Constant talk about how New York City has changed. Listen to it: “This isn’t the city I grew up in”, “It’s not what it used to be”, “The chain stores have drained all its character”.
All of those things are true. I know it’s different from when I first came here. Do I miss how it used to be – 20 years ago, or even 10? Moments stick out, stay sticky, won’t let go. They imbue buildings, cross-streets with emotion, nostalgia, unspeakable attachment. But when someone says “New York has changed so much” I can’t feel it – I stretch out my arms, reach my fingers wide, try to receive it on my skin. Nothing.
Still, I agree. I say, “New York has changed.” But seen through the lenses of 16 million eyes, New York has changed us too. In increments it changed and we adjusted, without ever noticing. Suddenly these arms I stretch out, these eyes I squeeze closed, aren’t the same ones I had then. My body has forgotten how to thrill at the constellation of possibilities the city lays out before me. More than anything, I want to remember.
So when I say “New York has changed” and shake my head, and sigh, what I really mean is, “I have changed.” Isn’t that why I came here? To jump into the fray and be transfigured?
We are the sentient infrastructure, not the concrete or the taxi tires grinding through potholes. We shift the painted firmament, tug at the traffic tides, influence subway karma. It comes with the territory.