A few years back, during my more dewy-eyed college days, I was accosted at the corner of 10th and Broadway by two fifteen-ish girls. They desperately wanted to know if this was the fabled Greenwich Village they had heard so much about. I told them it was. A look of confusion crossed their faces, and one of them asked, in all seriousness, "So...where's the mall?" These words aged me about ten years in the space of two seconds, and for the first time I truly realized how much New York had changed in my short lifetime.
These feckless youths spring to mind each time I hear Rudy Giuliani try to pump up the city's populace. Every day, in every available medium, the Mayor tells his fellow New Yorkers to spend their hard earned dough and help the city recover. What the Mayor does not admit publicly is that many of the policies he foisted upon Gotham in the last eight years have made this a difficult task for the average New Yorker, both financially and spiritually. His administration created a city designed specifically for tourists and rich, young professionals. Post-disaster, we are all suffering for relying on such fair-weather friends.
Giuliani urges citizens to shop and eat at restaurants. "Shop" and "eat at restaurants" are coded phrases, however. He does not mean for us to go to the thrift shop down the block, or grab a slice at the local pizzeria (activities that the average New Yorker has continued to do, undeterred because most of us have no choice). The patronage he seeks is for the kinds of establishments that did not exist in New York before his administration--large, brand-name chains wooed into Manhattan for the first time at his urging.
K-Mart and Old Navy were urged to set up shop in New York, and Giuliani has a lot riding on their continued success. Thanks to him, once-notorious Times Square is now filled to bursting with The Olive Garden, TGI Friday's, and other restaurants for people who can't eat out without some sort of agenda. All of these places are designed to cater to out-of-towners, both in price and demeanor. Step into any of them, and, aside from the view out the front window, you will have no clue as to whether you are in Manhattan or a galleria in Anytown, USA. These places are no more suited for New York than they are for any of their 8 trillion other locations. And most New Yorkers I know can seldom afford a $12 cheeseburger at ESPN Zone, regardless of the linebacker it might be named after.
As for Broadway, it is an industry that has long been resting on its storied name. It spent a decade bankrolling ridiculous productions based on even worse movies, and attracting curiosity celebrities to "act" in these atrocities (See Tonya Harding in "Set It Off--The Musical"!). Ticket prices skyrocketed, due to a number of different factors, but in large part because times were good, tourism was booming, and the market could support such fees. Now the tourist trade has dried up, and stars of "The Lion King" and "Kiss Me, Kate" make desperate pleas for support, eyes downcast and hats in hand like any good beggars.
(Not all theaters have heard the barbarians at the gate, however. "The Producers" is just now setting up premium seating for "large corporations and first-class tourists" at the astronomical sum of $480 per ticket. I wish them all the luck of an umbrella salesman in the Sahara.)
A survey of any average neighborhood in New York will show you that the city has gotten back on track. People are still shopping at their local shops, eating at their local restaurants, and drinking at their local bars. I offer as example my own corner of Brooklyn, which didn't even blink as the Twin Towers fell within sight of its piers. Building construction went on that morning, trucks continued their deliveries, factories churned out their product as always. Taking a break to mourn or reflect was not an option for a borough of workers. The streets remain as busy and as noisy as they ever were. It is a neighborhood of immigrants, who already gave up one home and have no plans to give up this one any time soon.
The same can not be said for the yuppies lured into New York by the Internet Gold Rush, a land where they heard the triple-malt scotch flowed like water. According to The Padded Wagon, a downtown moving company, moves in lower Manhattan have soared from three or four a month to four every day. These are people who have no loyalty to anything that is not hip, and nothing is less hip than vague threats to their own oily hides.
Essentially, the Mayor's pleas tell us that we are not spending money in the right places. Our cash shouldn't go to the neighborhood diner, it should go the WWF Restaurant. We should be wasting money at Armani Exchange, not some silly, home-grown small business. The city has been abandoned by the deeper pockets of mall-seeking Jersey girls, and it finally needs its own citizens to fill in The Gaps.
Rudy Giuliani will be remembered as New York's first suburban mayor. He was the first leader of New York whose reputation outside the city was more important than the reputation he had within it. He created a New York that did not need its own citizens. His folly will become more and more evident in the coming months, as New Yorkers deal with the ruins of a malled city we were never intended to enjoy.