I’m reading a book right now called Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. It talks about how Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” was applied to New York City. The shock doctrine is when a disaster (either natural or man-made) is used to effect large-scale economic transformation. In New York, this was done through eminent domain. Large swaths of the city (Times Square, the area around the High Line, Hudson Yards) were declared “blight” and people were forced to move out of their homes and businesses.
A similar phenomenon is happening with Summer Streets. That’s the phenomenon of large swaths of the city being, essentially, sold to large corporations for the purposes of corporate branding. We already have Citibikes, perhaps the largest corporate branding effort this city has ever seen. Summer Streets takes this to another level by closing down a large section of the city, ostensibly so people can ride bicycles and engage in other activities without the presence of vehicular traffic but, all along the way, there are booths sponsored by various companies (Crunch gym, REI sporting goods, etc.) that are there to sell you something.
The other thing about Summer Streets that gets on my nerves is part of a larger phenomenon that’s happening in society in general. In today’s world of social media and reality TV, no one just does anything anymore. It’s not sufficient to just do anything anymore. One must be seen doing it.
Thus, it’s not enough for Summer Streets to just have thousands of New Yorkers riding their bikes down Park Avenue. (I would have no problem with that.) They must be seen riding their bikes down Park Avenue. Therefore, there are “volunteers” positioned at various points to cheer them on and the bikers themselves need to “woohoo,” high-five each other and take selfies along the way. (If a tree falls in a forest and it didn’t take a selfie, did it really fall?)
My street, in particular (I won’t divulge its name), has become Ground Zero for every psycho with a crackpot idea. So, for Summer Streets, I’ve had a rock climbing wall outside my bedroom window that was so close I could touch it. I also had a slide that was about two stories tall, and exercises classes conducted in front of my building complete with those annoying “instructors” (whose screeching I can’t tolerate even when it takes place inside a gym) and loudspeakers blaring some godawful “music” so that people in New Jersey can hear that there are people on my street exercising.
As with eminent domain, no one in my neighborhood was consulted about whether or not they actually wanted this on their street. It was just presented as a fait accompli. One day, several years ago, I woke up and there was a rock climbing wall outside my bedroom window. (They actually start setting up around 1am, so I get no sleep the night before, as well.)
I don’t care what anyone does as long as I don’t hear it. But in today’s selfie-obsessed world, where people miss entire rock concerts because they’re too busy filming them, that is no longer possible.
Summer Streets is the shock doctrine of public recreation. You may not want to participate in it yourself but, goddamnit, you’re going to watch other people participate and you’re going to like it!