In "When the Action Moves On," an essay published in the January 18 Sunday New York Times, author Alex Williams reports on a sentiment sometimes expressed these days that New York seems somehow over. Washington, this week for sure, is where the action is. As evidence of Gotham's demise as a world power, he cites the anecdote of a guy who walked over to a usually-busy midtown intersection and found it not crowded. But then the author presents us with several pronouncements made over the decades about the decline of New York. So, apparently, every so often, influential writers declare the end of the city, much like the perennial announcements about the theater. At the end of the essay, everything seems to be totally okay with New York. The reason? The writer Joan Didion, though she said New York was over a few decades ago and then abandoned the city for sunny California, can be found living on the Upper East Side.
I am tempted to say New York is over, too, because I can pull out my own anecdotes. I can look out the window on many mornings and find empty parking places on the streets of the Village. Holiday shopping at Macy's seemed easy this year, and I hear it's not impossible to obtain a table at a desirable restaurant. I certainly am not arguing that the recession hasn't played a role in all this. And I can also imagine how Washington, D.C. looks pretty shiny these days in comparison to the sad grays of New York. After all, D.C. has a bright new administration, where here we can only look at the former Masters of the Universe on Wall Street and a criminal under house arrest in a fancy Upper East Side apartment who must bear some considerable burden for the worst crisis since the Great Depression.
New York may be in a funky mood, as the essay asserts, but let's ponder the advantages of funk. A city that is less crowded, more green, slower in pace, and less status-conscious, yet still filled with marvelous buildings, great avenues, and spirited people (with fast, do-gooder reflexes, as demonstrated recently in the rescue on the Hudson), may find a new life with a different - let me say "strolling" - stride. As Walter Benjamin, in a writing from 1935, proclaimed Paris to be the capital of the 19th century, New York could arguably be called the capital of the 20th century. Nothing wrong with that. People still long to visit Paris. And so they will with New York.
Image: View of LaGuardia Place, between 3rd and Bleecker Streets, in snow. The statue is of Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945, shown in mid-stride. Image from January 2009. One of the reasons New York seems less crowded these days is not because we're all depressed. It's because it's been too friggin' cold. Watch people hit the streets again as soon as it warms up.