After returning to Los Angeles after a month long visit to Manhattan, I pondered what about New York had changed since the time that I lived there for almost a decade in the 1990s. The answer is a lot.
The hedgefundification of Manhattan is visible everywhere. Neighborhoods have been gentrified, more bankers with more money then ever inhabit downtown, the proliferation of luxury retail is seemingly everywhere, and few self-respecting artists actually seem to live in Manhattan anymore. The creative crowd (not supported by family money) that once energized the streets and cafes of Soho, Tribeca, the East Village, Alphabet City, and the Lower East Side has clearly been marginalized to the outskirts of Brooklyn or Queens or moved away from the Apple altogether to more hospitable environs.
And why not? One no longer has to dwell in Manhattan to be considered cutting-edge or connected or to be inspired. Prior to the mass adoption of the web as our source for information, New York was the Internet. It was the city that people choose to live in or travel to because of a thirst to be part of a scene, a community, or to be at the source to participate in and sometimes shape so many important sub cultures that would influence the world. This was true in both business and in the creative fields but the importance of being present in New York has diminished substantially as the internet proliferates.
In days past, if you wanted to experience the punk scene your chat room was CBGB, an actual down and dirty venue in the once down and out Bowery neighborhood. Like-minded rockers would pilgrimage and congregate to CBGB and the scene was made real-time. Punk bands and fans now congregate on social networking sites and music blogs from the comfort of armchairs anywhere. The same can be said for Twilo, the legendary and game-changing 27th Street nightclub that was instrumental in popularizing international styles of house and trance music within the United States by playing host to legendary DJs from around the world that did not have the benefit of a couple hundred thousand pre-existing "fans" on Facebook.
The accessibility of fashion also centered around New York not fashion blogs. While in some respects it still does, it clearly does not as it pertains to accessing a trend or seeing things and being able to purchase a piece that inspires you. At one time, the windows at Barney's (7th Avenue & 17th St) meant something. For the experimental fashion set, so did dressing up for a late night out at unquestionably bizarre centers of downtown gravity like Area, Don Hill's, and the Tunnel.
Trendy items like Doc Martens could only be purchased by traveling to your favorite hole in the wall shoe shop in Greenwich Village. Now I can assure you that Docs, in over 100 styles for both men and women, are only a mouse click away at Zappos.com, anytime, anywhere.
Movements, both political and social, started in Washington Square Park. And while the Park and other locations around Manhattan still stand as open forums for protests and progressive thinking, the reality of a movement is that it can be better organized, more thoroughly presented, and have a much greater impact on the internet as the potential to grow a constituent base is exponential.
Celebrity gossip, now owned by TMZ, was once reported live from hot spot clubhouses like Odeon and Indochine. Now the lasting contribution of these icons is to remind us of what once was pure electricity that could only be experienced by being there.
New York is still a hell of a good time and undeniably titillating on so many levels but the importance of being present in New York, full-time, has diminished substantially as the depth of information that can be accessed over the web accelerates at light speed. New York is still a super-highway of information, but the internet is the Autobahn and if left to Google will be going airborne sometime soon.