A Beautiful Day to Remember our Humanity
This past week, I walked up West End Avenue, to pick up some wine a friend had left for me with his doorman on West 96th Street. I was looking forward to decompressing from all the crises in the world by stretching my legs up one of my favorite Upper West Side avenues.
I’ve always loved West End and Riverside for their historic integrity and calming, green environments. Grand tree-lined boulevards, reminiscent of their Eastern and Western European forebears and the immigrants who brought their food, music, artisanry, influence and vision here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Those were my ancestors. Irish, Italian, Danish, German, French, Iberian and even a bit Sephardic. As such, I feel very at home walking the streets of Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Mrs. Maisel and their families (however bizarre). They are the streets I’ve known my whole life. And while those streets have always evolved with time, bringing new generations with them — along with prejudice, crime, disease, dirt, poverty and struggle — above everything, the streets have remained fundamentally human. And human-scaled. Designed and built by and for the people who would live there.
So, when I saw two crazily cantilevered, inhumanely ugly buildings on Broadway rising above these tree-lined oases, I was struck speechless. Because this went against what had made my neighborhood and life in New York so human and relatable.
I remember all the revival movie houses and the Jewish cafes on 72nd street, like Café Eclair, where Elizabeth would give me petits fours and rainbow cookies as well as Cake Masters across the street. Fairway was just a produce, bread, cheese and smoked fish store, and Citarella only sold fresh fish. A favorite local restaurant, La Crepe, on Broadway was womaned by Belgian ladies in full headgear dishing out crepes, and 67 Wine, The Sensuous Bean, and Thomas Drugs were vanguards of their industries.
Please don’t imagine I’m trying to paint a picture of an idyllic New York City that never existed. My childhood also saw the collision of a bankrupt city, the emergence of scaffolding covering everything[SK1] , AIDS, Crack/cocaine, oppressive pollution, sex trafficking, decimated and broken-down, dust-bowl parks, rampant homelessness (comparable to present levels) as well as subway cars that looked like someone had rubbed gum and snot all over the windows and seats. It was AWFUL! And SCARY!
And yes, the developers then (as they are today) were moving in like vultures and hyenas to tear down these grand boulevards, immigrant homes and historic businesses, to make way for THE NEW! THE BIGGER! THE BETTER!
The difference between then and now was the will of the people to try to maintain New York’s past for future generations to enjoy and learn from. My childhood saw the rise of neighborhood advocate Landmark West! And a broader Historic Preservation Movement to save our parks, neighborhoods, businesses and houses of worship. In fact, at 5 or 6 years old, I was strong-armed into carrying petitions to the site of what is now the First Church of Christ, Scientist, but was then on the chopping block.
And all that will worked! It saved our shared experience of San Juan Hill (West Side Story) as well as most of the brownstone blocks and avenues of my neighborhood, ensuring their “livability” for future families. It also paved the way for some more responsible mayoral leadership to rethink how to revive New York — it’s climate, health and economy.
Today, New York, like so many other cities and historic places in our country and world, is once again at a fundamental inflection point. One where we either work together to preserve our environment and our humanity for the benefit of future generations; or one where we passively let developers like SJP, Extell and Related raze our shared history and replace it with super tall billionaire condos built completely out of the context of the real communities who have made New York so special.
I know what I choose. I choose the opportunity to renew our Humanity here and across the country.
And I hope you, your friends, and your families will do the same. The first step is Becoming a Member of Landmark West!
Holly Lynch is a 20+ year communications veteran and life-long social impact advocate and strategist who has helped individuals and companies tackle the toughest challenges in their worlds. Having survived countless life setbacks and two rounds with terminal cancer, while seeing the country-wide collapse of the systems and safety nets for the most vulnerable in and outside our communities, she is now shifting her life and career trajectories to focus on coaching those facing down fundamental shifts and transitions as they try to navigate and rebuild their lives and businesses during these unprecedented times.