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Nostalgia & the Barclays Center

Nostalgia for an older, more authentic New York is a powerful force that bewitches the city’s long-time residents along with recent transplants, visitors, and people all over the world who will never actually set foot in any of the five boroughs. There is no single version of that nostalgia, but it always draws heavily upon different instances of twentieth-century New York and is most easily observed in the city’s tourist infrastructure: the Empire State Building, Broadway musicals, the Carnegie Deli. Woody Allen’s films captured the essence of that “real” New York and Seinfeld looked back at it as it receded into history. More recent variants of this nostalgia idealize the downtown punk/art scenes of the 1970s when the city was looser and cheaper (but dirtier and more dangerous).

By now, few can pretend that a distinctly new New York hasn’t supplanted the older ones. Judging by the point at which Old New York nostalgia wanes to nothing, the new came in with Mayor Giuliani and truly found its legs during the Bloomberg administration. James Wolcott, who misses the 1970s New York in which he got his start, calls this the “Bloomberg city” and he’s not the first to do so. By now, the authentic New York mainly exists in lovingly-preserved pockets that, to paraphrase New York realness paragon Jane Jacobs, are more taxidermy than life or art.

              The Barclays Center (Source: Dezeen)

The Bloomberg City’s existence is obvious but New Yorkers who recognize its neoliberal DNA have not embraced it easily, although large parts of it have certainly become cleaner and safer. Sex and the City (1998-2004) might be the urtext for those wondering what an open celebration of the Bloomberg City looks like—a partial explanation for why some viewers couldn’t stomach it (although it largely predates Bloomberg’s time in office).

Despite the ambivalence and tension surrounding Bloomberg’s New York, it could use a monument. It’s been here for a while, after all. There’s the new World Trade Center, but that symbolism reaches too far outside of New York. Columbus Circle is another possibility although not iconic enough. The High Line might be the best candidate yet in its synthesis of Bloomberg’s priorities and accomplishments.

As of last month, however, there’s an even better monument to the Bloomberg City: the Barclays Center, new home of the recently-moved Brooklyn Nets. The Nets fare poorly when (inevitably) compared to the city’s more storied basketball franchise, the Knicks, and give off a new money vibe in contrast to the tradition embodied by their Midtown counterpart. To reject the Nets and the Barclays Center on those grounds, however, is to reject the ethos of a city that many of us have otherwise endorsed by choosing to live, work, and spend money here: Capitalized by a Russian billionaire, cool because of Jay-Z, winning new fans with the Brooklyn brand, catering to affluent transplants, discarding its used junk in northern New Jersey, unapologetically corporate, bulldozing entire blocks and immediately forgetting what used to be there, housed in a rust-colored yet sparkling shell of a building–in 2012, the Brooklyn Nets are as New York as it gets. You still don’t have to like it, but the Barclays Center perfectly symbolizes a version of the city that we might as well acknowledge is real.

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