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If New York City were to slide back into the crumbling anarchy of the 1970s, as some fear, would that be so bad? The author recalls a time when artists' lofts were inhabited by actual artists, every subway car held potential drama, and legendsLennon, Warhol, Garbowalked the streets
With Wall Street neutron-bombed by its own hubris and the American economy crawling along the curb, jitters have broken out that New York City might revert to the crumbling mayhem of the 70s, when it was every freaky hair ball and wounded bystander for himselfMogadishu on the Hudson. When one ponders the 70s (as I, working on a memoir of the period, do), the word "pretty" doesn't jetA[c] to mind. Nor do the words "dulcet" and "fastidious." From surviving artifacts, it's easy to draw the impression that everybody was living in rubble and yelling like Vincent Gardenia. Post-Watergate cynicism caked the consciousness of the political and popular culture, providing a thick, gritty texture. Photo albums such as Allan Tannenbaum's New York in the 70s, neo-realist policiers such as Serpico, The French Connection, and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (a fancy remake by director Tony Scott is on the way), comedies of urban frustration such as Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue, one-night-stands-as-suicide-missions such as Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Cruising (released in 1980, but pure 70s in its cruddy, subterranean burrowings), re-creations such as the ESPN mini-series The Bronx Is Burning (based on Jonathan Mahler's book), Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, and the short-lived ABC series Life on Mars (dig those muttonchops)they portray and preserve the collective memory of a metropolis on the verge of a nervous breakdown with a side order of panic in needle park. But it's easy to over-accent the ugh factor and depict the 70s as a mammoth eyesore pothole out of which mankind somehow managed to climb, preparing itself for Madonna.
The municipal-finance crisis of New York in the 70s resulted in meat-cleaver budget cuts and payroll cutbacks and infrastructural rota near-death experience that produced an exodus to the suburbs and beyond, a loss of almost 10 percent of the population over the course of the decade. It was hell on the tax base but, for those who migrated to New York and secured a foxhole while the city bled out, terminal conditions …