New York City on Sydney streets, June 2018

June 30, 2018

I have been monitoring how New York City is presented here in Sydney, Australia – New York is one of the great city brands that Australians relate to, along with London, Paris and – to a lesser extent San Francisco and Los Angeles. Yes, there are others that Australians love, but some keep popping up again and again.

So, New York City the city brand campaign has made it again onto Sydney streets, as seen in the image below, taken on Elizabeth Street across from Hyde Park and just outside of the David Jones department store. This is part of an official advertising campaign by NYCGO – the official New York City guide.

New York imagery continues to captivate Sydney-siders

October 4, 2016

Images of New York City continue to captivate Sydney residents.  It is, without doubt, the one city in the world that is most referred to here in Sydney, except for Sydney itself (which has a bit of a thing about itself).  Paris and San Francisco come next, with London a distant fourth.

The latest manifestation of this New York fascination came a few weeks ago with the department store David Jone’s “spring look”.  They even went to New York City to shoot their models on some odd rooftop.

We’ve been here before:  in July 2014 David Jones featured New York City, as my post at that time shows.

Three samples below:

from their window:


from their magazine:

img_6468and from some outdoor advertising on Castlereagh Street, Sydney, close to Sydney CBD store:



The New York brand endures in Australia: NAB’s promotion

December 3, 2015

Here’s another testament to the enduring power of the lock that New York City has on the Australian popular imagination: here are photos of a NAB (National Australian Bank) promotion (taken in Sydney’s Bondi Junction) that encourages new loans that receive 250,000 Velocity (Virgin) frequent flyer points – more than enough to get you to New York City from Sydney.

And the tagline? “A home today NYC tomorrow.” So it’s not just the image but is reinforced in words. See the photos below.

NAB Sydney Dec2015-1

NAB Sydney Dec2015-2

NAB Sydney Dec2015-3

Inequality of wealth in New York City

November 18, 2013

I am running way behind in my New Yorker reading.  But some facts don’t change, even if you read them almost three months later.

In the midst of an excellent article by Ken Auletta (link to Auletta’s website here) about outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (The New Yorker, August 26, 2013) are some sobering statistics about poverty and the inequality of wealth in America’s greatest city.  I quote them directly:

“By the end of 2011 more than a fifth of New Yorkers were living below the poverty line and another quarter just above it.”  You read that one right:  20% plus 25% = 45% of New Yorkers living either below the poverty line or just above it – almost half of the city’s residents.

“A million seven hundred thousand city residents are poor, nearly a third of them children; the number of people on food stamps has risen by two-thirds since 2007. Fifty thousand residents, including twenty thousand children, are homeless.”  That’s quoting the Fiscal Policy Institute.

“The wealthiest one per cent of city residents—those who make half a million dollars or more a year—earn thirty-nine per cent of all city income, up from just twelve per cent in 1980. Nationwide, the top one per cent earn twenty per cent of all income, up from ten per cent in 1980.”  In other words, New York City is by some measures twice as unequal in wealth distribution than the whole of the USA, which is already turning to a frighteningly unequal place with wealth so badly distributed that it is at the level of the 1920s.

But lest we think that the rich are not “doing their thing”: “The top one per cent of city taxpayers consists of just thirty-five thousand residents, and they already contribute forty-three per cent of the city’s income-tax revenues.”  There are two ways to look at this:  either they really are doing their “fair share”, or “they certainly must have oodles of money, especially when you realise that the city’s income tax rate is 3.9%.

Reminds me of an old saying:  The rich are different from you and me – they have more money.

September 11th twelve years on

September 12, 2013

Today is the twelth anniversary of the events of September 11th 2001 in the USA.  I was in New York two years ago for the tenth anniversary, and so felt the profound and mixed sense of unease, loss, mourning, triumph and wonder that many New Yorkers feel about those events.

Sitting here in Sydney, Australia, we are remote from the experiences and the memories, and the day (we are 14 hours ahead) passed with little comment in the Australian media.  We did, however, have a large number of September 11th-themed documentaries on television.

