The other night I was sitting out on my blogging perch when a girl called out from the fire escape two floors below, “Hey, I saw you on ABC!” “What on earth?” I wondered. “What was I doing on ABC?” I called down. I must really be some kind of big time celebrity now, I thought. I had forgotten that ABC is also the abbreviation for the Australian Broadcast Corporation. It turned out she had seen this documentary online. I was sitting in the same position as in the documentary, and I think that’s what tipped her off. She turned out to be a fellow Southerner: Sarah from Mississippi. Sarah said it would have been nice if the documentary had given the blog address. I agree. She had also tried to find out from the people in the lobby, but for some reason none of them would tell her. Thanks, lobbysitters.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about recently, we at Living With Legends were privileged to work with award-winning Australian filmmaker Michael Maher on a documentary about the changing character of New York in general and of the Chelsea neighborhood in particular. The film, part of Maher’s Foreign Correspondent series for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, focuses on how the McBurney YMCA on West 23 Street was converted into condos for the wealthy, and asks, will the Chelsea Hotel be next?
A First for Blogging
New York Magazine points out that that Maher’s film is possibly the first documentary to focus on a blog. Though it seems odd that more has not been done in this area, it no doubt has a lot to do with the mainstream media’s antipathy to blogging. (As mentioned on WNBC, I wore their “Blogging Summit” hat in the documentary: though the summit had more faults than I can count, it was at least an attempt by the mainstream media to reach out to the Blogging community.) Blogs are threatening to the mainstream media for the very reasons they are important: they provide a level of intimacy and detail, and an insider’s perspective, that you can’t get anywhere else. Even more importantly, they provide news, opinion, and information that’s not filtered through a corporate lens. (Video Courtesy of ABC)
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Remembering Our Neighborhood’s History
When I wrote an essay criticizing Cindy Gallup’s apartment in the former Y building—which letter features prominently in the film--a large part of my purpose was to keep the loss of that building in the forefront of people’s consciousness. The members of the McBurney Y fought long and hard to keep their 100-year-old community intact—and it’s a damn shame that the corporate board of the Y was hell bent on abandoning their mission in pursuit of the almighty buck.
The Ongoing Struggle for Our Community
I also wanted to pose the question: how will we react when faced with the threatened loss of similar institutions? As Maher’s film documents, the Chelsea Hotel shows ominous signs of going the same way as the Y, of either becoming a luxury condo building or a pricey boutique hotel. Already, no new tenants are being allowed into the hotel. What will become of the new generation of young, struggling writers, artist and musicians who want to move to New York to give the dream a shot?
Not Just Rich-Versus-Poor
As I learned from the media attention I received in Australia for my role in the film, gentrification is an issue world wide. In the seventies and eighties many cities around the world were used as dumping grounds for the poor and dispossessed. But then something funny happened. Artists and gay people moved to those cities and found the vibrant spirit and community that was lacking in the suburbs. Now, it seems, rich people have seen this and become envious. In response to this demand, the greedy developers want to take back the cities and ship the working and creative classes off to God knows where.
On the other hand, the issue is a lot larger than simply rich-versus-poor. The rich suffer too when the city is drained of it’s diversity; and you know what, even the rich need a cheap cup of coffee and a donut now and again. Though Cindy Gallup comes off as a villain in the film, it turns out that she realizes, more a lot of people in her income bracket, that city life is not, and can never be, only about fine dining and high-end shopping. If this gentrifying trend continues, it won’t be long before the city is as boring as the subdivisions many of us fled.