2013-10-13 09:13:211 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
-by Drew Kolar, Editor-in-Chief; Image: Who would ever want to leave this city?? (Image Source: “Night On East River NY” by Bobby Mikul / Public Domain)
Since picking up some shifts at a restaurant on Orchard Street here in New York City, it has become clear that something’s wrong on the Lower East Side: the neighborhood is dying.
Perhaps that sentiment is a bit overly dramatic, but as a former student at New York University, I spent quite a bit of time in the neighborhood—albeit mostly for the nightlife—and over the years, the area has definitely changed, not necessarily for the better. The LES is still a mecca for bars and restaurants, with new ones popping up frequently—but something feels amiss. Neighborhood institutions like Motor City Bar, Lolita Bar and the Living Room have been forced to shut their doors, yet horrible establishments like Hair of the Dog seem to be doing just fine. Perhaps the crowd has changed. Perhaps the Lower East Side is being priced out of the Lower East Side. Whatever the case, the neighborhood seems to be losing its heart and soul on a daily basis.
Just as St. Mark’s Place has more or less become Little Tokyo, the Lower East Side is transforming into... well, we’re not quite sure yet. While the LES was once a prime area for local music and artistry, that spirit has slowly disappeared—maybe migrated to Williamsburg, or worse, Los Angeles. But this overwhelming change isn’t unique to just a few neighborhoods—it’s spreading across the city like an epidemic.
New York City as a whole has lost its spirit. People complain that they are being “priced out” of the city or that the rich are taking over... and while in some cases this is true, they fail to see the real cause of the problem: they are simply giving up too easily.
Change happens all the time, no matter where you are. Even a small town in rural West Virginia faces changes, albeit at a slower pace. But in a city with a population like New York and with people constantly coming and going and the cost of living always shifting, change is the way of the city. We lose things we love, but we move on. Unfortunately, when we lose the drive to continue, the city loses its soul.
In recent years, there has been a mass exodus from New York, as many residents—mainly transplants—seem to grow tired of the constantly evolving lifestyle. A few years back, it seemed that everyone moved to Portland. This time around, Los Angeles—or at least California—seems to be the locale of choice. The people who created the heart and soul of these beloved neighborhoods are giving up the fight, moving elsewhere because perhaps it’s “easier.” Instead of standing up and claiming the city for themselves, they give up on the years they’ve had here—sometimes beyond a decade—and simply do something else. But why?
New York City is not for everyone... but when you spend a decade of your life in one place trying to establish yourself, giving up should not be so easy. Still, especially with transplants, they see their family members and friends back home with successful careers, relationships and kids—while they are here still trying to land that “dream job” that brought them here in the first place. Honestly, it feels like a complete waste to simply turn around and leave because that dream didn’t come true—why did you come here in the first place? After establishing yourself and contributing to the culture of your neighborhood, what is the point in removing yourself from it, only to let the bad guys—the corporations—win and take over?
But still, there are those who believe in the city and embrace the struggle. New York is not easy to live in, but we do it—even if it means living paycheck to paycheck. For some of us, the dream was simply to be here in the middle of it all. There were no crazy fantasies driving us—we are simply happy to be here. And we are willing to fight to stay. Giving up is simply not an option. New York City feels like it’s dying because all the good people are leaving—but if those of us who still care stick together, perhaps we can turn things around.
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