Did you miss me? Wait, don’t answer that.

Reading the Robb Report is like subscribing to Playboy. The narrowness of the fetish and the finite boundaries mean that incremental shifts of style get outsized attention as new, or sexier versions of the old. A good Ferrari only comes along once a generation, but that doesn’t stop gallons of ink from being spilled about the latest and greatest. And the airbrushed equipment in Playboy? We would be so lucky for progress even on that timetable.

But that doesn’t stop the mindless repetition, the manic attempt to convince both the arbiters and the suckers that the senseless production has intrinsic value, nor the urgent avocation of the greed necessary to enable the consumption (see Marxist Rant, First Year College Dorm for the remainder of this paragraph).

Any lifestyle section of the Times (Styles, Fashion, Home, et al) pretty much suffers this problem, leavened slightly by the larger cultural purview of the target demo, meaning we have a wider array of objects to valorize, even though they have no more utiility (and much of the time you find yourself wishing it was a simple as fast boats and bountiful décolletage). Pushing out to the boundaries to shelter porn press we encounter the inane embrace of intentional esoterica (tribal art! funny fruit!), delivered via whatever Tyler Brule is pimping at the present moment. At the apex of any particular zeitgeist, you do see a spectacular culture document flame out. Spy in the late eighties, Nest in the late nineties. We’ve only got a couple years left, so I hope someone is planning something interesting and insightful. Sorry, Cabinet, I don’t think you will qualify.

Since when did this become a magazine blog? It hasn’t — but nor has it been much of a blog of any kind for some time. The Napoleon of acerbicity marched on the Moneyed Empire of Manhattan and came back, defeated by the long, cold winter of affluent indifference. I think it was the Muji Store. Or maybe CB2.

Sure, there are glimmers of hope. The respective Yards from Hell projects are fracturing under the ponderous weight of bureaucracy. But even with the implosion of BearStearns and impending doom of Lehman, it’s hardly enough. I’m sure that when Drexel was finally cut down like a financial Charles Whitman, I doubt it gave much solace to the likes of David Wojnarowicz.

The proverbial friend of a friend once told me sagely that living here when the real estate market was in the tank (early nineties edition for for him) really sucked, because there wasn’t money anywhere for anyone or anything. But he was telling me that in a large rent stabilized apartment he found and held though the lean years, and was preaching to me over drinks he bought with AT&T stock that had been showered upon him as a result of a bizarre chain of failed music label to failed Internet music startup. That the path ended with him as failed day trader, and managing a furniture warehouse in Buffalo gives me hope that his argument was wrong and that this town might still expel enough of the mindless FIRE drones like fleas from a dog and Manhattan might be an interesting place to live once again.

I did find myself staring longingly at depressed stock prices and staring with more intent than usual at Curbed’s state of the market reports, hoping for the four horsemen to finally appear. Rather than swallow the middle class aspiration tripe they sell at the Economist, which is just a more articulate version of the ‘old black man walking hand-in-hand with a little white girl down a country road’ motif you will find in just about any financial services commercial — you know, the one where they tell you to prepare carefully for the future while extracting usurious management fees that fund Richard Meier condos — maybe the lapping iceberg waters and peak oil should free us to be more cavalier about our declining years. Just imagine the kind of glory a squat at 40 Bond would entail.

This is not a future found in the McKibbon Street lofts or at the kickball league in McCarren Park. No, those people are the effluvia of the worst of the excesses, believing that they inhabit some brave new world where theremin-based bands, eating clubs, their ‘art’ and a down payment on a Greenpoint condo, courtesy their parents, is somehow the latter day equivalent of the Beats. That’s not to say the city is bereft of cultural exploration and innovation, just a warning that hitching yourself to the wrong wagon can be deleterious. No one should ever mention they are collaborating on a film with “someone from their kickball team.”

Why is this relevant to me? As things have ground down here, it was in no small part a response to the seemingly implacable march of the above. But possible cracks in the unified front of Thrillist party tips, mega scaled MePa loungs and pillow fight enthusiasts make it seem like there is the whiff of incremental change (or I’m just looking harder). I told anyone who would ask (and that wasn’t many) that this was never intended to be an architecture blog. The buildings in this city are too consistently dull or developer-driven to ever sustain a publication that doesn’t simply yell “Sucks! Sucks! Sucks!” over and over (which, admittedly, I do). And befriending the prissy GSD grads that blanket the professional landscape so I could parrot their badly wrought lit-crit justifications of houses they shat out for friends of their parents is even less appealing.

What drew me to the city, and many others I suspect, is that the unique geography, overlaid with an actually vibrant culture based in intellectual and artistic rigor, created fascinating spaces (some of which grew out of intentional effort and design, and others purely coincidental). If all the solipsistic theories drummed into our heads during studio had any use it might be that the building as text could possibly be situated in writing like this, and that might be part of a cycle of sustaining and growing that culture. But it might not always require Roarkian genius for the physical manifestation.

The challenge has always been a notion that reporting would limn this effort with a modicum of legitimacy. Why I felt the need to prove myself to the likes of the Observer Real Estate section was something I never quite got a handle on. I guess my lack of credentials and failure to attend one of the handful of schools whose alumnae dominate large swaths of our society stuck in my crawl and exacerbated my frustration that in the few instances where criticism seemed to be in practice, the exclusion there was a sharp as trying to qualify for a mortgage on Perry St., albeit a result of a different hierarchy.

But doing original reporting while, you know, working, proved to be a tall order — at least on any semblance of a regular schedule. The tools have improved considerably, but in a town with enough advertising dollars to fund more than a couple handfuls of real estate beats, it’s a race I’m unlikely to even see the back of the pack of any time soon.

So I’m using the fast approach of the solstice as a marker to make things a little less dim around here, and to insert the caveat that things will become more — idiosyncratic.
Partly the exigencies of admitting I just can’t find the time to do ‘reporting’ the way I would prefer, and partly because that I didn’t set out for that as an end goal. There’s still a city here somewhere. As a friend observed the other day about a new ‘blogging service’ “is it another one those things where people are typing instead of living?” the only way to collapse that gap is to shift focus. It won’t do much for my profile as an architecture blogger, but perhaps it will for me as a writer. I do hope you will find favor in it. I might be a crank and curmudgeon, but for those of you who have taken the time to share your appreciation of what has been wrought to date, many thanks. I’m hanging out the shingle once again in large part because of that.

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