled for the suburbs and other regions, hitting a low of about 7.2M around 1980. Had these good times continued the way they were going this city would be just a larger-scale Detroit today. Am I happy that the cityscape is now dominated by bank branches and national chain stores? No, but consider the alternative.

AG August 19, 2014 - 11:08 pm

Agree 100 percent. Even arguing it is strange.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 12:23 am

I don’t see anyone arguing it. But all the same, some of New York’s spirit has been lost since then.

Nonetheless, at least a few groups that have a legitimate cause for complaint. (1) People being pushed out of places they’ve been for decades. Yeah, crime sucks, but does not having a roof over your head. (2) There are also people who are still living in the few pockets of the city where the same shit goes on. And some of #1 may be getting pushed to #2. (3) There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been victims of incessant, pointless police harassment. This doesn’t count as “crime,” but it’s just as antisocial as assault and it often enough rises to the level of injurious physical violence.

So, no, if you aren’t pasty and middle or upper middle class, arguing it is not especially strange.

Alon Levy August 20, 2014 - 8:31 am

Is 3 actually getting worse? Police violence against minorities was standard long before Giuliani. Giuliani’s contribution was to make it more official, and to scrap the move toward community policing that began under Lee Brown.

Bolwerk August 20, 2014 - 10:15 am

Since nobody keeps official statistics on it, it’s rather hard to say. As far as the NYPD is concerned, they are constitutionally incapable of doing anything wrong. CCRB complaints have dropped a lot since 2009 (see page 6 of this PDF), but the CCRB only “substantiates” a small fraction of those and even then it’s a whole other leap to seeing an officer actually disciplined.

Stop ‘n frisk is obviously down thanks to de Blasio, but he doesn’t seem any less reflexively defensive of pretty egregious police behavior than Bloomberg and may even be worse (authoritarians still won’t like him). One of his earliest PR moves was to defend police who beat up an 84-year-old man for jaywalking, FFS.

And then, consider how many victims probably don’t bother coming forward because it’s humiliating and/or futile.

Rob August 19, 2014 - 2:25 pm

You don’t have to get too nostalgic for the unsafe days — they’re coming back. E.g. see http://nypost.com/2014/08/18/the-true-crime-rise/ — because that’s what ny voted for, ‘thinking’ that’s what it wants.

If you want forgotten New York, go to the Tenement Museum.

Bolwerk August 19, 2014 - 2:43 pm

No they’re not. The economic conditions that drove urban decay aren’t coming back. Don’t believe everything you read, especially from a paper that thinks “Hey, ladies — catcalls are flattering! Deal with it” passes for clever satire.

Or, hell, maybe it’s serious. I really can’t tell.

Alon Levy August 20, 2014 - 4:40 am

Inquiring minds want to know, what’s higher – the true crime rate increase, or the true inflation rate?

LLQBTT August 20, 2014 - 9:24 am

I really enjoyed reading this post. Well done. You captured the spirit of the days back then quite well and weaved the contrast with today effectively.

This artist hasn’t the first f’in clue. There’s a lot more to capturing the feel of the time than just slapping a piss poor Mylar graffiti wrap over the G. Heck, the MTA already does this on the Grand Central shuttle!

For starters, knock out 3/4 of the lights in the car, ensure that the a/c is blowing hot air, and make sure crumpled newspapers are randomly strewn about on the floor. But hard to recapture is the smell and layer of grit of a truly filthy subway car.

Lastly, we all (hopefully) know what year this is. It’s different being in a time warp environment for a 10 minute ride as opposed to living it day in and day out, non-stop.

Bobby August 20, 2014 - 10:50 pm

Great post. It’s hard to parse out the good and the bad from the changes in the city over the past decades. I just read an old Village Voice piece that Deadspin republished about the right field bleachers in Yankee Stadium. The bleachers described in the piece are so different from the modern day iteration that it’s hard to believe it was written about the 80s and not a decade much longer ago. Some of the stuff, like homophobic chants, didn’t make me yearn for the past but the majority of the article made me really sad because I realized something like going to a Yankees game will simply never have that same energy as it did back then. There are simply a lot more super-rich people and less working class folks, many of whom have been priced out and taken their traditions, charm, and history with them.

Spendmor Wastemor August 21, 2014 - 3:17 pm

She can find authentic right now.

Give the spoiled rich kid creative artist a trip to ISiL territory, via parachute if need be.
She wants raw, gritty, revolutionary and authentic, they’ve got it all.

Miles Bader August 26, 2014 - 9:45 pm

I’m mystified as to how anybody could ever call current-day NYC “sterile”… ><


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