In a single week earlier this month, I dined at three great restaurants in what was once the culinarily bleak Financial District, rode the J train through formerly scary neighborhoods to a family occasion in Richmond Hill, Queens, and checked out beautiful new buildings in a rejuvenated block of Harlem.
The old Gotham matters a lot to me, a Brooklyn-born New Yorker who witnessed Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Ocean Hill section decline so badly in the 1950s that my family fled to Long Island. I returned to Brooklyn and Manhattan in time for the boroughs’ abandonment to crime and physical collapse in the 1970s-early ’90s. And I’ll be forever haunted by 9/11, which seemed to leave downtown, if not the entire city, for dead.
Yet here we are, a city that has never been so much in demand. In my 67-year lifetime, the five boroughs have never been so full: Our population is soaring toward 9 million; most parts of town bustle with energy and investment; and crime has fallen to historic lows.
I marvel over the blossoming. I can walk down the Hull Street block where I grew up without fearing for my life — which wasn’t the case 25 years ago when it was strewn with empty lots and menace lurked behind every parked car.
Now, an enthralling new book makes clear that I’m not alone in my home-town infatuation. “Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York” (Spiegel & Grau) by New York magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson lends nuance, texture and historical perspective to my impression that New York City has never been so appealing or life-affirming as it is today.
That truth is somehow, infuriatingly, lost on many native-born New Yorkers of every political stripe — from Mayor de Blasio (who didn’t protest when one of his inauguration speakers described the city as a “plantation”) to President Trump (who’s threatening to cut off our federal aid). It’s fashionable to snark that the Big Apple, behind the veneer of gleaming towers and artsy…