Some friends and I were sinking into that backdrop of twilight sky, flickering lights and people in motion that make eating outside in this city so strangely cozy and entertaining...and we got to talking. There are some benefits to this recession when it comes to returning New York City to some of its livability and charm. Is it my imagination or because people are going out less do they seem to be enjoying it more? Maybe it's just summer and everyone is more relaxed, traffic is down and the streets are calmer but something about New York City just feels less frantic. There are tons of folks, for example, streaming into the park; friends, lovers and families with little children loaded down with picnic baskets, laying down blankets and settling in for free concerts and movies. Sidewalk restaurants are full of attractive, interesting looking people leaning into animated conversation over bread, wine and plates of pasta.
And an added bonus, some of the worst kind of New York types are less in evidence. The wannabes who walk down the street shouting into their cell phones, trying to look like wheeler dealers, the masters of the universe types who stare .....somber and smug.... through the tinted windows of their black limos; the over dressed, over jeweled and over-ampted shoppers for whom nothing is quite right. You know the types? When there is less money to spend or show off, well people do less spending and showing off. It's a relief.
This recession has done a lot to remind people of what's really important, to get us to reflect on how things got so out of control to begin with; it has been humbling and sometimes being humbled brings out the best in people. Humbled people tend to be less preening and competitive and more focused on getting on with it and enjoying the moment. The simple pleasures seem worth more; walks through the park, dinners with friends; noticing and valuing what you already have and where you already are instead of always wanting to have more and be somewhere else.
And culture becomes more important again. After all going to the museum is cheap entertainment and a lot more elevating (well this could be argued, I suppose) than shopping. Seeing a play, though not cheap, is still less than some evenings can add up to in New York, it's good value, more bang for your buck. An experience to be remembered.
When rents fall more people can live here. The City was rapidly on its way to pricing everyone but big money makers or people in rent control out and that's not healthy. New York needs its art loving, people oriented, intelligent middle class, the ones who are here to use and enjoy the city rather than possess and own it.
Maybe we're getting our city back so that those who live here, raise their families here and love the little stuff that makes this city "this city." They can can remember why they wanted to live here in the first place. Strolling down Fifth Avenue, meandering along the side streets of downtown, Chinatown, bagel shops, corner delis, book stores and the rare mix of people from all walks of life can be rediscovered. We can take a momentary break from breathlessly getting ahead, stop and, well not smell the roses exactly, but love that feeling of being surrounded by something alive and endlessly interesting, a city that has a pulse of its own that never stops beating. And we can actually spend some time just enjoying each others company instead of constantly networking and "getting ahead" to a place that no one can quite define. If less affluence means living more in our bodies and less in our heads and wallets, then maybe we can learn something about ourselves during this period, maybe we can remember the value of doing less and enjoying it more.