The composer and lyricist Irving Berlin (1888 – 1989) once remarked, “Everybody ought to have a Lower East Side in their life.”
Does Manhattan still have a Lower East Side? Or, more figuratively, a neighborhood where migrants from around the world have escaped to, in search of a difficult path to an eventual better life, a place of small tradesmen, barter, community, hope and despair?
The light of such lives unfortunately seem to have been extinguished, replaced by a more antiseptic wasteland of gentrified boutiques, dining experiences, branded coffee bars and the suburban big boxes looking to show off their wares to big city salaries. With the enriching of the 1% worldwide, and the attractiveness of a stable U.S. dollar, Manhattan has become more about the international “pied-à-terre”, the solid investment, than the neighborhoods that chronicle all of life’s stages. Advertised as “apartments in the sky,” they are just that – full of air, devoid of character, a world distinctly separate from the city itself.
Where to hear life’s real soundtrack? As in major cities worldwide, on the periphery: in NY, the other four boroughs; in Paris, l’autre côté du périph; in London, well south, north, east or west of the Thames. Here and there, people from different backgrounds and cultures interact like atomic fission, creating genuine, new shared experiences and writing a vibrant new story. While New York’s other boroughs experience the pressures of their own gentrification, their sheer size and strong history of diversity ensure their authenticity for at least another generation: Sunset Park, Flatbush-Ditmas Park, and Brighton Beach, just to name a few in Brooklyn.
How do we measure contentment and success? What do we aspire to in life? The term “luxury” is so passé, so empty of real meaning, a commercialism so wasteful and disconnected from the challenges we all face and the authentic experiences that should be our guiding light.
Perhaps LCD Soundsystem sang it best on their ’07 album Sound of Silver:
“Like a rat in a cage, pulling minimum wage New York, I love you, but you’re bringing me down… Your mild billionaire mayor’s, now convinced he’s a king. So the boring collect, I mean all disrespect. New York, I love you, but you’re bringing me down…And oh, take me off your mailing list For kids that think it still exists, yes, for those who think it still exists.”
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for over 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in the Far East, India, East Africa, Israel, Turkey, Russia, and Eastern and Western Europe. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available. Custom prints of his work are available for purchase on request.