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Doings in Gotham

Issue 04/2008


Text Ilona Marx  Photos Carissa Pelleteri / Andi Zimmermann
Illustration Roman Klonek

It’s the peculiar geography of New York that makes it what it is: a sardine can filled with eight million people, basically piled up on top of one other, living and working. In contrast to most other metropolises the Big Apple has no way of giving itself over to middle-age spread: two rivers, the Hudson and the East River, hinder a geographic city sprawl. So, at least on Manhattan Island, growth can only go one way: upwards.

Judging by this issue one can’t be blamed for thinking that New York is in a constant state of reconstruction. Old districts are constantly being “discovered” and completely overhauled. So the moment an area falls into the public eye, is often the death knell for a whole community. That’s when the rents spiral to dizzy heights, normal-income residents have to pack their bags and leave their apartments so rich investors can make money with them. The phenomenon is known as gentrification, and New York is a perfect example of this in action. It’s a phenomenon that leads to social restructuring in whole areas of the city and is especially virulent in this present economic climate: clever investors take historically developed areas and invest in large-scale restoration and reconstruction work, which creates a value-increase in the area. The in-crowd is already poised to move and soon areas that used to be favoured for their cheap rents by families and artists are being taken over by yuppies and big earners. The meatpacking district and SoHo are both examples in case from the past. More recently it was the turn of the Lower East Side.

So the low-income caravan of urban nomads moves on to Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. But New York wouldn’t be what it is today if it let this factor stop it in its tracks: every district close to Manhattan, due either to its geography or good underground connections, like the district of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for example, is undergoing huge structural changes. With the claim “Just one stop from Manhattan” a marketing campaign is aiming at investors and new apartment owners to buy into the trendy new apartment blocks shooting up like mushrooms all along the banks of the East River. Admittedly, the view to be had here onto Manhattan is absolutely superb – and Brooklyn is no longer as rundown or dangerous as it was in the 80s. But the people who make Williamsburg a place of charm certainly won’t be amongst those moving into the new buildings, but who will instead have to make way and move on into neighbouring districts in the long or short term.

So perhaps the New York City guide that Ilona Marx has put together on her ramblings for j’n’c, together with photographer Carissa Pelleteri, should be viewed as a mere snapshot in time. Nevertheless, we hope that our choice of pretty boutiques, authentic diners and restaurants and spectacular hotels has captured something of the many facets of this fascinating melting pot.

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