In the Lower East Side, where I have lived for sixty years, my shoemaker is gone, the three fish markets gone, the cloth and thread shops gone, the butcher gone, the bookstore gone, the bakery and its wonderful aroma of morning bread gone. One day, when I heard that the Second Avenue Deli was closing, I walked in to see a woman behind the counter in tears. She said, “How many pastrami sandwiches can we sell to pay the giant rent increase?” A bank now stands where the deli had flourished and made us all jolly, including Mayor Koch. On the positive side, I’ve probably added a few years to my life without corn beef and chopped liver to clog my arteries.
I once suggested to a man working in a former mayor’s office that New York should create a commercial rent control to grant the city a life of small shops and stores and businesses. He replied, “Why would you dare block the natural flow of a free economy?”
“Don’t dams block the free flow of nature?” I said.
“Are you a communist?” he asked.
In my small community, a school teacher or university professor or a bus driver, a just-starting-out doctor, would have a tough time paying off the 1.3-million-dollar mortgage for a studio apartment located where the former church playground gave kids room to be frantic. The hospital is gone, another going, our clinic is gone, our local supermarket gone and another about to leave; a church, its school and active playground, are gone. Once people could live near where they worked, but now they can’t afford to and, in any case, where they worked no longer exists. All are gone, replaced or to be replaced with luxury condos.
New York City is and has always been famous for its dynamic transformations. Change is inevitable and welcome, exciting even. But what is happening to my beloved city and will continue to happen is that the change rushes in only one direction, creating a homogenous enclave, with only one class and those who commute to serve them.
Frederic Tuten is an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. He has written five novels: The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (1971), Tallien: A Brief Romance (1988), Tintin in the New World: A Romance (1993), Van Gogh’s Bad Cafe: A Love Story (1997), and The Green Hour: A Novel (2002)—as well as one book of interrelated short stories, Self Portraits: Fictions (2010).
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