Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sleeping Giants and the American Recession

"Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come..." --Under the Tuscan Sun

People who have lived in New York too long forget to look up. Something about the pace, the straight rush of velocity eliminates peripheral vision, dilutes the pull of your eyes to even the most grandiose structures. Only two kinds of people in New York City look up at buildings: tourists and the deranged.

It's a behavior I suspect has reached all the way to Brooklyn, tainted our residents as the yuppies and time-is-money business folk begin to encroach more and more on this humble way of life. And maybe that's why I'm only just now noticing them -- the buildings.

They're all over Williamsburg. The half-built structures, lacking glass, tumbling towards the sky, their frames exposed. Orphaned by developers. Feral almost, absent sophistication. A sign of the times, I've heard some people say. These times they mean are now. Declining times.

It is no secret that the recent economic downturn has caused the country's housing market to plummet in a big way, but I've yet to experience a more telling (and direct) example of that fact than the soaring buildings that cut a path through Williamsburg; like lighthouses all in a row, illuminating a course abandoned. Big dreams that didn't pan out.

The New York Observer reported earlier this year that while sales prices of apartments slumped in other parts of Brooklyn, Williamsburg costs rose exponentially. Yet, despite the increase in prices, home sales dropped nearly 30 percent. It's the classic story of too much too soon and now, there on the horizon, is something less like accomplishment and a lot more like regret.

Still, there is something beautiful to be taken from the stunted structures whose lifespans may have been put on hold temporary. Because there, cemented between the layers of concrete, is a hope that one day people will come to fill the space, create lives between the walls and burn lights to dot the sky. It's enough to remind me to look up.

Silent H.