March 4, 2009

Follow Your Money: The New York Financial Crisis & Recovery Walk

I think I've reached my bottom when it comes to bad financial news, a personal capitulation if you will, so I've devised a 10,000 step program to aid our road to recovery. Surveying the urban landscape of New York, the financial capital of the world, I've mapped out the pinpoints of flickering light (some have flicked off) - among them, AIG Private Client Group (70 Pine Street), Bernard Madoff's penthouse apartment (133 E. 64th St.), RIP Bear Stearns (383 Madison) until its purchase by JPMorgan Chase (270 Park Avenue), Lehman Brothers (745 7th Ave.), and several more. Feel free to connect the dots for a self-guided walk. And don't forget to stop in the increasingly relevant Museum of American Finance on Wall Street.


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"Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?"*

You may not know this, but the epicenter of financial forecasting is Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. For some reason, great wisdom about recessions and depressions emanate from this very heart of historic bohemia. The great Cassandra, Dr. Doom, Nouriel Roubini, teaches at NYU's Stern School, just off the park. Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chair and authority on the Great Depression, taught at NYU for a short time, and artist Edward Hopper, who showed us what empty streets look like in bad times, lived on the north side of the park most of his life. Washington Square Park is a veritable Findhorn when it comes to mysterious financial wisdom.

My close proximity to the park allowed even me, a flâneuse with a master's degree in American Civilization from the Universidad de Tejas, to tap into the vibrations. During the fall of 2007, while many New Yorkers whiled away their afternoons sipping absinthe, the Dow over 14,000, and chatting up the gentrification of the Bowery ("Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people. They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made"*), I was staring into the murky future of post-capitalism:

Walking Off Class Struggle in New York 9/17/07
"Walking Off the Big Apple is increasingly concerned about the appalling division of social classes in the city. Though an ever-present part of the city's life, documented over the ages in fiction and non-fiction, the current configuration of hedge fund managers on top and the working poor at the bottom bothers the moral conscience."

Style and Sustenance in NYC on $25 a Day 9/17/07
"Walking Off the Big Apple is sometimes upset, along with her fellow citizens, over not having enough money to enjoy the city. New Yorkers pay so much in rents and mortgages now that we have little for anything else. Budget-minded tourists, I would imagine, also feel like there's not much left after one night in a hotel. Luxury travelers, on the other hand, can afford the $1,000 a night hotel rooms and probably don't care how much they spend during the day."

• "The Pain Threshold," Or, Maintaining Dignity with Our Euro-spending Friends 10/7/07
"The weak dollar means that Americans will think twice about visiting Europe and also limit purchases of European goods. At some point, European companies arrive at "the pain threshold," and there comes a knocking at the door. Many articles in the business pages, such as this one, indicate the threshold has already been breached. It could get worse, though, and some one's hand could get caught in the door after it's open and then slammed back shut."

Walking Off the Wall Street Bears: A Subprimer 11/13/07
"Much of the worries on Wall Street these days stem from the crisis in subprime mortgages, risky loans to often credit-risky individuals to buy homes for themselves. However, these individuals found themselves overwhelmed financially with often high adjustable rate mortgages, and they faced foreclosure. Some of the lenders are also up a creek."

Now, here in the late winter of 2009, I stare upward, awaiting future signs of where next to walk. I'll keep you posted.

* Lyrics, Bob Dylan. "Like a Rolling Stone." Proves my point about Washington Square.

Image from 9/25/2008. Wall Street subway station.

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