Downtown’s Empty Glamour

Written by Lap Leong

It took a painful decade and wasted billions, but downtown Manhattan is a resplendent neighborhood. Downtown boasts 2 new subway stations (overtime and over budget), an upgraded university campus, a Shake Shack, a restored Pre War Condominium, an Eataly, and a magnificent gaudy rail hub. A few days ago, walking home from school, I ventured onto the newly reopened Cortland stop. Baked inside the Westfield WTC mall, just steps from the Apple Store, was something like an oval portal to a better world. The station was new, fresh, and clean. The subway car was not. I got off Franklin Street only to walk back home in the rain. Downtown Manhattan is full of empty glamour.

The neighborhood is still marching towards desirability and livability. The streets are crowded at daytime. With endless workers jumbling back and forth between high rises and shops. A flurry of stockbrokers and businessmen come in and out of the stock exchange. They congregate at Champs Deli, a longtime purveyor of high quality breakfast grease. Hard laborers wander around, looking for respite, as they spend their days building glass towers and restoring old stone buildings. Every hour, a battery of tourists is lost, trying to find the right places. Just a long walk up is from home is the renovating Pace University Campus. A well run, soulless ladder for social mobility. Across Pace Plaza is the city hall. Which, with the municipal complex, taunts unsuspecting residents and welcomes tourist selfies. The neighborhood’s crony character couldn’t be more blatant. However much chic retail can mask.

True Downtown comes out at night. There are only a handful of cars on the road, with even fewer people trawling the streets. The neighborhood is nowhere as desolate than a decade ago, there is still no communal comfort or social interaction. It’s perfectly empty and perfectly isolative. It’s impossible to describe Downtown’s perfect emptiness. It’s peaceful and safe, but not comfortable. It’s not reassuring, but not frightening. There is no eeriness, just a sadness. It’s almost like an Edward Hopper painting, no matter how many luxurious baubles line the streets, it’s still an apartment attached to a workplace. Some of us have grown addicted to this urban silence.