Saturday, December 02, 2006

New York Redux

One other thing that struck me in Vir Sanghvi's article that I linked to in my last post was his identification of New York with Times Square. Mr. Sanghvi named a number of cities and the particular landmark with which he identified them: Paris - Champs Elysees; London - Hyde Park; Tokyo - Shinjiku; New York - Times Square. It was a throwaway line and I'm sure Mr. Sanghvi meant nothing by it. Most people, especially those not from the City, when they think of New York are really thinking of Manhattan and specifically of Times Square and Mr. Sanghvi, as someone who has obviously not lived in the City for any considerable period time, made the same tourist's-view-of-New-York association.

Except that New York is so much more than Times Square. In fact, Times Square as we know it today is a fairly recent development, going back to the mid-90s when Rudy Giuliani decided to clean it up. Before that, throughout the 70s and 80s, Times Square was a drug addled, crime-ridden cesspool into which only the very brave or the very foolish ventured. Between porno-theaters, prostitutes and crack dealers, there was little room for the glitz and glamor that we see at Times Square today.

A stroll along Lenox Avenue or 125th St in Harlem or by the Yankee stadium in the Bronx or in 'Little Odessa' - Brighton Beach in Brooklyn will present views of the city that are worlds away from Times Square and are yet quintessentially New York.

But one needn't even go as far afield as Brooklyn or the Bronx. Even if you start at Battery Park and work your way up to the Central Park, you can almost feel the evolution of the City from the organic Downtown to the Bohemian Greenwich Village to the modern grid of Midtown.

New York is often called the world's largest small town and in many ways it is. It is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with a unique character all its own. You can never mistake Chinatown with Little Korea or the Upper East Side with the Upper West Side. There isn't a border to cross into Harlem but when you are there, you damn well know you're in Harlem.

And so Times Square is not any more a symbol of the City than the Esplanade is for Calcutta or Connaught Place is for Delhi - it's just a place where we park the tourists and dazzle them with lights so the stay out of our way and don't hog the tables at the neighborhood pizzeria!

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