NYC’s Anxiety of Change

Event: This Will Kill That? presents Adam Gopnik discussing his book, Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York (Knopf, 2006)
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.26.07
Speaker: Adam Gopnik — writer, essayist, commentator
Organizer: AIANY Emerging NY Architects (ENYA) committee

Through the Children’s Gate


When reading his essays, one can picture author Adam Gopnik exploring the life of NYC streets, rather than laboring behind a desk. Since returning from Paris in 2000, many of his wanderings, recorded in Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York, are attempts to understand events that have affected and continue to profoundly change NYC.

“Change as creative destruction is the rule of living in a capitalist society,” according to Gopnik, and that change is a defining aspect of NYC life. Over the last 25 years NYC has made “enormous gains in civility,” says Gopnik, but at a cost to its identity. Without nostalgia for the 1970s, he mourns the loss of variety and pines for the earlier “soulful and funky New York that seemed worth moving to.” Simultaneously, he acknowledges a tendency to attribute “virtue to the old manufacturing city” and a “moral uneasiness with the new city of finance.” Can this perceived loss of identity be fixed, wonders Gopnik, and if so, should it? Furthermore, is the apparent loss of diversity in NYC real, or simply perceived?

After 9-11, the city changed again and for Gopnik the tragedy highlighted that “more than any other city, NY exists at once as a city of symbols and associations, literary and artistic, and as a city of real things.” In Gopnik’s experience of that day, “the symbolic city, the city that the men in the planes attacked, seemed much less important than the real city, where the people in the towers lived.” Simultaneously, the everyday city and all of “the little rituals of New York” were “enacted more mindfully.” In the struggle for normal urban life post-9/11, Gopnik, stresses that “anxiety is provocative, a stimulant that makes you act out; fear is silencing, a paralytic, and it makes you burrow in. Movement and activity can eliminate anxiety,” he adds, while “fear can only be cured by retreat.”