The book is an effortful reference for how New York morphed from a syncretic collection of diasporas—both extra-national and of the identity and mind—into a bland sovereignty of the mega-rich. Moss often tries to sound curmudgeonly, but is clearly heart-struck and psychically reliant upon New York’s wild singularity ... Moss’s factual, point-by-point analysis of New York’s perdition is based in context: Like the city, each event, person, and place exists in relation to what stands before, after, and beside it. The result is a remarkable atlas charting where New York has gone, and why.
The book is a full-throated argument for New York City as a particular kind of place, and for a certain kind of life lived within it ... The list of vanished places and things is long and ever growing, and in these pages Moss maps a litany of losses. Chapter by chapter, he inventories the history and heartbreaks of the main neighborhoods in Manhattan before turning his attention to parts of Brooklyn and Queens, with a foray into the South Bronx ... Moss’s indignation and moral clarity—his certainty about who belongs and who doesn’t, what values are worth upholding and who to blame for their downfall—is an audacious kind of idealism. As pissed off as Moss is, the power of this book and the blog that preceded it is that he doesn’t settle for outrage. He maintains that New York is worth standing up for and protecting.
...[a] passionate, sprawling, and often frustrating new book ... This book is not a memoir, and Moss himself is as reticent a portraitist as his beloved Edward Hopper. He eulogizes a universal concept of the city, a palimpsest of Ashcan painters and stevedores and jazz and punks. Selling the reader on the appeal of that shared New York past is the challenge he sets for himself. In that, he largely succeeds. At his best, Moss is a shoe-leather reporter, always looking, listening, and taking notes ... He holds people under 30 in particular contempt, convinced that their aching suburban souls account for the city’s increasing number of chain stores...That generational contempt tends to overshadow the people who ought to be the real villains of a book about how money ruined Manhattan: landlords. Residential landlords are to blame for the evictions, high rents, and population turnover that Moss decries ... Sometimes I wonder if Moss loves the local, the exotic, and the irreverent or just the old. He can be nostalgic for the comfort food of a bygone chain restaurant or offended by a kid mooning a Catholic street parade. In chronicling the sudden impact of astounding sums of money on the commerce and social fabric of a city, Moss has done a service to history. As an analysis, the book suffers from its author’s stubbornness.
What does it mean, or really why does it matter, for New York, or any city, to have its character or ‘soul’ go missing? The essential pain is not in the disappearance of wherever it was that used to serve the best 3 a.m. souvlaki (Moss feels that pain viscerally and often too indulgently), but in the transformation of the city into a place that no longer accommodates failure, a place that disavows mediocrity in the human form … The pleasure (or agony, depending on your predilection) of reading Moss is his purity...For Moss there is only one hand, and it is the hand of menacing greed and self-interest … Perhaps the nostalgist is always impeded by myopia. New York has become a less just, less thrilling, less original place for Moss and many, many people like him. While this is indisputable, is it unequivocally bad for the world?
Moss is more than exasperated. He feels himself to be under siege. Think of his Vanishing New York as a dispatch from the front lines of a war zone, where the resident population is losing badly and the cityscape is being ravaged. Most of New York’s residents, in Moss’s account, are collateral damage in a market-driven economy. For all its liberal pretense and Democratic voting record, Moss sees the city as a capitalistic coven, where if you can’t meet the increasing rent, fuhgettaboutit, you’re outta here … For someone born and ill-bred in New York, having written indeed of its problems but also its premiums, Vanishing New York is a depressing read, from the introduction to the implacable final chapter, which offers Moss’s faint encouragement to keep seeking ‘the unexpected spectacle and the chance encounter.’
This is a very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book ... New York, he argues in a brilliantly written and well-informed account, is losing its bohemian flair and often raffish charm ... The book is about displacement, race, and social class, the substitution of elites for 'undesirables.' His conclusion: 'We can still find pleasure in the gifts of New York. It’s just a whole lot harder than it used to be.'
The book is an expansion of his popular blog of the same name, where Moss has long chronicled the demise of beloved, if gritty, New York establishments. In the book, Moss tells an intriguing story that is an indictment of local leaders who ushered in a sterilized iteration of Gotham through public policies favoring the wealthy … New Yorkers may find the book is a sad elegy to a city that is no longer recognizable.
Happily, the jargon mostly gives way to plainspoken language of anger at the disappearance of places like the old Times Square, where visitors are now 'anesthetized in the greasy glow' of fast food and big-screen TVs. The sitting president figures in the tale, too, as a public-funds moocher of the first water. Moss closes with notes on remaking New York so that less moneyed, less well-connected residents enjoy the same 'right to the city' as his greedy villains. Maddening if you’re not mega-wealthy, and a vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud.
This argument is not a new one, but the book provides an accessible overview of recent efforts to make the Big Apple more appealing to the affluent. Moss is particularly attuned to gentrification’s effects on individual neighborhoods and merchants and argues that the changes are not merely the results of the free market but a deliberate class makeover of the city ... Whether or not readers share Moss’s heartfelt belief that New York City has lost its soul, this polemic is likely to stir a lot of emotions.