Ada Calhoun: My City Was Gone. (Or Was It?)
WITH depressing regularity, I hear about closings in the East Village of my childhood — the Odessa bar, De Robertis pastry shop, St. Marks Sounds. When my parents moved onto the neighborhood’s main street, St. Marks Place, in 1973, their rent was $225 a month. Today, the same apartment would most likely be $5,000. People who remember the good old days often say that today’s real estate prices mean that boho corners of New York like the East Village are finally — really and truly — dead. How can music, art or beauty survive when the only entity that can afford a corner lot is Chase Bank, and when young artists have to live five to an apartment on the Morgan stop of the L train? Just give up on New York, people like Patti Smith advise young artists, and move to Detroit.
I can sympathize. But I think there’s more to these “the city is dead now” complaints than money. People have pronounced St. Marks Place dead many times over the past centuries — when it became poor, and then again when it became rich, and then again when it returned to being poor, and so on. My theory is that the neighborhood hasn’t stopped being cool because it’s too expensive now; it stops being cool for each generation the second we stop feeling cool there. Any claim to objectivity is clouded by one’s former glory.