Rising Costs Threaten City’s Cultural Melting Pot

Event: Downtown Third Thursday Lecture Series
Location: Broad Street Ballroom, 01.17.08
Speaker: Pete Hamill — Journalist & Author, Downtown: My Manhattan
Organizer: Downtown Alliance

City Hall - Woolworth

A cross section through NYC reveals diversity in buildings and their inhabitants.

Jessica Sheridan

From the height of the Woolworth Building to the detail of City Hall, each block that breaks the street grid represents centuries of architectural evolution that defined downtown NYC. You can take a similar cross section through its populace, revealing assorted origins that make the city unique. So says author Pete Hamill in Downtown: My Manhattan, where he explores how NYC’s nature is born of it combination of classes, cultures, and lifestyles. But he’s afraid the rising cost of living may put this cultural melting pot at risk.

The local culture in NYC developed “because people who were not like each other came up against and learned from each other,” Hamill stated. Older neighborhoods still reflect the cultural complexity that created them — the varied townhouses of the village, overhead banners in Chinatown, the twisting streets of Little Italy. But even these hallmarks of a rich past face encroachment from a profit-driven archetype.

Hamill spoke fondly of his childhood in Brooklyn, and his first view of the Manhattan skyline; however, when asked what he saw as the city’s greatest current challenge he cited rising cost of living. NYC famously attracts and benefits from those struggling toward insurmountable goals — including artists, writers, and actors. Now they are being out-priced and inhibited from moving to the city because of economics. The true cost of surging high-end residential space could be deeper than simply demolition of aged brick façades, claims Hamill. The result could be a resident population narrow in class and cultural variety.

Rent stabilization and stocks of affordable or market rate housing can help to curb the issue. Hamill is reassured knowing that New Yorkers tend always to fix the city’s cultural problems in the long run. In this case, history will repeat itself, one hopes.