26 March 2010

Buildings on Fire

250 East Houston Street, NYC, 1981

Throughout the 1970's and early 1980's buildings in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn were being burned for insurance money or by squatter negligence. This building burned three times while I lived in the neighbourhood. Eventually, the Red Square development (see below) was built behind the chain link fence and initiated a new image for Lower Manhattan. Luxury came to live cheek by jowl with poverty. I was there when it started and twenty years later the neighbourhood is more luxe than poor. Burned-out tenements and graffiti marked storefronts have transformed into chic boutiques, highly designed restaurants, and tiny but expensive apartments. The visible poverty has made way for gentrification and those of my friends who remain (mostly middle-aged artists, anarchists, and musicians) question where it went to and when they must follow.

Manhattan is prohibitively expensive these days and many young artists and up-and-comers choose to live in Brooklyn or Hoboken. No wonder my ex-husband holds on tight to the excellent apartment and lease I left with him in 1992 and which lease is our daughter's legacy. A New York City rent-stabilized apartment lease is almost as good as real estate especially in this landmark neighbourhood of venerable 19th century history, architecture,
and charm.

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