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New York City: Introduction

We New Yorkers have heard the proud refrain from local politicos many times: how New York is better than ever. The FBI has rated New York as the safest big city in the United States. It's cleaner than it ever was. The number of hotels, restaurants, and clubs keeps growing and gets better every year. This rebirth has helped bring in over 44 million tourists in 2006 and even more are projected in the next few years. Everything seems rosy. Why then, are some of us worried about our city? With this boom, those of us who have been here a long time and have seen the changes from a city in need to what it is today, fret that this renaissance is one without character. We worry that with a Starbucks on every corner and new, glass and steel condos sprouting like mushrooms at the expense of an old favorite bookstore or our local Cuban/Chinese joint, that we are slowly losing our identity; the fear being that we will become like everycity USA.

But change is inevitable. "Of the city's five boroughs, Manhattan, in particular, refuses to remain as it was. It is dynamic, not static. What seems permanent when you are twenty is too often a ghost when you are thirty," Pete Hamill writes in his book Downtown: My Manhattan.

And the longer you live in this town, the more ghosts you will encounter. But New Yorkers adapt . . . sometimes painfully. Hamill explains: "The New York version of nostalgia is not simply about lost buildings or their presence in the youth of the individuals who lived with them. It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same . . . . Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone."

So though we might mourn loss, we also anticipate and expect change -- it's part of our way of life. We know that a restaurant, show, club, or store might be the hottest thing now, but a couple months later, the next one has opened or been discovered and that once hot spot quickly becomes passȳ.

But some icons and institutions are so entrenched in our daily lives that we could never accept their loss. What would we do without that reassuring sight of the Lady in the harbor or the gleaming spire of the Empire State Building? Or the perfect pizza? Or a Sunday in Central Park? Or the rumbling of the trains beneath the earth? Or the sounds of jazz from a Village club? So while New York is ever-changing, as long as its core remains the same we might complain a bit, but we aren't going anywhere.

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