Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul

An exhausting 400+ page dive into how New York has become Disneyland for tourists and the ultra-rich. I’m a fan of the blog but was slightly disappointed with the book after initially bouncing off the walls with excitement from having a kindred spirit put into words the destruction that I’m witnessing in SF. After finishing, the lingering complaint is around lack of notation (the note section tags maybe 1 out of every 5 quotes or sources you’d expect) and a sense of repetition that kicked in midway through. I didn’t like his repeating “Dear reader” wherein he patronizes those of us who don’t live in NYC but who are reading the book.

I did like his structure, layering in historical facts in between a neighborhood by neighborhood distillation of the stripping away of authentic NYC for the blandalism of chain stores and luxe condos. I appreciated his insight in the intro that this isn’t just isolated to NYC, hyper-gentrification is eating SF (“dying, maybe even faster than New York”), London, Paris, Seattle, Portland, etc.; with the same story of evictions, invasions of the suburban mindset, “plague of tourists, the death of small local businesses” and monoculture settling in with (as Howard Kunstler puts it) “geography of nowhere” as chain stores nullify the streets. I also appreciated his passion and going all-out in defending his position. It’s clear which side he’s on, no pseudo-diplomacy here.

Where are the weirdos? Moss calls them “polar bears” that he occasionally spots. They’re still here/there but dying off, forced out, outpriced. Instead, residents are people like the woman who blogged about leaving the LES after living there for a year and not missing “the smell of pickles from Katz Deli that I am forced to inhale when walking home” (she also bemoans that there is not a close enough Starbucks).

The process started in NYC way back. Mayor Koch declared in a 1984 cocktail party conversation that “We’re not catering to the poor anymore. There are four other boroughs they can live in. They don’t have to live in Manhattan.” Breathtakingly honest! And we know that by 2017 those 4 other boroughs are almost as expensive as the island.

Another similarity to SF is the scourge of tourists. Sex in the City brought hordes of them to the townhouse filmed to depict where Carrie Bradshaw lived and the poor owners put up a chain and No Trespassing signs to keep tourists from taking photos. Out-of-towners climbed over the chain. Similar to the frenzy over the Full House house and the Painted Ladies, only the Full House creator ended up buying the Full House house because the owners got sick of the crowds.

Gross things are on the horizon still for NYC, specifically near the High Line at Hudson Yards where a huge mall is being built along with a $250M sculpture called Vessel that houses flights of stairs tourists can climb; the creator wanted to create a piece that would highlight its visitors to “celebrate ourselves” and “showcase us.” The intended view will not be the city but rather tourist facing tourist, “a hall of living mirrors.”