These articles were written for Sydney’s Neighbourhood Paper to give readers an insider’s view of contemporary issues facing New York City and the US.
Pleasure and Pain: the medical cannabis debate
Why would any sane Australian go to the US for medical treatment?
For a brief tour of the US health system visit the popular crowdfunding site GoFundMe.com, where about 50 per cent of money raised pays off Americans’ medical debt: lung transplant, $80,000; brain tumor, $43,000; terminal cancer, $36,000. Medicare it is not.
Cruising Madison Avenue is a supreme form of capitalist seduction. The retail equivalent of a Hollywood smile. Each luxury store is inviting, flawless, gleaming with a sparkle or two. Only now, some teeth are missing. Vacancies are staying that way, often for years, the city’s face looks haggard.
Car City Blues
Who doesn’t love the Chrysler Building’s tiara? The Ford Foundation Center’s courtyard garden, which turns a takeout lunch into an urban picnic? The old Mobil building still makes a statement with its “crushed can” skin. And there’s the General Motors skyscraper, where, if nothing else, you can nab a computer at 3am from the 24-hour Apple store. None of these eponymous edifices have housed a car or oil company’s corporate headquarters in decades. But endless honking horns and sirens form the soundscape of New York, our streets are clogged daily, every surface cloaked in a grey film from exhaust.
No Longer at Liberty: Changing New York’s Statues
Oscar Wilde quipped, “the youth of America is their oldest tradition.” A close second is amnesia.
Traveling around town I often gaze at sleek new buildings and wonder, is that where my old laundry/shoe repair/dentist/neighborhood bar used to be? To this list of perpetually transient cityscape may soon be added historical monuments. In the future, you might find yourself saying, “meet me at Columbus Circle” only to be answered, “Where?”
Warm and Fuzzy Cops
When I came to New York in the early 80s cops stayed in their patrol cars, and it’s true, passed time eating donuts. All the better to get home safely to the ‘burbs at shift’s end. Crime was crazy. I didn’t carry a wallet, my money was in my shoe. At the end of the decade, Mayor Dinkin’s police chief, Lee P. Brown, had a brilliant idea: If cops were on foot, crime might go down.
I’ll Be Your Mirror
What’s “the whitest job in arts and culture?” asks CreateNYC, the city’s new cultural plan. Answer: “Curator.”
No surprise there.
New York’s diversity shines brightest underground, during the journey shared with every type of person in your subway car. Once you’re in sunlight again, enter any tall building and you’ll experience a kind of racial litmus test. Darker complexions abound on the lower floors, maintaining the building and its security. As you rise, things get paler.
Turning an Unsavory Tide: the Billion Oyster Project
Before New York became the financial capital of the world, it was the oyster capital. When Europeans arrived, New York was home to 350 square miles of oyster beds – almost half the world’s oysters. Pearl Street was named by the Dutch for the mountains of mollusk shells that had accumulated from centuries of Lenape Indians contentedly feasting on them.
Closing Rikers Island: A victim of falling crime rates
Alcatraz. La Bastille. Port Arthur. To this ignoble list may soon be added Rikers Island. The startling calculus of crime steadily falling in the city, combined with a surge in violence and scandal at the institution have created the climate for its dissolution.
You Should Be Dancin’!
I met my girlfriend on the circular dance floor of a faded disco. By 1993, the California Club had seen better days but I doubt if it had ever heard better music—the DJ, the legendary Richard Vasquez from the club Choice. Sahara is African American and I’m an Aussie of European descent. Neither of us gave a thought to the city’s Cabaret Law in the wee hours in Times Square, aka ‘the crossroads of the world’. Nobody else did either. Dancing was something you could do pretty much anywhere, anytime in the city that never sleeps.
Putting the Subway to Sleep
Ever met someone in the prime of their life, upbeat, prosperous, engaged with the world, only to learn a short while later they’ve had a stroke? New York City is that person. We haven’t had the stroke yet but the prognosis is clear.
Mayday! The Ferries are Here!
Tranquility and transit are disconnected in any New Yorker’s head. Our subways are crammed with cranky people assailed by announcements of delays due to track fires, police actions, breakdowns, sick passengers and my personal favorite, train traffic ahead. (Shouldn’t there always be train traffic ahead?)