We are suffocating ourselves.
If we don't Save the Village - and every other neighborhood in town with a little scale, history and charm - we are in deep trouble.
Kevin Costner heard it first: "If you build it, they will come." Here in Gotham City, it keeps getting built. People keep coming. And by my calculations (and I did go to Stuyvesant HS!) we are fast approaching absolute gridlock. Complete and total shutdown. Like a can of sardines but more tightly packed.
Case in point: Driving from Astoria to SoHo at 5 pm this afternoon was a nightmare. It could have been worse, perhaps, if the weather was especially hideous or there had been an accident on the 59th St. Bridge or elsewhere, and it will be worse in the coming days as streets are closed off and parking disrupted for the coming U.N. session and visit by the pope. Or a ticker tape parade if the Mets win the World Series. (Though that is a traffic jam I wouldn't complain about!)
But this was a reverse commute trip (into Manhattan at rush hour, not out) on a "typical" day. Nightmare is now typical when driving in Manhattan during daylight hours.
There are periodic stories in the tabloids about "races" between a crosstown bus and a turtle: who can cross 14th Street from river-to-river faster. (The turtle wins of course or else it is not a very interesting story.) And while the express bus lanes are a great idea, illegally parked UPS trucks, taxis, flummoxed drivers, cop cars, food trucks and the like do tend to slow things down.
Same on the subways (and the LIRR!). Everyone has recent horror stories. I was on the 7 train coming home from Shea - oops, CitiField - on Monday night and while everyone was chatting about the delightful new 7 station at 11th Ave., I was predicting chaos. I was right - and a lot quicker than I thought. Trains on the 7 line were off from about 10:30 to 11:30 pm due to "signal troubles." Thousands of sleepy, angry Mets fans, the glow of the team's 8th straight win wearing thin thanks to overcrowding and system shutdown.
Every morning lately the traffic and transit report stretches longer and longer as trains on the Ronkonkoma line, or the PATH or Metro North has another breakdown. Things just be too crowded up in this joint, as the urban youth would phrase it.
There are more buildings being built for people to live in. But you know what? There are not more streets for them to drive on, or sidewalks for them to walk on, or subway lines or tracks to transport them. All there seems to be are more CVS drug stores, Chase ATMs and Starbucks counters.
In the last few months I have really noticed a difference in the general level of crowds everywhere. There's always been swarms of people in New York of course, including residents, workers who commute from elsewhere and the 50 million or so tourists who come here each year.
But finally, the end is near. Call me Nostradamus: I am predicting complete, total, absolute gridlock within next five years.
Unless anyone wants to do something about it.
One guy does, and he has started this: http://www.savenyc.nyc/
I am sure he often feels like he is pissing into the wind, as do many uncaped crusaders. (Abbie Hoffman for example, the radical, revolutionary, political activist and social clown and 1960s activist, Chicago 8 defendant, environmentalist and peace lover, committed suicide in 1989 - we covered the story - because he was said to be despondent that a lifetime of activism had resulted in what boiled down to what he thought was a failure, his death coming after eight years of Ronald Reagan and a rising conservative tide.)
You can do something about what is happening all around us. Become involved. Become aware. Know what your local community board is up to. See what projects are in the pipeline. Go here and join an advocacy campaign: http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/preservation/index.htm. Or start one in your 'hood.
People come to New York and Greenwich Village in particular because it is a manageable scale, it has history, it has excitement. But that appeal is being destroyed, one new condo project at a time.