Wednesday night, the NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan held a benefit show at Le Poisson Rouge. The show was mostly attended by the over-50 set, and there were few students in attendance, despite its proximity to (and some would say, location on) the NYU campus. The truth was, Wednesday night wasn’t a benefit for the students. This was a place for the residents to protest NYU. And students, the $25 door implied, are not residents of Greenwich Village.
The set intended to be a celebration of Greenwich Village as a cultural pinnacle, but the reality was a collection of aging avant-garde, folk and jazz players. Some were entertaining, like veteran composer David Amram (age: 72; age in 2031: 101) and avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn (age: 59; age in 2031: 78). But on the whole, the show was an insular backrub for the frumpy well-to-do who “remember the Village Voice, kid.” Alongside the lifers were the NYU faculty—I spotted three of my old CAS professors, quietly shmoozing by the bar. The mood was relaxed, and far away from the rhetoric onstage of a “destructive, environmentally calamitous process that is destroying the city we all love.”
Steinhardt professor and 9/11 conspiracy theorist Mark Crispin Miller led the night, crowing against the impending Sexton Plan. “Isn’t it a done deal?” he asked rhetorically. “No. It is not a done deal. It’s not a done deal, kay?” The audience cheered politely, except for the woman three margaritas deep by the first hour.
The protest literature detailed a university bent on dominating their backyard. “Community groups and residents are joining forces in a lawsuit against the Plan,” one pamphlet read. “As resentment against NYU rises, how will students feel in a hostile neighborhood?” This may have already occurred: it may have been my imagination, but there was a slight chill in the air when I asked for NYU students at the show. (I found none, though I met two Columbia sophomores who took the train down for the show, bless their hearts.)
At the end of a pamphlet arguing passionately for students, faculty, and academics, the last paragraph reads, “The Plan will entail two decades of construction. 10,000 more people will move through the area PER DAY. The school will become an unbearable, polluting, noisy headache for 2 decades.” The truth is, this protest—like most other anti-expansion protests—is self-centered in nature. That’s all reasonable—if I lived somewhere for fifty years, I wouldn’t want the twilight of my days marred by construction. But the protest Wednesday night framed 2031 as a historical issue.
I haven’t been in New York for too many years, and for all I know I could be somewhere else in not too many more. So I hesitate to call myself a “New Yorker.” But the median age Wednesday night was old enough to think avant garde sax squawking was still hot shit. So maybe I can clue the Greenwich Village residents into what their neighborhood looks like in 2012.
The Village is not at stake—any relevant conception of a “Greenwich Village” died decades ago, its only remnant a kitschy Macdougal Street and St. Marks Place. What’s at stake is the idea of the Village: the Bohemian low-rise heart of the city, unencumbered by government or corporate influence, where longhairs and beardos can play jazz in the park and talk Kirkegaard at Cafe Wah. Instead LPR hosted a Macaulay Culkin DJ set last night.
“There won’t be any music—there will only be Muzak,” Miller said. “The whole area will be one big corporate atrium. They can pipe in Jay-Z and he can rap about how much money he made tearing down Brooklyn.” On Laguardia and 3rd there is a Subway faced by a Citibank.
The idea of Greenwich Village as a tired cliche is such a tired cliche that calling it a tired cliche is itself a tired cliche. If the collective residents of the Village, and the congruent faculty opposed to NYU’s expansionism want to have a problem with 2031, then fine. There are lots and lots of issues with it. But treating a backyard renovation with a rhetorical atom bomb just makes everybody look silly.