Nostalgia, New York Style

May 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Times put up an online link where readers can list their own answers to “What Do You Miss Most About Old New York?”

The hook for the story was the announcement Thursday that New York may bring back double-decker buses. Today, the Times Metro section has an article with photos of the Automat and the 1964 World’s Fair and references to the Dodgers and boom boxes.

Nostalgia is apparently very popular, at least among Times readers. In the first 24 hours, the link has gotten over 400 responses. It’s not an unbiased sample, but if you’re looking for a nostalgia database, it’s a place to start.

There’s a lot of price nostalgia. Of course, the people who remember getting the Journal-American for a nickel and a theater ticket for $6.60 omit any mention of their annual income then and now. And as someone points out, in a few years, we’ll fondly remember the $5 cup of coffee.

Many of the items are about restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores that are no longer around. They’ve been replaced by other restaurants, bars, etc. that the next generation will wax nostalgic about. But as one Maury F implies in a wonderfully sarcastic post, some aspects of the current cityscape will never be a source of nostalgia.
Banks. I miss banks. Have you noticed there aren’t any more BANKS in Ol’ Gotham? Can’t find a one anywhere. And drugstores! Oh, how I miss seeing those Duane Reade’s and CVS’s and Walgreens. . . . And coffee, dammit! Where’s my double-latte? Can’t find me a decent cup of coffee nowheres no more. Oh, and chain stores — if all of the rest of the country has all them nice stores in all them nice malls, why can’t we??? . . .I miss the old days when New York wasn’t so unique.
Some people miss the subway token even though the Metrocard is far more convenient. On the other hand, Checker cabs (mentioned by at least 20 people) are a real loss. They really were more comfortable and easier to get in and out of.

The most contentious issue is urban disorder, and the flash point is Times Square, once seedy but now Disney-clean. One poster quotes Jimmy Breslin – “gimme the hookers!”– and another says, “Bring back the porn.” Other posters dismiss this sentiment. “Yeah, I really miss the prostitutes, squeequee shakedown artists, and crumbling tax base of “old New York”. How about some bankruptcy and racial violence while we’re at it?”

One poster, recognizing a tradeoff between sleaze and rent wants “just enough crime to drive housing costs down to an affordable level.” But someone else responds, “Living in fear of getting mugged/raped is NOT an acceptable tradeoff for low rents and cozy brick tenement buildings.”

Is there any good research on how real estate prices and crime are related? Do decreases in crime drive up prices in the same way that increases in crime drive down prices, and with similar lag times? Do different types of crime have different effects? (If I were still in the crim biz, I’d probably know more about these questions, but alas I’m not, and I don’t.)

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