One of the things that eventually becomes obvious to an American urban dweller residing in a European city is the lack of diversity. As a New Yorker in Rome, it’s particularly obvious. Rome is full of Romans, and Romans are, essentially, of similar stripe. There are inhabitants of this city from foreign lands and of different hues, but they are not Romans. They are Bangladeshi, Senegalese, Romanian, Albanian, and more. Anything but Roman. And that will never change. While the myriad of ethnic and racial backgrounds that comprise New York’s population might be a hyphenated-American something-or-other, we are all, for the most part, fellow New Yorkers. It’s a beautiful thing, a fact many residents proudly proclaim when they speak of what makes New York so special. Diversity informs nearly every aspect of New York’s identity, and it is not exclusive. But as I look from abroad at New York’s diversity, it clearly spreads far and wide, but how deep does it go? I don’t need to look any farther than myself for a quick study.
My wife and I took the kids to the Barclays Center in early 2013, during the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn. There had been a lot of hype, not only about the Nets but also about the new arena. And there had been a lot of flack about both the Nets and the arena, respectively, as well. But after all the back and forth, over many years, both the stadium and the Nets were part of Brooklyn, and while we had been ambivalent observers during the whole imbroglio, we were anxious to check things out once matters were settled.
The arena impressed. Spacious corridors and lots of polished surfaces. Professional and courteous service. We roamed around each level, sampling food and drinks from some of Brooklyn’s finest eateries and breweries. And, of course, a stop at the gift shop was mandatory for the kids to purchase Nets gear which had become the unofficial uniform of Brooklyn’s youth. By the time we sat down in our seats, we were definitely on board with the whole Nets/Barclays thing. The pregame production turned out to be top notch, too: dancers, acrobats, a DJ named TJ, a knight-of-some-sort who shot t-shirts into the crowd, and a super-stylish MC definitely on point, ratcheting the crowd into a pseudo-frenzy (it was only a mid-season game against Atlanta after all). And when the lights dimmed, and the music loomed, it was on for real: through the loud speakers came a familiar voice, smooth and deep, informed by a trademark flow…
“Welcome to Brooklyn, y’all…”
Oh my good-ness! That’s Jay-Z!
“Birthplace of Michael Jordan.”
I sat under a canopy of blue sky on the elevated platform of the Sutter Avenue stop in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I like elevated subway stations because they’re, you know, elevated as opposed to that subterranean scene that transpires underground. What I wasn’t liking so much that particular day, high above the busy avenue, was the way the platform slightly vibrated with each passing vehicle below. It was somewhat unsettling. And then the ground really started to shake, so much so that I looked to the distance to see if Godzilla bore down on Brooklyn, smashing cars and pounding through buildings, breathing fire and squawking that awful squawk. But it was only the 3 Train rattling in from East New York. The platform continued to shake more and more until the train, thankfully, came to a stop. I got on board, but I wasn’t all that happy about it.
And then I started to think about my dog.
One of the city’s noblest professions is “sidewalk superintendent.” These intrepid pedestrians love to peer through holes in the wall to watch large equipment playing the construction game. The more sophisticated of these curiosity-seekers also look for holes in the city’s facades to glimpse the progress of larger-than-normal, future skyline stars.
You can imagine the astonishment, therefore, when I noticed, a couple of days ago, that 432 Park Avenue had adopted a “patriotic” stance, and that its fenestration grid now is highlighted, from top down, in red, blue and white, the colors of the American flag, and also the French flag — a stark divergence from the pristine, streamlined design set out by the building’s architect, Rafael Vinoly.