I have not provided any links to the national newspaper USA Today, but they have provided a neat 1’30” stop motion “Earthcam” video showing how the Twin Towers site in lower Manhattan has been transformed from 2004 through 2012.  You can view the link here.

(Note that an advertisement may appear first – that’s the digital economy for you.)

From Brooklyn to Manhattan

December 2, 2012

One of the most quoted lines about New York City is the one from Norman Podhoretz:  the first sentence of his 1967 memoir, Making It, goes: “One of the longest journeys in the world is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan”.

This is, of course, not simply a geographical journey, but a journey between worlds.  It’s one travelled by many in the film and entertainment worlds, both the real (Woody Allen) and the fictional (John Travolta’s character Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever).

In the case of Woody Allen, Nathan Heller (“Little Strangers” in The New Yorker, November 19, 2012, pp. 85-90) describes Allen’s film Annie Hall as a prime example of “disparate worlds” and “a narrative of horizontal identity, a story about being born ‘out of step’ with your family and joining a community alien to your parents’ milieu”.  In this case the Alvy Singer move from “the deep-seated Brooklyn coral of roller coasters, diabetees, and tallis salsemen” to a Manhattan “post-Freudian paradise of entertainment-biz parties” is the massive shift.

A great quote, and a good idea. But we are forgetting the second half of that first sentence from Podhoretz, one which follows the hypen: “— or at least from certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn to certain parts of Manhattan.”

A qualification to be sure.  So Manhattan is an idea – sophistication, fame, fortune – and Brooklyn, in this instance, is the opposite – working class, mundane, pedestrian.  Hmm, tell that to the residents living in Brooklyn Heights living in their multi-million dollar homes with outstanding views overlooking the East River and the skyline of Manhattan.

Annie Hall slide

Images of New York City in the Movies

December 1, 2012

Surely one reason why New York City has a lock on our imagination is that we have seen it on the big screen so many times.  Yes, Los Angeles also does this (often, however, on a “back lot” of manufactured place), but for pure energy and distinctiveness, New York City wins hands down every time.  LA became LA and a major movie headquarters (ironically, taking over from New York) in the early 20th century in part because of the weather, in part because it was away from the old guard and in part because it could stand in for just about anywhere.  Some things have not changed much.

A number of books capture different elements of New York and film.  One of my favourites is Murray Pomerance’s edited collection City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination (Rutgers University Press, 2007).  Pomerance points out that there are so many ways to view New York:  as a geographic entity; a “cultural production with a history and power structure”; a “political residue”, with reference to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, the classic book about Robert Moses; a place where politics plays out (Boss Tweed, Fiorello L Guardia, Robert Moses, Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump – and add to that Ed Koch, David Dinkins and everyone else); or even an urbanisation case study which profound world impacts.

For Pomerance, New York City is a “dream and not a place”, and he identifies not one but three different New Yorks on film.  The first is the classic, older New York, which is:

tough minded and (where) aggressive explorers work their way through an urbanised jungle that is flooded with beams of arc light, flickering with neon or with the luminescence of fast-moving traffic at night or in a shadowy constant twilight – all this raised up as far as the eye can see with monuments to a sleek and arching modernism, vast avenues, countless eager windows and vitrines … where multitudes always seem to be scrambling …, where elevators seem always to be whisking the dignified and the stylish to private aeries halfway to the clouds … where big business everywhere accelerates zeal, pressure, movement and rhythm, where endless riveting is piously undertaken to make endless miles of skyscrapers, and where a burgeoning traffic wafts up and down the proud rivers moving the spirit of the place outward, over the ocean, until it meets the world.

Films in this New York include Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Philadelphia Story (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), The Fountainhead (1949), Grand Hotel (1932), Spellbound (1945), North by Northwest (1959), The Band Wagon (1953), Living it Up (1954) and even recent films such as Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005).

He identifies a second New York, one of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a “serious” New York, the city of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Wall Street (1987), All That Jazz (1979), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and even the comedies Barefoot in the Park (1967), Plaza Suite (1971) and – my all-time favourite – Annie Hall (1977).

