The idea of gentrification comes up a lot in my everyday life. It makes me uncomfortable because it puts me in an awkward position, internally. When I think of my New York City upbringing it makes me yearn for the days when New York was truly a melting pot of so many different things, a place where you could truly see many sides of the world and society (socioeconomic, cultural, intellectual, etc.); however, I have come to experience and Sorkin points out, that Manhattan has become a victim of encroaching gentrification that has set into motion a series of changes that is altering the face of the city. The question also becomes: where is the balance between the two?
I find myself in a particularly awkward position because for all the frustration I feel in the change in atmosphere and façade of the city; I also work for company that one might argue contributes to this process. For professional reasons I will not disclose where I work, but for intents and purposes it is important to note that I work for a retail company that has had an ever-growing presence in New York City and would constitute a gentrifying factor. Sorkin addresses the problems of real estate prices, product prices, and the socioeconomic patrons who frequent them as on the rise, literally.
With more and more places springing up like SoHo and TriBeCa to higher heights of “coolness” and “wealth-appeal” the risks that Sorkin highlights become all too clear. People like formulas and predictability that come uniform gentrification; they like the recognizable and the reliable. Sorkin addresses this:
“Gentrification suppresses reciprocity by its narrow scripting of formal and social behavior, by turning neighborhoods into Disneylands or Colonial Williamsburgs, where residents become cast members” (145)
It’s about social behavior as much as it is about cookie-cutter boutiques and corner stores. That’s what makes it so hard for me as someone who enjoys working for a company that is part of the luxury retail machine Sorkin maligns. In our culture, you want to invite people to become part of the vision, the idea, the lifestyle you are selling, which I become so passionate about and believe in; yet, as a citizen of Manhattan I long for the places where I can escape such monuments of conformity and branding. It becomes a terrible internal fight when you contribute to the very thing that bothers you about the city, and you equally as passionate about both sides.
It’s almost as if there should be a limited or perhaps focus progression and growth. For example companies should grow, restaurants expand, architecture evolve, without spreading so far and haphazardly. It’s the notion of those hidden, secret, quiet places like TriBeCa which have become “displaced” (147) and supplanted with molded versions of uptown avenues.
But what if you are serving the needs and desires of society? What if people want to be gentrified? There is a push and pull between the companies pushing it on local neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods themselves seeking out and welcoming such agents of conforming change. There are benefits to having recognizable places in many neighborhoods. The reliability and trust is already established. You know what you’re going to find there and you have the opportunity to become part of the dream that comes along with the gentrification. It doesn’t have to be the same company or brand or name, but even the same elements and traits that make certain people feel at ease go into this positive side of gentrification. But with all the good, a sense of nostalgia still ingures.
What places like TriBeCa and SoHo once did for the city (and are unfortunately losing the ability to) is allow people to vary their experiences and develop and grow in unique ways that other city-dwellers did not. Many other neighborhoods notwithstanding, these places were the tilled soil for creative, edgy, new, interesting, quirky, funky, bohemian, radical, weird, eye-opening, gross, dingy, etc. shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, buildings, apartments, drugstores, galleries, etc. that made everyone’s New York experience a little bit different from the next one and gave the urban environment a sense of limitless possibility.
My experience is unique in that I see value in both sides and I wonder if there will ever be a happy medium. Sorkin sees gentrification as something eating away at the city, but it can be a force for eradicating things that are long past their expiration date. Some things are not supposed last forever, many things are by their nature temporal and thus inherently invite others to come along and replace them. I think if the gentrification, as described by Sorkin, is executed with consideration and understanding for the neighborhood in which it is occurring, the gentrification takes on a more balanced role, and a more natural state of progression.