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Let me tell you—NYC’s neighborhood map is fine as it is

Enough trying to recreate other U.S. cities within this precious town of ours.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, News Editor Anna Rahmanan argued that sample sales in NYC are the “concrete jungle” everyone talks about.

A new trend seems to be emerging from the ashes of the global pandemic: a version of “globalization” entirely different from the type of “melting pot” mentality that has defined New York City until now.

If recent media reports are to be of any indication, a certain sect of New Yorkers is attempting to erect mini versions of other U.S. cities within the confines of our very unique town. Let’s collectively agree to let the trend die and, perhaps, gently nudge the purveyors of the movement to perhaps move out of New York and set up roots in the exact locales they wish to rebuild on our soil (L.A., Chicago).

It all started with New York Times media correspondent Michael M. Grynbaum’s essay dissecting the Los Ang-ularity of New York’s current cultural scene. The journalist went as far as naming a portion of Noho “LiLA” (short for “Little LA”) as an ode to the businesses that currently call the neighborhood home, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s brick-and-mortar interpretation of her lifestyle newsletter Goop and famous Californian organic food destination Gjelina. 

Grynbaum’s blasphemous pronouncement came just a few weeks before New York’s very own “The Bean” sculpture, Chicago’s most iconic piece of public art, was unveiled in Tribeca. Don’t we have enough beautiful pieces of public art that are actually endemic to New York already? Whose idea was it to ask the great Anish Kapoor to develop another “Cloud Gate” (the official name of the work on display in Illinois) instead of soliciting a structure representing the city she can now lay claim to?

And there’s more: as New York State legislature’s decision to approve licenses for three new casinos to open in the area slowly turns into a reality, residents are being treated to a barrage of proposals that oh-so-awfully remind of Las Vegas. The one-and-only JAY-Z is behind Caesars Placa Times Square while New York Mets team owner Steve Cohen is pitching the idea of turning Citi Field’s parking lot into a gaming house. Even more recent is a bid to build a casino and a Ferris wheel near the United Nations headquarters in Midtown East.

Will the advent of gambling destinations eventually benefit New York on a financial level? Most likely. Will they kill the quintessential New York vibe? Not necessarily—at least not if built with the city’s culture in mind. We don’t need a Vegas-style casino but we could, maybe, hopefully, benefit from a New York version of it that won’t remind us of the soulless, dry and overall petrifying lifestyle that defines the day-to-day in Nevada (to each their own, of course).

Needless to say, I’m not criticizing the very essence of New York, which stems from the city’s ability to swiftly welcome outsiders and create pockets of experiences that completely rely on outside culture. Little Italy, Chinatown and Washington Heights are all home to populations of immigrants that have entirely shaped their respective neighborhoods to emulate the homes they left behind—and New Yorkers in general are certainly enjoying the fruits of their labor, visiting restaurants serving authentic foods from other nations, seeing art commenting on life in parts of the world that are foreign to many. 

We are proud of the fact that we speak over 200 languages here and that people feel comfortable enough to move into town and make New York their own by transporting a slice of their homeland culture here. 

But here’s the thing: nobody is trying to recreate Italy in NoLita or claiming the area to be a small version of the European boot. The amalgamation of personalities on our island is not a mirror image of the countries left behind but an interpretation of lifestyles through a New York prism. LiLA—a moniker I promise not to ever use again—isn’t a little version of Los Angeles but, at the very best, a minuscule part of New York that currently has some businesses from the West Coast town. 

Local restaurants provide what is probably the clearest example of the differences between the would-be trend and reality. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, the famous Naples-based shop from Eat Pray Love, just opened in the West Village and, despite it being absolutely delicious and founded by the same team as its original counterpart, eating there does not remind me of an Italian meal. The people surrounding you, the way the menu is presented and even the cocktails on offer are a New York version of an Italian restaurant—which is exactly what makes the spot worthy of a visit.

Ravagh, Sofreh, Colbeh and Masquerade—some of the most delicious local Persian eateries—fall within the same category: although they certainly serve quintessentially delicious Iranian fare, they do so under the confines of a New York lifestyle. Eating there is not like dining in Iran: political threats are not hanging out outside the door and even the ingredients that each dish is made with are not as rich as the ones that define the Middle Eastern country. Yes, Iranian food is having a New York moment… but that’s exactly it: the fare has recently gone through our own culinary blender, resulting in a mashup of what Persian dining is and what that looks like on this side of the Atlantic.

Despite it all, I would like to propose a call to action that might at first impact be at odds with the prevailing aura of this neighborhood-related rant. There is a single portion of Manhattan that still lacks true character even though real estate developers and financial gurus have recently poured money into it and (erroneously) declared it the future of town: Hudson Yards. 

In my humble opinion, that’s the one area that might actually benefit from an infusion of any culture. Perhaps, tech nerds might consider moving in to catalyze the birth of the Silicon Valley of the East—a new neighborhood I might not be totally opposed to.

Time Out tip: Visit a new art installation at the Dumbo Archway to hear the over 200 languages that are currently being spoken all over New York City.

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