Finally, his third New York is the “contemporary” or “anxious” New York, one of “close up experience and diffuse stress”, with “fashionable clothing, witty talk, and psychological neuroses of people trying to get through the day in what seems an interminable and indefinable war”.  Think of Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Marathon Man (1976) and the 1980s and 1990s work of Woody Allen, On page 9, Pomerance writes, “There is no place like New York that is also not in fact New York.  New York City, then, is a true personality of the silver screen, even more than a star.”

There are other wonderful books about New York and film, notably the fabulous guidebook New York: The Movie Lover’s Guide – the Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York by Richard Alleman (Broadway Books, 2005) and the lavishly illustrated Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies by James Sanders (Bloomsbury, 2001; check out the book’s fascinating website here).  More on these two engaging books at another time.  (And here is a link to a nice bibliography.)  Also try Sanders’ later Scenes From the City: Filmmaking in New York (Rizzoli, 2006).

In the two months I spent living in New York City last year, I spent many hours each week wandering the streets  – not quite aimlessly, but not quite purposefully either.  Part of the fun was looking for the tell-tale posted signs announcing a film shoot – usually with a generic title that tries not to give away too much (and thereby avoid the inevitable crowds, if, for instance, one was labelled “Godfather, Part 4”).

Unlike Gertrude Stein’s (in)famous dictum about Oakland, California – in which she pronounced “There’s no there there”, New York is well and truly “there” and in fact has so many “theres” that it sometimes is in danger of being overwhelmed by its powerful sense of place.  Maybe that’s why I can feel suffocated in New York, but maybe that’s just me, the suburban New Jersey-born guy who was never fully, 100%, completely at home in the “city”, as much as it fascinates, thrills and excites my imagination.  So with that said, here are some “theres” that are well and truly lodged in my imagination, in part because they have appeared on film so many times and in so many different stories over so many years that they have taken on a certain life of their own.

So here, as a beginning, are some of my favourite New York City landmarks which appear on film.  That there are so many is a testament to how rich New York is with iconic images and to their power to plant themselves in our imagination, even when we (sometimes) have never seen the real place.

The Brooklyn Bridge – I first walked over the Brooklyn Bridge just over a year ago, the “right” way – from Brooklyn to Manhattan – the more exciting way to watch the skyscrapers of Manhattan loom in front.  Movies include The Siege, Enchanted, Godzilla.

The Plaza Hotel (Fifth Avenue), for its romance and setting (across from Central Park), and which has featured in The Way We Were, Barefoot in the Park, Plaza Suite (of course), Bride Wars, Home Alone 2, Crocodile Dundee, Big Business and The First Wives Club.

The Plaza Hotel, New York, street view

The Plaza Hotel, New York, street view

The Plaza Hotel, New York view from Central Park

The Plaza Hotel, New York view from Central Park

Katz’s Delicatessen (Houston Street) – When Harry Met Sally, Enchanted, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Across the Universe.  Yes, this is the one with “THE SCENE”, where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm (to Billy Crystal’s intense embarrassment) and Estelle Reiner (mother of director Rob Reiner), sitting nearby, says the classic movie line “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue, between 42nd and 40th Streets) – In the film The Day After Tomorrow, a group of characters survive a terrible ice storm by – horror! – burning the library’s books to keep warm; a true advertisement for the printed word – I don’t think that computer disks will warm in the same way in an emergency.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (When Harry Met Sally, Keeping the Faith, The Nanny Diaries, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)

Tiffany and Co:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s of course – and of course all of Fifth Avenue as seen in Tootsie (a personal favourite), Crocodile Dundee, Ghost Town, Gentleman’s Agreement … I could go on.

Washington Square Park – and the “Arch” (When Harry Met Sally, I Am Legend, Searching for Bobby Fischer)

Empire State Building (An Affair to Remember, King Kong x 2, Sleepless in Seattle)

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Empire State Building classic poster

Empire State Building classic poster

New Yorker cover 19Nov2012 Empire State Bldg

Flatiron Building (I Am Legend, Spiderman)

Grand Central Station, still a marker of the “old” New York, and featured in North by Northwest, I am Legend, the Gossip Girl television series, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Revolutionary Road, Duplicity, The Fisher King, Superman, Madagascar and the list goes on.


