If I were forty years younger and yearning to come to New York, high on brains and imagination but low on capital, could I come here? Well, yes and no. There would be no way I could afford the Upper West Side—or anywhere else in Manhattan. Very few of us could afford the West Side if we had to pay market prices to be here now. That’s the bad news. The good news is that today’s younger generation has learned to explore the city as a whole with a zeal and energy and resourcefulness that my generation, obsessed with Manhattan alone, never even dreamed of. They’ve missed the delightful experience of living in Manhattan in their youth, and I can’t blame them if they are mad; I’d be mad in their place. Still, they can get here on the subway, and they do. Meanwhile, their New York is a lot fuller than ours; they have opened up a city horizon far wider than anything we could imagine. It’s amazing, in their New York, there’s so much more there there.
In the spring of 2006, I gave a reading at a Hispanic Cultural Center in Mott Haven, in the south South Bronx, in a small, brownstone, just behind the giant neon “H” sign of the History Channel. In the 1970s and 1980s, this house had been just about reduced to rubble; in the 2000s, it was still in the midst of rebuilding. The generation of kids who create new centers like this is making small-“h” history, and making the city’s post-1898 official name, “Greater New York,” mean something real. They are reinventing New York’s immense horizon, its capacity to include the whole world. But they are also facing the city’s vulnerability and inner destructiveness. They are “looking the negative in the face and living with it.” They are converting the negative into being. By affirming the ruins, they are making the rising possible. Theirs is the most authentic voice of “New York Calling” now.
more from Dissent here.