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Stories From The City

Kind of an interesting article about the history of apartments in NYC, as seen mostly through the eyes of the fabulously wealthy. This being NY Magazine, of course, the way the common folk lived is referenced only insofar as it relates to how the top 5% or so. But the article is interesting none the less, mostly because the New York described seems so foreign.

There are still plenty of people who genuinely prefer living in single family homes, but we sort of take it for granted that to live like that, you have to get out of the city. Many years ago we divided our world up into Urban, Suburban, and Rural, and we don’t really recognize any grey areas. The demarcation we use is density. You get to choose between sprawl and life in a box. In what has been a pretty big reversal, many people are generally moving towards little boxes, and away from cookie cutter ranches and opulent mini-mansions. I’m too lazy to Google the actual demographics, but it seems pretty clear that people of my generation have found the last vestige of rebellion against our hippy parents. We moved to the city en-masse.

Anyone my parent’s age who’s been payment attention for the last 50 years must be pretty cynical by this point. There’s not much they haven’t seen. We’re talking about a generation that was responsible for the Weather Underground, key parties, and Ronald Reagan. If there is a way to piss off a parent, then someone I know must have tried it. From drugs to tattoos to joining a cult, nothing seems to phase these people (unless you’re lucky enough to have a type A parent who goes ape shit about everything). The only thing that could possibly get them is to reverse what I think they see as their greatest achievement: getting the fuck out of the city.

The Baby Boomers didn’t invent the suburb, exactly. But they honed them into a lean, merciless culture destroying machine. Neighborhood shops were bulldozed in favor of Costco’s and Walmarts. Soccer practice became America’s pass time. Kids learned to drink and to drive at approximately the same age.

Even those who don’t plan on moving to Manhattan can dip their toes in the water. A lot could be said, both positive and negative, about the recent redevelopment in some growing parts of NJ but part of the reason that it’s exciting is that these towns are allowing walkable urbanism. They’re creating mixed use areas, where someone can walk downstairs from their apartment and find places to right there, so close you could spit. For years that was a foreign idea in most places. That was what the people who ran these town councils were trying to get away from. They wanted their front doors to open on bland, cookie cutter America.

Now making areas designed so that you don’t need to power a couple tons of steel just to go pick up some Slim Jims is a good idea in and of itself. It’s better for the environment, and it’s safer in a lot of ways (cars are dangerous).  The question is, once the last generation is too old to care, will we have the stamina to keep moving forward?

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