12 November 2008

New York, New York

Twelve days ago I went to New York for the first time. I didn't visit for the sake of the city at all - hell, I wish it didn't exist - oh, let's just say it separates me from someone, someone who's pretending for the moment that the City isn't the one true place to be. Nevertheless, this is enough of a someone that I would consider leaving my beloved City for his - so while I was there (and because I lack the money, and because I'm an anthropologist not a lousy tourist!) I was thinking about how NY operates as a place to live. A few comments on its urban space and architecture, to begin with:

The Bowery was one of the streets I liked the most, even as gentrification starts to go too far. (The less said about the hotel these days the better.) It let me take a satisfyingly evocative (cliched) photo, and still seemed to carry a few ghosts.



The Bowery hosts the New Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the very few bits of proper, committed new architecture I found in the city. (I didn't go even as north as Midtown, though, so I accept I may have missed a bit! Then again, no-one was trying to convince me that the Upper East Side was a happening place to see...) The rainbow 'Hell Yes' on its side didn't exactly 'fit' as such, but the building had a scale and a rhythm that worked well. I liked its texture, I liked its balanced imbalance, and it proided a fitting space for its gallery purpose.



One of the other rare bits of serious new architecture I saw in NY was Tschumi's Blue Building on the Lower East Side - I failed to get a decent picture, but thankfully the New York Times did. Apparently, "its contorted form has a hypnotic appeal that is firmly rooted in the gritty disorder of its surroundings." No no no! It's just a bog-standard tower block that happens to be wonky. It's a monolith of glass and steel that doesn't speak to any grittiness or disorder; it seeks to be a singular landmark rather than dispersed or multiple; it's blocky, aggressive, still fucking phallic. This longer review is more astute when it observes that the asymmetric form is all about maximising the square footage, i.e. capital-with-a-capital-C. If I gave a shit about the Lower East Side, perhaps I'd cry.

Oddly enough for America, New York's best buildings were its old ones, with their fragile rusty balconies and sense of speaking in harmony with their neighbours. I was surprised to find that the city had a facility for elegant decay, something I associate strongly with Mediterranean cities and perhaps Latin America. Paint peeled, graffiti layered on top of posters, the sidewalk fallen apart fit to break a leg... Unexpected, but quite beautiful in its anti-statist way. Sea air helps, too, I suppose. I'd thought Coney Island might have this quality but instead it was sadder than that, surrounded by housing estates and derelict land, an illustration of New York's segregation and deelopment rows. Shame. (Fucking enormous seagulls, too.)



Further commentary in another post regarding the 'suburbanisation' of New York and other suggestions as to why I didn't feel it was somewhere that worked very well. But as a teaser, I like this comment by Rocco Landesman, a Broadway producer:

But I think there has been a delibidinization of our city, I really do. ...In terms of public planning there’s been a kind of prudishness, a kind of social and political correctness that’s gone on.

Sex and the City, now there you go - and now that's such a topic for this blog, too!
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