New Yorkers have heard the proud refrain from local politicos many times: New York is better than ever. Our city is cleaner (and greener) than it ever was. The number of hotels, restaurants, and clubs keeps growing—and they get better every year. In fact, each year the newspapers report that a new record has been broken, in terms of the visitors to the city.
Those tourists will feel safer, too, in a city that is consistently ranked among the most safest, if not the safest, big city in America. The FBI reported that violent crime decreased 4.2 percent and property crime declined 5.3 percent in the last decade in the Big Apple.
Why, then, are some of us worried about our city? Even with this welcome number of tourists, those of us who have been here a long time and have seen the changes from a city in need to what it is today, fret that this renaissance is one without character. We worry that with a chain coffee shop on every corner and new glass-and-steel condos sprouting like mushrooms at the expense of an old favorite bookstore or our local Cuban/Chinese joint, that we are slowly losing our identity—the fear being that we will become like Everycity, U.S.A.
But change is inevitable. “Of the city’s five boroughs, Manhattan, in particular, refuses to remain as it was. It is dynamic, not static. What seems permanent when you are 20 is too often a ghost when you are 30,” Pete Hamill writes in his book Downtown: My Manhattan.
And the longer you live in this town, the more ghosts you will encounter. But New Yorkers adapt . . . sometimes painfully. Hamill explains, “The New York version of nostalgia is not simply about lost buildings or their presence in the youth of the individuals who lived with them. It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same . . . Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone.”
So though we might mourn loss, we also anticipate and expect change—it’s part of our way of life. We know that a restaurant, show, club, or store might be the hottest thing now, but a couple months later, the next one has opened or been discovered and that once-hot spot quickly becomes passé. But some icons and institutions are so entrenched in our daily lives that we could never accept their loss. What would we do without that reassuring sight of the Lady in the Harbor, or the gleaming spire of the Empire State Building? Or the perfect pizza? Or a Sunday in Central Park? Or the rumbling of the trains beneath the earth? Or the sounds of jazz from a Village club? So while New York is ever changing, as long as its core remains the same we might complain a bit, but we aren’t going anywhere.
In fact, New York City is predicted to add one million more residents by 2030 and must figure out where to put them, how to move them around, and what they’ll be doing. The city has embarked on an ambitious, long-term plan (called PlaNYC 2030) to improve the rapidly aging infrastructure, find ways to fuel its energy needs more sustainably, and expand the mass transit system to accommodate millions more people, as well as figure out ways to build housing that will keep lower- and middle-income people within its borders.
To deal with those added bodies, the city is trying to encourage locals (and visitors) to bike (and thus declog the streets). It has created over 200 miles of new bike paths in the last decade. The Citi-Bike ride share program is how many of us cycle from place to place. Walking is being encouraged, too. The crossroads of the world, Times Square, became a pedestrian mall mid-2009, an area that was once wall-to-wall taxis and buses. Today it's awash with strollers and (unfortunately) sometimes aggressive costumed street performers who try to trade selfies with "Minnie Mouse" and "SpiderMan" for tips. Other areas of the city are also sporting new pedestrian zones.
But wait, there’s more! For those of you who haven’t paid a visit to New York since the days of subway tokens, one now uses a swipe card or regular credit cards at a scanner to get around, and the transit authority is being tested by record ridership, ongoing problems from Hurricane Sandy damage and other wear-and-tear on a subway system that's one of the oldest on the planet. Despite all this, the subways remain the most efficient way to get around New York City.
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