There can be times when a dangerous ungovernable city can be lots of fun. Unless you live there.
I can remember visiting NYC in the mid 80s and again when I covered the 1992 Democratic Convention. The city, like many cities today, was an urban nightmare. Yet then, the urbane decadence bred a certain on the edge thrill. For along with the danger there was a creative energy, a booze and drug filled frisson that drove a 24 hour bacchanal. It was horrible fun in the literal sense.
I went back in 1994, just after Rudy Giuliani had taken over, as I worked for a polling firm in Northern New Jersey and we did a lot of work in the City. Yes, the porn shops and hookers had left Midtown when Rudy made it clear their days were numbered. The Disneyfication had begun. It was a tad boring, but good for public safety and business. It lasted until DeBlasio.
Today, the danger is back. But the once associated creative energy has been replaced by a conformist monotony that caters to a dull mediocrity apparent throughout American culture. The murders and Gotham crime atmosphere has returned, but no longer are there interesting compensating factors. The pattern is repeated across America.
The Sound of Philadelphia is now gunfire. Chicago is a combat zone. The Chocolate City runs red with blood and Studio 54 has been replaced with Studio 45 Calibre. More murder, less fun.
Will this turn around anytime soon? No. America’s major cities are in the hands of Dem administrations that make Big Bill Thompson look like Pericles. They have an indifference towards crime, as their armed protection squads insulate them from the hazards. They care more about pronouns and tearing down statutes that don’t make the PC cut than they do about civilizing their fast becoming medieval municipalities.
From Eric Adams to Lori Lightfoot, from Baltimore to San Francisco, within modern memory thriving cities have descended into anarchy and degradation. This is a national shame, as America is not just about the fruited plains.
It’s about the former grandeur and sophistication of New York and Philadelphia. It’s about the sprawling shoulders of past Chicago and the infectious postwar Count Basie rhythms of Kansas City. It’s about the sun-drenched streets of Miami and the creole charm of New Orleans.
And with those came the American genius of the Gershwins in New York, Billie Holiday in Philadelphia, and Charlie Parker in Kansas City. There was something there that could be called adult American civilization. It’s gone now, gathered to time. In its stead is a darker vision, like that of a vicious child that consistently emotes and bays, though who does not understand life or true freedom in the slightest sense.
The jaded longings of a fan of an extended postwar America? To some extent, perhaps. But we both know there’s more to it. The best part of America cannot be henceforth only found outside of the city limits. To restore our great cities, our adult culture, our very civilization, is a goal worthy of achievement. If those finally set into permanent sunset we will be a much worse off people for it.