Interested in reading more?  Check out the “On the Set of New York” website top forty locations an unbeatable website resource.

The American Democrats, David Weprin and Me

November 5, 2012

The absurdist tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard (1967) takes place “in the wings” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, elevating two minor characters to main roles.  In Stoppard’s play, two childhood friends of Hamlet wander around, seemingly aimlessly, unaware of larger events – and of course go to their eventual doom:  thus the play’s title, which is taken from the final scene of Hamlet.

One hilarious theme of the play is that if asked, these Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reinterpret events.  For them, Hamlet the play is actually about two guys (them) and they occasionally come across speeches and activities which simply mystify them.

That’s way volunteer participation in an electoral campaign can be.  What’s the campaign all about, someone might ask?  “Well,” the volunteer worker answers, “it’s about a campaign volunteer who sits at a desk with a telephone and makes lots of telephone calls, day after day, right?”

It felt that way to me.  I was Rosencrantz (or was it Guildenstern?), sitting at a big table in an office building in Forest Hills, Queens.  Not an actual office building, really just a second floor (first floor, in the British/Australian lexicon) cramped walk-up above a grocery store on …, about a ten minute walk from the Forest Hills subway station in Queens.   The single toilet door did not close properly.  It had not been cleaned for months.  Here are some photos:


I was there in early September 2011, making telephone calls for David Weprin, a Democratic State Assembly member who was running in a by-election against cable television executive Bob Turner.  This was the Ninth Congressional District of New York – the one that had been held by disgraced (but still popular) Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a “sexting” scandal.

I heard the candidate speak just once – my own Rosencrantz and Guildenstern moment – as I stood outside the packed room in an equally packed corridor – while Weprin gave a speech to the campaign workers and Democratic Party stalwarts – accompanied by Christine Quinn, the politically powerful New York City Council President (and the leading Democratic candidate for mayor in the next election, to follow Bloomberg).  I couldn’t see Weprin but could hear him, and at the end he walked past me quickly, my one in-person fleeting glimpse of the candidate, on his way to his next event.

One late afternoon and evening I went to a different location for the phone calls, a campaign headquarters just west of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, in the low 20s, on the seventh floor of a small high-rise office building, which had been used by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her election campaign (she succeeded Hilary Clinton upon her elevation to Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, was elected to the seat in November 2010 and is running again in this week’s election – sure to win the “safe” seat).  The contrast in accommodation was notable:  sleek, new desks, the latest telephone handsets, nice cool air-conditioning, smart posters and stationery advertising the successful female senatorial candidate.

By my calculation, I made more than 400 telephone calls for the Weprin campaign over four days of work.  The first two days, I knew who I was ringing, looking at details from the voting rolls, and so I could usually tell in advance what ethnicity and age the people were.  I used my full name (why not, whoever cared?) in introducing myself on the telephone.  Of particular interest to me were the Jews who seemed to constitute at least one third of those I telephoned.

One day I overheard a series of most curious telephone conversations of a woman sitting next to me.  She seemed to use two different surnames, one sounding somewhat Irish (McClusky) and the other very Jewish (Moskowitz).  I thought I was actually not hearing properly until I realised that she was purposefully changing her name, most likely depending on who she was ringing.  New York, I thought – where the Irish become Jews and the Jews become Irish, almost at will.  (Who am I to complain?  One of my grandfathers, upon his arrival in New York City from Poland in the early 1900s, changed his name from Perlgut to … Goldberg.  Not exactly the traditional assimilation we have come to expect.)

Weprin lost, in a very low turn-out election in a seat that had been held by a Democrat since March 1923, with past occupants including Charles Schumer (currently the senior senator from New York) and Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Vice Presidential candidate in American history.

New York’s (former) Ninth Congressional District (that district has since been abolished as the State of New York lost two districts in the last round of Congressional re-districting) had the fourth-largest Jewish population of any congressional district, with some 173,000 Jews, according to a 2009 report from the Mandell L. Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank. Jerry Skurnik, a partner at the political consulting firm Prime New York, told The New York Times that about a third of the district’s active voters are Jewish.

