Thursday, May 30, 2013

on the heartbeat of a city.

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.


  1. This is so good. Hard to remember, though, because it always breaks my heart a little to go back to places from childhood to see they've completely changed.

  2. this is such a beautifully written post. good luck on the move! i hate moving in the city--it's such a pain.

  3. This is beautiful & perfect. Love it, love you more.

  4. This was beautiful. You are right - we can never own a city, or even a block or a building in a city. There were people there before us and people will come after us to change it. Even though we can't own the places we live in, we can can hold a piece of it inside of us. How it was when we lived there will always be the way it is in our hearts. And those memories - those you can own. I'm sure in four years you've got a lot of them! Loved this post, you great writer, you.

  5. The cab story is so amazing and wonderful! Hear hear to all you wrote...I'm sure it's bittersweet, but I hope you're so excited for the adventure ahead of you.

  6. The memories you'll have forever, no matter how the area changes or how far away you go. And how exciting to create new memories in Brooklyn with Brian!

  7. Bella!
    You have an interesting blog
    Let's follow each other through GFC :)

    Danica Stark

  8. Tell me about it. This city is all about change. I go back to the neighborhood I lived in two years ago and has such a different feel. I can't imagine visiting a place decades later. (That cab story is insane!) You have to enjoy what the city gives you but not consider it too precious. It's nonstop moving, changing, evolving.

    You're going to love living in Brooklyn! Good luck with the move!

  9. Loved this post Colleen. In a big city, I think it takes a long time for a neighbourhood to truly feel like home. I recently visited my "old" hood (where I lived about 5 years ago) and was shocked to see the high street completely changed and at least 2 new high rise buildings that only received planning consent as I moved away. I love that your cabbie's brother lived in the same building as you, that is a truly NY moment! I can't wait to discover more of Brooklyn through your blog (that is, I hope you post about it often)!

  10. Loved reading this darling. I love the way moving always has a way of making you both excited and nostalgic. I also love the way it shifts your perspective on your current situation and makes you see it in a completely different life. In every day living we take a lot for granted and notice little but through the lens of a move we start to notice things and realize how much we love and how much we'll miss. But a new place is also exciting - decorate/shopping!! Always fun! Hope the move went well my dear and I can't wait to see pictures of your new place! xoxo

  11. Loved reading this. It reminded me of when I went back to visit Chicago after being in California for a year. My old neighborhood was already so different. I knew it would happen - our building had been sold to the city to extend the L platform when I moved - but I still couldn't help but be a bit nostalgic. The funny thing is, the neighborhood I yearned for truly lived only in my memory. It will never be what it was when I lived there but it will always be something special to others who've come after me.

  12. Oof.

    There's something so poignant and melancholy about this post...and beautiful, DUH. Loved it. That last paragraph, especially, just hit me right in my heart, you know?

    Found you via Nat's blog, saw your awesome comment there and...WELL. We should totally have a glass (or three) of red when I come to NYC one day...or when you come to Melbourne, Australia! Heh heh.


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