What does it mean to live in NYC. I have lived in the NY/NJ area all my life and I have seen the city change in so many different ways. My friend in High School, his father used to own a garbage truck company based in the Hells Kitchen area. When we went to the garage we had to literally push our way through the prostitutes. At the Port Authority Bus station, I would take a bus to go to Syracuse. From the minute I walked in, I was surrounded by homeless men. I would give them a few dollars to help me carry my bags. Usually filled with dirty clothing and clay for sculpting. This was the first neighborhood I moved to, Hells Kitchen, and I loved it. Sometimes I would go to work and could still see the blood on the sidewalk from the night before. The people that owned businesses in the area would remember me even after not living there for 5 years. I felt a real community there. Walking through that area, I am amazed at how different it is.
Giuliani had already substantially changed the city, but I could still manage to find myself in some of the cities more interesting and unique places like bars, restaurants and theaters, now mostly gone (See “I Like Killing Flies” by Matt Mahurin for a good example). Coney Island was one of those places. Now it is Thor Properties finishing what Giuliani started.
I don’t want to say that I want New York City to be like it used to be, but I am also not interested in seeing it become the largest mall in America. In regards to Coney Island, Robert Lieber, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said, “the complex looks more like a mall than Coney Island*” in 2009. Not only do they want to remake Coney Island, they want tax dollars to do it.
Source: Coney Island Plan Is Scaled Back, but Critics Are Skeptical ..
Like many artists, I have found Coney Island to be an endless source of inspiration. From the unique and large boardwalk, to the beautiful costumes during the Mermaid Parade and the diverse and strange group of people there you can find there all year round. For years, I have been involved in taking photos of the New York City Burlesque scene (including Miss Coney Island 2010 Gigi LaFemme) and many of them consider Coney Island their home. It is a unique place that for me takes me back to a time before everything became a chain store. When there were was a cheap neighborhood for artists to live in. There are a few places where I find myself going back to photograph. The Bronx, Manhattanville and Washington Heights/Inwood. I sometimes worry about the character of the city as more and more individual and unique places that I used to frequent disappear. Some say for the better, but maybe their version of New York City is different than mine.
I recently heard a reading of Colson Whitehead's “Lost and Found”, read by Alec Baldwin (Skip to 16:09 in the audio clip to hear it). You can read it here. What I most identified with in his meditation of New York was this:
No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, ''That used to be Munsey's'' or ''That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge.'' That before the Internet cafe plugged itself in, you got your shoes resoled in the mom-and-pop operation that used to be there. You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.Source: The Way We Live Now: 11-11-01; Lost and Found.
You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it. Maybe you were in a cab leaving the airport when the skyline first roused itself into view. All your worldly possessions were in the trunk, and in your hand you held an address on a piece of paper. Look: there's the Empire State Building, over there are the twin towers. Somewhere in that fantastic, glorious mess was the address on the piece of paper, your first home here.
I guess when Coney Island is gone, then that will be the end of my own Private New York City. Maybe Coney Island is my Pan Am building. Maybe Coney Island will always be here as long as I am here, but in reality the city is a living, breathing creature that will always change at a pace that we are not ready for.
This work is a continuation of the “Vauge Terrain: Manhattanville series” exploring the changing neighborhoods of New York City.