New York’s streetscape is transforming fast and losing its mom-and-pop charm, which is what prompted pseudonymous writer Jeremiah Moss to create the popular blog Vanishing New York. Moss, who just last month unveiled himself as East Village–dweller Griffin Hansbury, is known for "bitterly" chronicling the demise of beloved spots such as Cafe Edison online. But his new book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, is more than a compilation of obituaries for shuttered haunts; it thoroughly describes how the city hasn’t changed organically but rather has been taken from us. We spoke with Moss about what needs to happen in order for the jukebox-bar– and independent-bookstore–loving folks to win back New York. Want to hear more? You can meet and listen to Moss speak about his latest work at Housing Works Bookstore Café tonight at 7pm.
Why did you decide to unmask your identity?
When I started publishing the book, I realized someone would have outed me. I wanted to do it myself, and I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I wanted to enjoy meeting people and have
a book party.
How can New York shift from a hypergentrified city to once again be flooded with mom-and-pop–shops?
We need truly progressive leaders in City Hall and the mayor’s office who are not taking any funding away from the real estate industry, and they need to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. I would also like to see a vacancy tax and zoning control for chain stores. I shop at chain stores. (I don’t know anybody who doesn’t.) But there are just too many of them.
You created a campaign called #SaveNYC to initiate these actions. Have you been involved in any other activist work?
I don’t think I’m active enough, but I consider my writing to be a form of activism. #SaveNYC has been a way to bring more attention to these issues and prove that an alternative is possible. I don’t know what the future holds, but I could see myself getting more involved. It was difficult using a pen name. I couldn’t show up to meetings or organize people.
Your writing has been described as “cranky.” If you were to sugarcoat and write a love letter to New York, what would you say?
I actually end the book that way because my editor asked me to. You can’t end a book on a downer, apparently, which I think is true. There are moments where I see something that makes me go, “Oh, there’s New York!” I’ll ride my bike along the East River, come around the bend, and there’s the Statue of Liberty. Or I’ll ride along FDR Drive, and there are these elderly Chinese people dancing with red fans in their hands. On any walk in the city, you’re going to see something amazing and unexpected. New York still has enough of that, I think. I want to help preserve as much of it as I can.
Now that you’ve released your book, what is your next project?
I have these unpublished novels that have been gathering dust for a while, and I would love to get those published. There are two of them, which were originally written about this character Jeremiah Moss. They’re speculative fiction and one is a New York dystopian novel.
Do you have any advice for twentysomethings just moving to NYC?
When you come to New York, you’re ignorant. It happened to me too. I had no idea that in 1993, I was moving to a city and a neighborhood that had been fighting gentrification battles for 10-plus years at that point. There are so many great grassroots activist groups fighting against gentrification, which is very important. I hope young people want to get involved. I also think young people live in a different city than I do. People in their twenties live out in Brooklyn—Manhattan is irrelevant for them. A lot of them have never been to the East Village. It’s amazing how Manhattan has declined.
Do you think you’d ever leave New York because of hypergentrification?
Every so often I’ll fantasize about leaving, but I always come back to New York in my heart. It’s very hard to imagine living anywhere else. I’ll go to Brooklyn and miss New York. (To me, New York is the city of Manhattan.) I’ll go on vacation for a week, and I look forward to coming back even though it’s stressful to live here. New York does something to my nervous system that just works for me. If I’m in a quieter city, I feel dulled. There’s just an energy here that I need.
What is the one takeaway you hope people get from your book?
Although New York is always changing, this is not natural change. It was a result of planned policies, and therefore, it can be stopped and reversed.