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An urban planner on New York's "gritty" past

1908s new york A Nightmare New York actor, portraying the city's "gritty" past for an annual haunted house on the Lower East Side. Photo credit: Bess Adler

Nostalgia for 1970s and 1980s New York is hot now, but according to Laura Liu, who chairs the Urban Studies department at The New School, romantic longings tend to leave a lot of the cold, hard truth out.



“I think the romanticization of those decades is related to the way the city was … actually very gritty, disinvested, a hard place to be,” Liu said. “That period of time was very hard on people of color, poor people and urban dwellers who didn’t have an option to live in other places.”



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Liu said it’s easy to look back and remember the “downtown scene,” which continues to be perpetuated by media, and forget more painful elements of existence, such as hunger, the crack epidemic, widespread violent crime and heavy policing.


But the “dystopia” of the era isn’t so different from today, said Liu, who believes the real estate policies of Koch, such as overbuilding of office space, “persist.” Gentrification continues to push populations and businesses, such as CBGB, out of their native spaces.

“There is a downside to all of these mythologies, of a sanitized and cleaned-up city,” Liu said, adding the reality of the number of people who continue to struggle in the city, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, can be overlooked.

“Myths … sort of obscure a different way of seeing the good and the bad of either period.”

 

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