Garbage piles up between buildings during the 1976 strike of Local 32B-32J members in New York City.
1976 was a real interesting moment for the New York Times to commission a disposable little one-pager on “101 Things to Love About New York City,” but commission it they did. In the mid-1970s New York famously almost declared bankrupt, leading to the immortal Daily News headline of October 30, 1975: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD,” and aside from that, New York’s image (not without reason) was of a violent, cramped, dirty hellhole. It was also something of a creative mecca for artists, musicians, comedians, and what have you—artists could afford cheap lofts in Soho, and the tensions of the city were or would soon be reflected in a remarkably wide-ranging and multicultural brew of rap, punk, avant-garde art, salsa, disco, graffiti, and who knows what else.
The Times piece, by Glenn Collins, appeared in the June 16, 1976, edition. Today such items are commonplace, but one imagines they weren’t so common before the advent of consumer-friendly “alternative” newspapers and the like. The article is amusing for several reasons: the highly mordant tone of the article, the difficulty of thinking up 101 actual reasons to like living in NYC (although such padding is almost a requirement of the genre), the lack of overlap with the reasons some of us would have liked to live in New York, and the utter incomprehensibility of a good portion of the list. The world’s gone from analog to digital, moneyed interests have taken over Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, and well, some things just change.
Here they are in a more readable format:
Now, first things first. I was a resident of Staten Island for several years until quite recently, and I’m having difficulty imagining a New York City where the Staten Island Advance, SI’s hardy daily newspaper, is the #6 thing that occurs to a person writing about why to love New York. Thanks to the good works of the ScoutingNY blog, which discovered the list in the first place, and its readers, we know that 873-0404 was the “Dial-A-Satellite hotline, providing you with daily information about passing satellites.”
Anyone know what #45, “Degree days,” signifies? I must confess, I enjoy #46, “More movies, plays and ballet than anywhere else, and not going,” there is nothing more New York than that. Do people remember #12, which referenced strange PSAs the local news would run, or something. I don’t know if they were a local thing or a ‘70s thing in general. I do remember them quite well. The entry at #22, “New York’s proximity to Montauk,” is kind of interesting because the whole Long Island experience has been utterly transformed in the last decade or two; I don’t think anyone actually finds it charming anymore.
Over on this half of the list, I really enjoy the concept of #85, “the rabbit hanging out near the World of Birds at the Bronx Zoo.” The diaspora reflected in #69, “East Siders on the West Side,” will puzzle anyone who isn’t aware that the Upper West Side was something of a wasteland as far as posh people were concerned, before the creation of the Lincoln Center arts complex in the mid-1960s. “A winning OTB ticket,” at #60, is a little hilarious, considering I’ve never set foot in an Off-Track Betting outlet and would never desire to.
Overall, this is a cranky, creaky, weary list. At least twenty or thirty of the items signify what an awful place New York is, and a handful directly reference the fiscal problems New York was going through.
But most of all, there’s pretty much no mention of the things the average reader of DM would be likely to think of, which probably isn’t very surprising: great music, great art, great food, accessible drugs, an AIDS-free social-sexual environment (can’t fault the NYT for missing that one), cheap downtown rents, the assertion of Latino and African-American and queer identity, public eccentricity everywhere, and on and on.
Not quite contemporaneous but close enough, here’s the annoying 1982 “I Love New York” promotional ad campaign: