As a reporter for the New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir has made a career out of talking about the city, and one thing is clear: Nobody agrees on what’s best for what she calls our “unbelievable, throbbing metropolis.” But you’re not a New Yorker if you don’t love a good debate, and she’s about to get into it with some of the city’s most outspoken voices in a new conversation series called Only in New York.
“Every person on the panel is a double take-inducing figure,” says the Harlem-born reporter who will moderate the talks. “They’ll make you look twice and think twice. It is a series of big personalities, and it’s gonna be weird and wonderful.”
The series is part of the Museum of the City of New York’s reinvention, inspired by its recently opened interactive exhibit New York at Its Core, about its history and how the forces of money, density, diversity and creativity shaped it. Beginning this Wednesday, Only in New York will bring big emotion right from the start — the first panel in the monthly series is called I Love New York? and pits 23-year former state Sen. Marty Markowitz against Clayton Patterson, the notorious Lower East Side street artist and activist on whether gentrification is pushing out creativity.
“Marty Markowitz has done much to clean up the city into what we know it as now, and all along the way Clayton Patterson has tried to be a bulwark against that because he believes the city loses something as we make it squeaky clean,” explains Nir. “For me personally, I’m both Clayton Patterson and Marty Markowitz. Each and every New Yorker, we all love that we won’t get knifed on the subway anymore, but don’t we miss the gorgeous, gritty, graffiti-covered trains? There is a tension that we all hold.”
Other deeply divisive subjects will include whether diversity has value, the changing nightlife scene, who can still “make it here,” as Frank Sinatra sang, and more. The point isn’t to decide on an answer, says Nir, because “I think everybody really benefits more from a question.”
The format will be unusual, too, with guests sharing a couch onstage, wine in hand, for a “talk show-y, homey atmosphere” that generates heartfelt discussion rather than just presentations. After the talks, stick around for a wine reception and gab with the evening’s guests one-on-one.
“It’s an endlessly evolving, hustling city, it’s fast and furious, difficult and complicated, and it’s magical beyond belief,” she says. “All of us really care about New York, and we’re all vested in its progress.”
Only in New York
Monthly, begins Jan. 11, 6:30 p.m.
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave.