Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Pen Behind Jeremiah Moss (Vanishing New York) + 27 Cooper Square Dedication

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For a decade, a blogger writing under the nom de plume Jeremiah Moss has been chronicling the Bloomberg and post-Bloomberg era gentrification--hypergentrification--of New York City, primarily through posts that tally the disappearance of countless small and medium-sized, often longstanding businesses. While not always avoiding nostalgia and though he has mostly focused on Manhattan, Moss's blog, Vanishing New York, has set the standard in consistently demonstrating city and state policies favoring plutocratic real estate interests, in combination with the national and global neoliberal economic system, have had a devastating effect on so much of the city's social ecology, its distinctive neighborhoods, and its diverse cultural vibrancy, let alone affordability, all of which have drawn creative people in particular to New York for more than a century.

Though gentrification in New York is hardly new, Moss has detailed how over the last 10 years, particularly in the lead-up to and through the Great Recession, whole sections--and increasingly boroughs--of New York have transformed into hollowed out museums of themselves. (Lost City was another blog that contemporaneously recorded the loss of many New York landmarks, from 2006 through 2014. Gothamist also provides updates amidst its general news about the city.) Among the terms I've learned from Moss's blog are yunny (young urban narcissists), zombie urbanism, and hypergentrification, to name just a few.  From my first encounter with Moss's lamentations--appropriately enough, an early entry from 2007 bore that title--and jeremiads, I became a fan, finding in his posts arguments that compellingly articulated what I saw happening as far back as the period right after 9/11, in 2001, and also underway simultaneously and without explanation, in Chicago.

From Jeremiah's
Vanishing New York
Certainly many have written persuasively about gentrification and its effects, and we can always use more informed takes. But Moss has also urged readers to go beyond mourning and support the pro-small business, cultural landmarking, anti-chain approach of SAVE NYC. Moss also has tried to address readers' questions, including why he began the blog, whether gentrification is (ever) good for working-class and poor people, how Bloomberg's tenure really affected New York (for the worse), and how New York City has become increasingly suburbanized, or a dense, vertical simulacrum of the suburban--an elite suburb, that is. Notably, he also has not shied away from addressing questions of race, class, and political access, among other topics key to the problem of hypergentrification.

For his efforts he has received a great deal of press, and some awards. Until now, Moss has not compiled his thoughts in book form, but that is set to change with Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul (HarperCollins), which will hit bookshelves shortly. A book party is set for July 27, in SoHo.

What also has remained unknown to most readers of Moss's blog is who the writer really is. (In fact I have to admit I was quite willing not to have his real identity revealed.) Recently, however, in a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece by Michael Schulman, Moss does share with the world who he really is: Griffin Hansbury, a transgender psychoanalyst, social worker, and aspiring novelist who has lived in New York for more than a quarter of a century. He lives in the East Village, and has shifted, as Schulman points out, from elegist to activist, when he rallied readers behind the attempt to save Midtown's Café Edison, which did not succeed but which fed into the #SAVENYC campaign.
So why did Moss (Hansbury) unmask himself?

[He] decided to reveal himself, he said, so he can show up at his own rallies and on panels. Also, “Vanishing New York” is now a book. Walking down St. Mark’s Place, past a dark-glass building that he called the Death Star, he mentioned a study that measured pedestrians’ skin conductivity outside a sleek Whole Foods and on a more diversified street. “They found that blocks that are all this glass stuff actually shorten the lives of senior citizens, because they’re so depressing,” he said.

And, as I can attest, they can turn into giant magnifying glasses, scorching the ground around them. I hope to share this and other thoughts--like the increasingly disturbing lack of adequate infrastructure in New York and New Jersey, especially to handle all of the building, new arrivals, or catastrophic contingencies like a worse version of the 2003 blackout (which I experienced firsthand) or another tropical storm as strong as or stronger than 2012's Hurricane Sandy-- in person with him, at his book event or another, but either way, I'll be picking up a copy of Vanishing New York, the book version, while continuing to read his blog.


A few days ago, another New York City blog I regularly browse, EV Grieve, posted about a plaque dedication at 27 Cooper Square on June 21. Though increasing swaths of Manhattan and New York City have been or are being leveled or built over in favor of the kinds of cookie-cutter designer glass luxury towers that Moss has decried on his blog, 27 Cooper Square managed to survive the wrecking ball, mainly because, as EV Grieve points out, two of the building's resident, including acclaimed poet and memoirist Hettie Jones, balked at moving out so that the Cooper Square Hotel could be built next door. Jones and her fellow tenant had secured artist loft status in the 1980s, and thus had the law on their side. Now, as the luxe Cooper Square Hotel looms beside them and an increasingly hypergentrified Downtown New York surrounds them, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), in partnership with Two Boots Foundation, will commemorate 27 Cooper Square's importance as a cultural node during the 1960s.

The 1845 building, as the plaque announces, was the home of several key artistic figures during the 1960s. Quoting EV Grieve (and the email the site received from GVSHP):

In the 1960s, this 1845 former rooming house became a laboratory for artistic, literary and political currents. Writers LeRoi [later Amiri Baraka] and Hettie Jones, their Yugen magazine and Totem Press, musician Archie Shepp and painter Elizabeth Murray all had homes here. The vacant building was transformed into a vital hub of cultural life, attracting leading figures including those from the Beats and the world of jazz. It was also the childhood home of a second generation of East Village artists and thinkers.

GVSHP and Two Boots Foundation will install a plaque on the building at 27 Cooper Square to mark the significance of the site in the artistic legacy of the East Village.

The event's slated speakers included Archie Shepp's son Accra Shepp, a noted photographer, and Hettie Jones, as well as a representative of the GVSHP, and poet and Bowery Poetry Club co-founder Bob Holman. You can watch a video of the dedication on YouTube, and see photos on Flickr. Though cultural producers still live in the area, as Jones pointed out in the 2008 New York Times article on her successful battle against the Cooper Square Hotel, "This used to be an area where people got their start. Now it’s a place to land once you’ve made it." And it's only more so these days, but the plaque will remind people, at least those who stop and read it, that the area was once more, much more, than a hub of global lucre.

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