Friday, October 05, 2007

The City As The New American Burb

Long Islanders Head Back To The Future

Reading The New York Times obituaries, as we do on a more or less daily basis (just to make sure we're still alive), we were fascinated by a statement that appeared in the obit of the late Herbert Muschamp, former architecture critic for The Times.

We were struck, as the obit opined, by Muschamp's experience of the lure of city life, versus the mythical attraction of suburbia, upon which most of us, in infancy, had been breast fed.

“We were the children of white flight, the first generation to grow up in postwar American suburbs," Muschcamp wrote in 2006.

"...Many of us... were eager to make a U-turn and fly back the other way. Whether or not the city was obsolete, we couldn’t imagine our personal futures in any other form. The street and the skyline signified to us what the lawn and the highway signified to our parents: a place to breathe free.”

Whatever Muschamps' musings, and his reasons for eschewing suburban sprawl for the city's eclectic crawl, we cannot escape the conclusion, to an extent greater than that which we may want to consider, let alone feel comfortable with, that many among us -- particularly Generation Next -- have reached the same epiphany.

It is no longer a white flight to the suburbs, but rather, a fright flight from the suburbs.

For our children, the move westward is often more of necessity than desire. Jobs, housing, life beyond the relative doldrums of the mall, and the hope of satiating the socio-cultural void that is hardly filled by yesteryear's headliners at the old Westbury Music Fair.

Of course, our kids aren't the only ones leaving our island.

Our parents, many of whom bought their houses in America's first suburb in the 50s and 60s for a song, now find that their annual property taxes are not only more than they paid for that homestead, but far more than their fixed incomes permit them to pay to the piper.

Workforce aging, infrastructure crumbling, zoning and planning that, surely, Herbert Muschamp would scoff at, fright flight -- and what is, to more and more of us every year, "the reasonable thing to do" -- has become, by all accounts, in vogue.

We don't need a survey by the Long Island Index or a Newsday poll to tell us what we can see with our own eyes -- our neighbors, our friends, and even our relatives are moving away.

Some transplant out-of-state. Warmer climes. Lower costs. A slower pace.

Others are beckoned to Manhattan, or the outlying boroughs, once thought to be devoid of life, now seen as full of the promise of a flourishing tomorrow.

Herbert Muschamp was writing about the gas chamber at Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp, when he, as The Times obit reported, "analyz(ed) the psychological forces that shape the visual world."

Said Muschamp, “There is nothing to see besides four walls, a floor, a ceiling and the door that leads outside.”

To more than a few of us, we sense, sadly, the same can be said of our Long Island.

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