|taken from the top of the rock the first summer i lived in nyc.|
as i prepare to swap out my neighborhood for brian's neighborhood in the next few weeks, i'm trying to savor everything i can about this old place. after four years of living in this part of town i know it well. i have a grocery store, a dry cleaner. i know which subway entrances are only uptown and which ones are only downtown. i know the man who lets his bulldog sit at the dinner table with him, i'm used to seeing the italian waiters chain-smoking during their breaks at the restaurant on the corner. yeah, this neighborhood is mine.
and yet, it's not.
as i struggle to hold onto the days and hours and tiny threads of familiarity before i leave, i'm also aware that this spot was never mine to begin with, and not mine to idealize. after lying dormant for all four years, a construction project for a new high-rise building on the corner of my block finally broke ground this spring. it will probably bring with it around 100 new residents. 100 new people on my block, using my subway, my grocery store, my dry cleaner. 100 new residents change a place. they'll make the commute more crowded, the lines longer at the cleaners, and the bagel shop even slower on a saturday morning. it makes me anxious for this place, even as i'm about to leave it. brian also has a new high-rise going up a few blocks down the street from him - it stands to bring in 300 new residents. it scares me even more. but the fact of the matter is, plain and simple, these are not our neighborhoods to have and to hold forever. not in this city. nothing irks me more, as cities grow and change and grow and change some more, to hear people say they're losing their neighborhood. at one point, they were the new face (this fact always seems to escape them). my great grandfather owned two homes in brooklyn - one to run his business out of, one to raise his family. the neighborhood is nothing like how it was when he lived there - and he lived there for decades. and the hands of time are slowly starting to change the neighborhood again, with current residents complaining about all the new faces. they must have forgotten when they first moved in, too.
a few summers ago my dad and i went to visit the house my grandmother grew up in, also in brooklyn. when she lived there it was a staunch irish-catholic neighborhood. today it's filled with russian immigrants and their families - their stores, their corner markets, their shops. i read more russian signs that day than english ones. and perhaps the neighborhood will stay that way forever. but, more likely, a new wave of immigrants will take over at some point. move in, buy property, set up stores. and so it goes, and so it goes.
it's important to build communities that are conscious of how they grow - mindful of how new high-rise effects current residents or how to help shop-owners adapt and find success with new clientele. but a neighborhood in a growing, living, breathing, beast of a city like new york belongs to you as much as you belong to it. there were thousands, millions before you - of different races, religions, careers, ages - and there will be millions after.
the first year i lived in the city, late at night, after a long night of work, my cabbie pulled up to my building and, to his utter amazement, couldn't believe where i had taken him - his brother's old apartment building. yes, his brother lived in my building for most of the 1970's. it was a perfect new york moment - in a city of millions i was the one who got in his cab and took him down memory lane. i can only imagine what my neighborhood was like back then, and i can only imagine where it's headed. all i know is that it gave me four nearly perfect years. i'll hold on to those memories as i prepare to leave, and not the notions of what i think my neighborhood should be. it was never mine to begin with.