The More Things Change

Lower Manhattanite, whose writing and fearlessness I just fucking LOVE:

There was a time in this city–and many others–where young people could have a good time fairly inexpensively. They could shake their *sses at city-supervised Block Parties, where Local D.J.’s–some who would later become famous on record– would spin, off the power of a jacked-into street light. You had JazzMobile–when it actually was still a mobile cultural delivery system–roaming every borough, bringing the music of Ray Barretto, Randy Weston, Jean-Luc Ponty–and one memorable summer, the great Illinois Jacquet and his Band to the hood, for free.. There were Community Centers built into the ground floors of housing projects, where kids could perform plays, and musicals–attend art classes and the ilk. All manner of stimulating distraction for the city’s kids. But…one by one, these things died on the vine, starting in the mid-seventies during the “Ford To NY–Drop Dead” years. Slowly but surely, we lost it all…and then as these culturally abandoned kids began to haunt the devils workshop that idle minds and bodies always usher them to, we–and by we, I mean adults–people I can now identify with these many years hence–hypocritically started ripping these kids. “We” took all the fun sh*t we took for granted away from ’em, and now have the gall to go off on ’em for being aimless, lazy, out of shape and do-nothings.


Cities change. Neighborhoods too. We all know that. But it doesn’t happen accidentally. People…societies make conscious choices that are too often penny-wise and pound foolish. Pragmatic, short-term grabs at profit and such. See, It’s easy…too easy to f*ck up a city for its residents. Read Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” , and then just as powerful, Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” to see the numerous, stupid ways how. One way cited in both books, is to effectively turn a city against its citizens. Willfully, brusquely making it unfriendly to its residents, while tailoring it for transients–visitors and tourists. Look at all the new hotels all over the place–Brooklyn largely, with the new stadium coming in thanks to government-greased largesse. All while driving a historic, and community-necessary venue–a seemingly simple roller rink out of business. How? By banning its lucrative “Teen Night” because it was ‘just too much trouble to police’, thus rendering the place vulnerable to a mortally-wounding insurance rate skyrocket.

Emphasis mine, because people forget that. People forget that it’s choices they make that do, indeed, change neighborhoods. We talk a lot on this blog about Roosevelt and fear, itself, but sometimes I think it’s not fear, it’s the inability to understand that very few things in this world are inevitable, and that if you want something bad enough, if you want to keep a place or institution going, the only real limits are those of what you’re willing to do.

And that’s an uncomfortable truth, because it puts the responsibility back on you. To stand up, to fight back, to get back up after you’ve been knocked down. And this isn’t about the skate rink, so much as it’s about demanding with your actions, with your time and money and work and sometimes literally your blood, that the world conform to your expectations, no the other way around. Nothing’s impossible. Nothing’s inevitable. Nothing is “just the way it is,” save maybe death, and there’s people out there that would argue with me about that one, too.

I’ve been coming to the end of this long book project, which is why I haven’t been on the blog as much the past month or so and likely won’t be until next week or thereabouts. It’s about journalism and journalists and the way we make newspapers today and the constants, the good constants, in that world, but mostly it’s about what happens when somebody tells you something’s impossible and you basically tell them to shove it. Mostly it’s about what you can do when you want something bad enough. Conscious choices, and rising above. I’ve been reading Jacob’s Galactica and Farscape recaps a lot, too, and watching Babylon 5 again. It’s insane how much inspiration I get from science fiction, for things that are utterly of the now.

But basically, LM is right. Half the world’s misery, in politics and work and love and roller rinks, could be avoided if people would just realize it’s not life happening to you, it’s you making choices, and by not making choices you’re still making a choice. Everybody’s got something they’d fight for, given the chance. What would this world look like, if instead of figuring that what some well-meaning person said was correct and it was too hard, they said the hell with this, and stood up?

There’d be a lot more roller rinks, I think.


4 thoughts on “The More Things Change

  1. Willfully, brusquely making it unfriendly to its residents, while tailoring it for transients–visitors and tourists.
    Sounds like another city I know.

  2. Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, we did fight back. The city was largely in existence to benefit the transient population and those who owned the properties used by the transients. So, we passed an initiative written by grassroots folks requiring all city supervisors to be elected by district. That was working. We had a very liberal, people oriented mayor, and a board of supervisors who really did listen to the local people. But, that was all stopped when one conservative supervisor chose to assassinate both the mayor and the most liberal supervisor. After that we had one of the original “dino” mayors, lost the majority vote on the board of supervisors, and quickly saw another heavily funded politician started initiative kill the district election scheme.
    It took years for the people there to finally get up off the floor again, but they eventually did, long after I moved away.

  3. I’ve been reading Jacob’s Galactica and Farscape recaps a lot, too, and watching Babylon 5 again. It’s insane how much inspiration I get from science fiction, for things that are utterly of the now.
    Not at all. I firmly believe that the sense of wonder and possibility instilled by good sci-fi translates directly into a sense of wonder and reverance for the real world. Note: I said good sci-fi. Offer not valid for sci-fi strictly about blowing up funny-looking things. That does weird shit to you.
    I live in NY and I’m seeing everything LM is writing about; one of the things that drove me insane recently were the negotiations over the new Yankee Stadium which will take over a city park. There are no other parks in that neighborhood, but the Yankees, backed by Bloomberg, argued that the new Stadium will bring more to the neighborhood than the park ever would. Um, bullshit. Let me put it like this – I have two kids and I live about five minutes from Shea Stadium. You know how many times I’ve packed up the family and took everyone out to the ballgame? Let’s see, that would be…never. Shit’s too expensive. I use the park across the street from my house EVERY DAY. (The same park Bloomberg wanted to obliterate to create the swimming venue if NY ever got the Olympic bid, BTW.)

  4. Dan’s right. And I’ll add this: good sci-fi, like any good writing, takes its inspiration from the here and now. Those writers are expressing their concerns about what they see around them, which makes them far better inspiration for how to treat the world around us than just about anything else.
    As for the real point of the post, the thing that drives me craziest these days is the overwhelming passivity of most people. There’s this sense that we are not in control of things that happen to us, when every choice we make in our daily lives affects the world around us in sometimes dramatic ways. That’s what Al Gore’s been getting at with An Inconvenient Truth, but it is true of far more than just the environment.

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