Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Over the borderline

Heaven forfend! Could it be? 10021 is no longer the creme de la skim cappuccino that it once was. Jay McInerney's piece in New York about how, these days, it costs a lot to live downtown, too, is worth reading if only for the most bizarre bit of name-dropping I've seen, well, ever: "My shrink, a former student of Hannah Arendt’s, lives deep in the Lower East Side, at Houston and Avenue A, in a five-story building that has a stark, army-green, unattended, disinfectant-scented lobby." Hannah Arendt has as much to do with this article as Karl Marx does with socialite Tinsley Mortimer. Aside from the usual New York Magazine oohing and ahhing over the least-interesting of the wealthy ("My fiancée is a post-deb with a venerable surname and a deep, burnished voice that sounds as if it had been passed down through many generations... Many of her friends live within a few blocks of her apartment on East 72nd, and on any given night she will find some of them at Swifty’s or Doubles or La Grenouille. Her children attended Spence and Buckley before they moved on to prep school.") McInerney points out that, these days, the Village and Tribeca are expensive enough for rich people to live in. He makes one decent point, that "the Upper East Side may be the last neighborhood to preserve its signification and its identity, if only as a kind of prewar retirement community, replete with museums and hospitals, encased in amber," but otherwise points out the obvious, that it costs a lot to live downtown.

The real point to be made about the decline of the Upper East Side is that, unlike 2006's West Village, it borders an as-yet ungentrified neighborhood. South of 14th Street is now almost entirely filled with delights for the post-yuppie (David Brooks's "bobos" who never wants to see anyone poor, aside from those working in the back of restaurants, but they're in the back, so you don't have to see much of them if you don't want to. In other words, the Village is a much more comfortable place to live if you want to be obscenely rich but convince yourself that you are, in fact, normal. The Upper East Side defines itself in opposition to East Harlem--the 96th Street "border" was never as much of a thing on the West Side, and is today completely meaningless. The rich who grew up in the age of diversity and political correctness don't want to live in an area of haves and have-nots, they want a world in which the "poor" are those who chose a non-profit job post-Brown, rather than a banking job post-Princeton. I was at the express stop at 86th Street and Lexington for the first time in a while recently, and realized that I had not seen so much racial diversity in a long time--and I commute from gentrifying/ied Brooklyn to NYU, two areas the 59th-96th xenophobic set historically found most unacceptable.

1 comment:

Petey said...

Of course, SoHo bleeds into Chinatown, and the LES bleeds into projects on the East River.

But more to the point, as a fully fledged member of the 14th-96th st. xenophobic set, the problem with north of 14th isn't one of midtown/uptown being too white.

Instead, the problem with north of 14th is similar to the problem with Chicago - the average person and the average social situation is just a tad boring.

Life's short. Why not spend time inside civilization rather than out in the provinces, if you can?