New York Changing: Better or Worse?
I was walking through Times Square late one night recently (don’t ask) when I got to the corner of Seventh Ave and 42nd St. I stopped in my tracks, and was promptly pushed from behind and the front by the hordes of people on the street. The reason I stopped was because I remembered a much different Times Square, and a different New York. And I was wondering if the changes are making the city better or worse.
Back in 1984 I landed my first job as a desk assistant at WABC-AM. I was paid a base salary of $243 per week for the honor of working 1am-9am. One of my responsibilities was to pick up the newspapers for everyone. The only newsstand I could find open at that hour was on that corner in Times Square.
Those were the frightening years of Times Square. It was so bad, half of the notorious porn theaters were not even open; the VCR made them obsolete. So the street was left with half abandoned businesses and half of dubious repute. That is not a recipe for upscale clientele, especially at 1am.
Which brings us to a fresh-faced Brooklyn kid who needed newspapers. I would pull up to the corner, get out and lock my car door, even though I was only walking 10 feet to the newsstand. Then I would make my way through the couple of sleazy fellows on the street at 1am for some unwholesome reason. I would quickly gather up The Times, the Post and the Daily News, plunk down my dollar, collect my dime change and dash back to the safety of my car. I am not ashamed to say that I was scared every day.
Fast forward 30 years (Christ, 30 years) and Times Square is a very different place. Businesses are thriving along 42nd St. It is teeming with people at all hours. If anyone dared to pull a car up to 42nd and 7th it would immediately be swarmed by police, suspecting it was rigged with ISIS-sympathetic bombs.
Now, I am not one of those people who pine for the “good old days” of “gritty” Times Square. But perhaps they went overboard with the family friendly theme. Maybe they could have gone back to the days of the 1940s and 50s when it was apparently a playground for respectable adults. But it is an example of a changing New York, and while I think this change was for the better (frankly, it could not have gotten any worse), many people think it is indeed for the worse.
The recent closing of Hogs and Heifers is a good example. I was never particularly a fan of the bar, but I liked that it was there. It was a real place, not a theme bar designed by designers, which I guess is what they do. But now that the Meatpacking District is hot, the bar outlived its usefulness. Some fancy clothing store will gladly pay the $60,000 per month rent that Hogs and Heifers could not afford (up from the $14,000 it was paying). Is New York really a better city with one more exclusive store rather than an inclusive bar?
Money is at the root of all of this, of course. New York was always expensive, but now it is just ridiculous. Remember the 90-cents I would spend every day for the three newspapers? Now they cost $4.75. I know it is 30 years ago, but according to the U.S. Inflation Calendar (which came in very handy following every mention of money on “Mad Men), that 90-cents is worth $2.07 now. So prices have gone up far more than the rate of inflation.
Housing is absolutely insane. Tiny studios (we’re talking just a few hundred square feet) in Midtown go for half a million dollars, at a minimum. Maybe you want a second bedroom or another half-bath? Get ready to shell out seven figures. The always-high rents are out of control.
I have less of an issue with housing costs, which were always high, than the cost of living everyday life. It seems like you can’t walk out of the house without having someone constantly reaching into your pocket. A simple beer and burger will run you about $20 at your neighborhood bar. I just spent $16 for ordinary spaghetti and meatballs at a dumpy pizza place. Even the subway, at $2.75 per ride if you do not have an unlimited pass, adds up.
New York has become a city of the ultra-wealthy. Even those of us who are doing fairly well cannot keep up. Obviously, I am not the first person to write about this inequity, but it is getting out of hand.
I do not know what the solution is. Mayor de Blasio is working on it, but he is weak and does not have much support for anything he does. Maybe he should just look at Mike Bloomberg’s policies and reverse them. It is no surprise that his net worth went from $5 billion (if I remember correctly) when he took office to $35 billion when he left 12 years later.
Until someone does something, New York will continue to change. And unless you happen to be in the top 1%, they will be changes for the worse.
Sigh. I hate this city.