Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Upper West Side Redux

I once used the word redux with a bunch of hard-nosed academics, only I pronounced it by sounding the x, as in "reducks." They really thought I was dumb.

In any case, since I'm now living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I wanted to say a few more words about it. There will be many more posts about aspects of the UWS, but this one is about the area in general.

Just 40 years ago, some parts of this area were slum-like, dangerous to visit and littered with drug addicts and other unsavory types. I talked to a guy recently whose parents bought a place on Central Park West, right along Central Park at about 70th Street (we're at 69th) back in 1970. They bought it for 100K and sold it in 2004 for 2.5 million. This guy said that when his parents first moved into their place, it was iffy to walk West at all, but especially bad along Broadway and the lower to mid 70s. The streets as you walk west from the Park and Central Park West, by the way, are Columbus, Amsterdam, Broadway, West End Avenue, and then Riverside Drive. The movie Panic in Needle Park portrayed this area of Manhattan in 1973 and the story it told was similar to what this guy had told me.

Additionally, as many people know, the opening of the film West Side Story, the only part they filmed on location and it really shows, takes place in the area where Lincoln Center was to be built and was, in fact, an area where many gangs roamed. Actually, the building of Lincoln Center was for some, especially Robert Moses, a huge urban renewal project.

So what changed? I'm not really sure, but I do know that improvements, both to Riverside Park and to Central Park made a big difference. Of course, the construction of Lincoln Center back in the mid-60s and all the additional building it encouaged had something to do with the change over time. Apparently, there was also an influx of college students, many of them attending Columbia, about 40 blocks North, that also contributed to the vitality of the area in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.

It is fascinating how big city neighborhoods evolve. I hope to say more about this before too long.

1 comment:

  1. The academics were pompous asses. See (and listen):
    I'm also very interested in the arc of urban neighborhoods, how they rise and fall and what tips them one way or the other. I'll look forward to your thoughts. In my experience, it is often the vision of just a few or only one person that starts the renewal of an area but the societal circumstances have to be right for the change to be sustained and blossom.