Spotted someone reading this the other day.
I admit it, I love books about the battle for the City’s soul, and I love seeing other people read them.
On one side, you have the lofty visions of big business, politicos and city planners who think about space in terms of potential revenue, ‘packing people in’ and revitalization. On the other side, you have ordinary people who want to cultivate community, walk their dogs and push their strollers, and make art. Where, they ask, will the community go when you build that super highway or that stadium? Where, ask the developers, will the City get its revenue while you sit in your community garden and sip your latte? It all brings up an interesting question: Was New York City ever meant to be enjoyed as a community? We know well that it thrives as a place for spectators (a recent ad for police recruits tells prospective applicants that the job comes with “a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth”). But when people start to talk about “settling down” and “cultivating community” developers just hear the part about slower revenue. It can frighten them.
‘Heartbreak House’ by George Bernard Shaw
What an appropriate thing to read in this sweltering heat, a day before Queen Elizabeth II is scheduled to visit your city to talk about peace! This play examines the archetypes of British society’s upper class on the eve of World War I and a performance would probably resonate with so many of us right now as we hear continuously about the wars we fight overseas and the economic havoc all around us. I recently overheard a friend talk about how the best art is always made during the most trying times. I suppose that we also reach for literature that can make some sense of what is happening now and help us see it as more romantic or noble. Shaw undoubtedly had no intention of portraying his characters as noble, however. And I’m pretty sure the New York audience that saw the play’s first performances were all too happy to see the British upper-class undercut with this biting satire.