There is some debate about the matter of how influential the support of former New York (Democratic) mayor Ed Koch was in this election.  Despite his age (then 86) and his distance from electoral politics (out of office 22 years at that time), some commentators claimed that Koch’s endorsement of Turner was a crucial factor in the loss.  Or perhaps it was the group of Orthodox rabbis who “halachically forbid” their followers from voting for Weprin – that’s right, rabbis opposing Weprin the Orthodox Jew, because of his support for gay rights.

The volunteers I came across were the young (university students and twentysomethings) and older – mostly retired.  Where was everyone in-between, from ages 23 to 60?  The answer might possibly have been “at work” (I only worked on the campaign on weekdays), but I wonder.  Those who were there were a fascinating mix – aside from me, a USA-born middle-aged white guy living in Australia, there were elderly African-American women, older Chinese men, a Hispanic mother-adult daughter (speaking a fluent Spanish), and a bunch of other Anglo types.  What I did not come across, considering the make-up of the district, were any volunteer Russian speakers – but I sure came across lots of them on the telephone, the majority of which could not speak English (and, I sensed, were not going to vote in the election).

This was a devastating loss for the Democrats at the time, and I feared that I was see the real middle of the end of the Obama era, a symbolic moment of loss of support in a Democratic district that foreshadowed much worse to come in November 2012.  I was wrong, as this Tuesday November 6, 2012 will show.

The Battle for Brooklyn doco premieres on Australian TV

July 10, 2012

For those people living in Australia, you now have an opportunity to watch the Oscar-nominated (long list) feature length documentary The Battle for Brooklyn, which describes a lengthy redevelopment battle that took place in downtown Brooklyn.  I originally wrote about this film in a blog post last December.  The film premieres on Australian television on Sunday 15 July 2012 on ABC2 at 8.30pm.

In my most recent trip to the USA, I met Daniel Goldstein – effectively the star (and reluctant hero) of the doco and the story.  He gave me a tour of the areas of Brooklyn affected by the redevelopment.  Here are two photos which I took of Daniel near the new sports arena (sadly, now, under construction; they lost):


Here is a scene from one of the local streets, and another with the sports arena rising in the background:


And viewers in Perth have a special treat.  The Perth Film Festival actually screens this film this coming Friday, July 13th.  See it with an audience!

Touching, profound, personal, political.  Lest you think redevelopment battles died with Jane Jacobs (urban activist and author of one of the great books of my life, The Death and Life of American Cities) in the 1960s.  Jacobs, by the way, passed away in April 2006, just before her ninetieth birthday.

Goldstein lives, however, and a new generation of American urban activists takes heart from his brave and exhausting battle.

New York observations: the accent is disappearing

January 21, 2012

Two months spent living in Manhattan last year and one of the great disappointments of that time was that … hardly anybody speaks with “New York” accents in New York anymore, at least not in Manhattan (you know what I mean: “cawfee” is coffee, and – my personal favourite – “Lawngeyeland” is Long Island).  Non-New Yorkers (and certainly Australians here in Australia) when hearing the words “New York” are fond of immediately imitating the thickest New York (Brooklyn-style) accent possible: “Nooo Yawk”.

Sure, except the accent’s going, going and soon to be gone, by 2015 or 2020, according to Columbia University linguists, partly because New Yorkers suffering from “linguistic insecurity”, says Kara Becker of Reed University.  It was not always thus:  while now the traditional New York accent is seen as the “second worst” in the United States (only the traditional southern drawl ranks lower), up until World War Two it was seen as very prestigious.  But social mores and demographic change (including the large number of people who have moved into Manhattan from elsewhere in the last twenty or so years) have made profound changes to local speech patterns.

This news made it into today’s The Australian (21 January 2012) with an article by Will Pavia (from The Times).  Interested in following this?  A new documentary by Heather Quinlan about the New York accent is called If These Knishes Could Talk was featured on the Channel 13 (New York) website in August 2011.

So if you are interested in hearing the “real” (or historic) New York, you will need to spend less time in Manhattan and lots more time in Brooklyn, and hurry.