MNP Reviews: The Suburbanization of NY

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The Suburbanization of New York: Is the World’s Greatest City Becoming Just Another Town? by Jerilou Hammett and Kingsley Hammett, editors – Photographs by Martha Cooper [2007].

This collection of fourteen essays on the development of New York City – covering everything from the Depression to the today – offers an interesting, if not subjective, view into the history of NYC, and a look at its possible future. The essays, each written by a different author, all have individual voices and perspectives – but all come together as one to cry out against the current changes in the city.

The writings both serve as a chronicle of the city’s rich cultural history, and an explanation for many of the [unexpected] changes that have occurred. For instance, the different essays discuss the decline of industry in the city, and how those warehouse spaces evolved from industrial zones, to special artist lofts meant as live/work spaces, to their current trend as high-end condos. It also covers the rise of the big box retailer [which is frightening – any city full of these stores is worrisome], and the effect this change has had on retail in the city.

Accompanying the essays is a collection of photographs by Martha Cooper, who’s ability to capture candid moments in the lives of the city’s citizens ads a visual richness to each essay that readers will enjoy.

Ironic [to me] is that New York is, in this instance, its own worst enemy. The popularity of the city has attracted people to visit and to move there – thus keeping the city in a constant state of change. What I didn’t like about the book was the lack of acceptance of this city that never sleeps, never stops growing and evolving. While pining over the New York they were glorifying, nearly every writer fails to realize that there was a New York before them, and there would need to be one after [not to say that the current changes are ‘good’ or acceptable – but change itself is simply inevitable].

In one essay that stands out for me [but is not representative of the other 13], the writer both laments the changes that have occurred because of new residents [non-New Yorkers] and politicians, while [basically] glorifying poverty, crime and violence in the city. Meanwhile, she herself isn’t a native New Yorker. Ridiculous? I think so. This romantic idea of living within the grime of the city caries with it an absurdity that I lack the words to describe – there’s simply nothing inherently ‘cool’ about poverty, violence, and drugs in our cities – they are realities our urban areas, but are definitely not to be striven for.

And, my ninjas, before you even think it – I’m not an advocate for gentrification because of my previous statement. There seems to be a trend in our society to believe that we as individuals are never a part of the problem – only the ‘others’ that we hypocritically point out as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ for whatever reason are responsible. Gentrification, in all our cities, is a perfect example of this – to get to the point, do you know how many suburbanites I know who have moved to the hood, then talked shit about the evils of the gentrified city and the need for low income housing? My ninjas, PLEASE!

This one example [and my personal views of the development of NYC] aside, the essays function as individual tales of experiences in the city – from the native New Yorkers to new immigrants fighting for equality – and come together to form a fascinating collection of personal accounts.


In short, The Suburbanization of New York is a book that anyone curious about the history and transformation of NYC will enjoy [or, at least, contains a number of individual essays that you will enjoy], and is MNP recommended.

Read an earlier review of this book by an MNP contributor here at music.MNP]

::Our thanks to Princeton Architectural Press for the review copy of this book, which can be purchased here from PA Press, or here from Amazon.com::

Posted: December 17th, 2007
at 12:25am by orangemenace


Categories: architecture,books

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