The Magazine

It Takes a Village

Bohemia at the bottom of Manhattan.

Oct 21, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 07 • By FRED SIEGEL
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Strausbaugh halfheartedly disagrees, and The Village’s closing pages are a less-than-enlightening attempt to come to grips with the decline of the Village’s verve. Strausbaugh can’t acknowledge it, but the very doctrine that gave birth to the vitality of Greenwich Village was also its undoing. When American middle-class culture was alive and flourishing, flouting convention was a going business. But when convention collapsed in the mid-1960s, the Village was left behind, culturally—new money moving into its ranks aside. Little more than a nostalgic aftermath remained, defined by merchants selling relics of the Village’s original moment. 

The Village had long prided itself on anticipating the future. But its successors, such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn, live by mining American culture with heavy-handed irony. Brooklyn’s hipsters cannibalize the styles of the past so that their male denizens—the “trustafarians” supported by successful bourgeois parents and/or grandparents—walk about in full mix-and-match costume of porkpie hats and wife-beater T-shirts. The freelance intellectuals and dockworkers who gave Greenwich Village its engaging appeal are now long gone, replaced by the vast bureaucratic apparatus of New York University, which has absorbed wide tracts of the Village, and by young professionals who, in an earlier decade, would have been described, derisively, as Yuppies. 

The once-distinct Village hasn’t been absorbed into the Manhattan street grid, but just as the New York Times has turned into a daily edition of the Village Voice, the intellectual life of Greenwich Village, such as it is, is now indistinguishable from the rest of gentrified Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Fred Siegel is scholar in residence at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.