The Mean Streets of New York

02 Aug

New York City is a world unto itself. The names of its roads conjure full-length narratives; Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue. A harbor city with a rich commerce and immigration history, it is also a trendsetter. NYC and its rugged individualism stems from its bursting at the seams size. A recipe with millions of ingredients is bound to be unique. If you look hard enough (and factor in tourists) you might just find every type of human being imaginable in NYC. For years business in NYC mirrored this diversity and singularity.

However, as tourism has boomed commerce has followed suit with entire areas now resembling a mall. Times Square is the most obvious example. An area once considered sordid (if not flat out dangerous) home to PeepLand is now an amusement park for tourists and children. Enormous stores hawking (vending machine) candy and anything and everything branded with the candy’s logo, dot more than one corner of the square. Chain restaurants pop up like three-card-monte games once did. Cartoon and puppet characters now troll the streets in a plush walk that echoes their prostitute foremothers. They shake down “family men” for $5 after giving them a hand in creating a photo op.

But stray from midtown and it’s still pretty much an Elmo-TGI Fridays free zone (for now.) Yes Banana/Taylor/AnthroUrbans dot the landscape from the Bronx (up) to the Battery (down.) But real neighborhoods do not cater to or court tourists. The further you stray from the middle the more interesting things become. Neighborhoods bubble up, dissipate and bubble up again in the span of blocks. Retail reflects the nationality and/or ethnicity of local residents. Style and trend is set and followed locally. For better or worse there are many New Yorkers whose world does not expand beyond a one-mile radius. (How many times have you heard someone boast of “never setting foot above 14th street” or “getting a nosebleed above 86th street”?)

Given the almost insular nature of some city neighborhoods it’s jarring to spot a uniformed police officer (and marked car) stationed in front of a local movie theater. While the theater is not technically in the middle of nowhere, it is nowhere in terms of foot traffic or visibility. Living in New York one becomes accustomed to seeing incongruous evidence of heightened security. Body men outside of a diner? President must be in town. Federal and international agents milling about? Deposed leader in town. But one police officer in front of a rather dull movie theater on a weekday morning? Batman. That’s right, during a summer of obscene levels of street/playground shootings in New York City, there is a police officer assigned to the outer wall of a movie theater.

Decisions are made everyday that focus on image rather than logic or substance. But what makes this particular NYPD decision so baffling is how incredibly reactionary it seems. Was there intel about a ‘copycat’ attack in NYC? Would anyone unbalanced enough to actually do such a thing be deterred by the sight of a lone police officer leaning against a wall? Is there anyone actually living in the area who is concerned about their safety in a specific movie. Is the police officer a comfort to any local people? Or is this officer (and perhaps officers standing in front of every theater showing the film) a public relations move aimed at tourists? Tourists are probably not visiting the playgrounds and streets where children (and adults) have been shot. But they may come to the big city and go to or walk by a movie theater. Cynical conclusion? Perhaps that what comes from too many Grover/Pooh/Goofy/Shrek mingling.


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