Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New York, New York

I came across E.B. White's classic essay Here Is New York the other day and wanted to share a passage that still rings so true:

"But the curious thing about New York is that each large geographical unit is composed of countless small neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is virtually self-sufficient. Usually it is no more than two or three blocks long and a couple of blocks wide. Each area is a city within a city within a city. Thus, no matter where you live in New York, you will find within a block or two a grocery store, a barbershop, a newsstand and shoeshine shack, ... a dry cleaner, a laundry, a delicatessen..., a flower shop, an undertaker's parlor, a movie house,....a drugstore, a garage, a tearoom, a saloon, a hardware store, a liquor store, a shoe-repair shop.  Every block or two, in most residential sections of New York, is a little main street A man starts for work in morning and before he has gone two hundred yards he has completed half a dozen missions....all between the corner where he steps off the bus and his apartment. So complete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village. Lt3 him walk two blocks from his corner and he is in a strange land and will feel uneasy till he gets back."

Does that sound like you and your neighborhood? Do you have your favorite place to eat, drink, know the names of the guys at your bodega and laundromat? Do they recognize you by face and name?

How big is your neighborhood, truly? If you live in the West Village, is the East Village a major undertaking?

I personally live in Brooklyn at the crossroads of several neighborhoods but not really in any of them. The one-stop market on the end of the block gets much of my grocery business - when I don't absolutely have to bring some specialty home from Whole Foods. I visit my different neighborhoods disproportionately, but eventually I go back and am ashamed to notice some change I was absent for.

I spent nearly 8 years of my professional life working on Broadway near Union Square. I hardly get over there anymore. I've noticed some new yummy-looking restaurants on the blocks between 19th and 23rd. My favorite Starbucks is somewhere near there too (It's got the best seating, so I try to keep it a secret, but it hardly is). And there's now a fall market in Madision Square Park, but I've only walked through once or twice.

The West Side is now my Flatiron. I notice every storefront, every townhouse. In my office I am again on the cusp of neighborhoods: West Village, Chelsea, Meatpacking District. There is so much to love about this city. In another 60 years E.B. White's essay will be just as spot on as it is now.

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