Exploring SoHo by Emi

My friend and I walked from her house to West Broadway Street, which took about seven minutes. We walked through the extremely crowded, narrow, cobblestone streets as I noticed the difference between this and other parts of New York City. There aren’t any skyscrapers in SoHo. There are small walk-ups with fire escapes. The neighborhood is dense with high-end shops and restaurants that usually require a long wait before you can be seated. We experienced this as we had to try three different restaurants before getting seated, but luckily they were within a two block radius. After lunch, we walked around a little more where we were stopped multiple times by tourists asking where to go. A French man and woman asked us how to get to Lafayette street from West Broadway. A Spanish woman and her daughter asked us where the nearest subway was. I assume these tourists as well as others knew we were locals since we were more engaged in our conversation than where we were going, and walked naturally knowing exactly where we were going.

The amount of tourists we saw made us realize how far from a community this area has become. Being a center for shopping and eating, the neighborhood is nothing but a commodity that people take with them. Most people go to SoHo to buy things and that is it. However, there are other people who live in the neighborhood. These people probably rarely go to the stores popular for tourists and try to avoid the busy areas. I make this assumption from personal experience living in New York and avoiding any busy, touristy areas. There are so many people walking, that it isn’t even an enjoyable area to visit. We were only able to walk around for a few minutes before getting fed up by the stuffed sidewalks. Since SoHo is mainly just stores, there is nothing that makes it unique from other places around the world, especially with the massive chain stores that are also all around the world.

As one of the most artistic neighborhoods in the city, we saw art everywhere that remained from the SoHo before gentrification. Urban theorist Philip Clay described gentrification as a process with four stages. Willy Staley from the New York Times explains Clay’s stages as follows: “In the first, “pioneers” — often bohemians and artists — move to dilapidated or abandoned areas in search of cheaper rents; in the second, the middle classes follow; in the third, their numbers displace the original population; and in the final stage, the neighborhood is fully turned over to banks, developers and the wealthy”(1). All of these stages happened in SoHo. SoHo was first an area where artists would move to attracted by low rent and big spaces for their work. As business owners started moving into the area attracted by the artistic vibe, there were more people looking for housing, therefore prices could rise. As prices rose, the aspiring artists paying low rent had to leave the area unable to afford it.

Therefore, the community began to disappear as it was filled with tourists and uninterested business people (2). I saw this by the amount of tourists there were in the area, as this has become less of a community and more of a commodity. Today Soho is a place with small, privately owned stores; massive chains such as H&M, Zara, and Topshop; and huge designer names, like Prada, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. Therefore, it attracts people of different socioeconomic backgrounds looking to spend different amounts of money. You can also always count on SoHo to find people in the latest wacky trends. From the chunky big sneakers to the Boyfriend jeans – or Mom jeans, I can’t keep up – you will always find people staying up-to-date with the trends. This doesn’t only apply to fashion trends either as trendy foods and restaurants are what make SoHo. Picture eating an avocado toast at Jack’s Wife Freda before picking up your iced matcha latte at the nearest organic café in the trendiest outfit you can think of, the more vintage the better.

(1) Willy Stanley, “When ‘Gentrification’ Isn’t About Housing.” The New York Times Magazine. January 23, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/magazine/when-gentrification-isnt-about-housing.html.

(2) Mariko Azis, “The Soho Effect // Cultural Gentrification.” Mark Azis // Art + Ideas, http://blogs.cornell.edu/art2701mja245/2013/06/16/the-soho-effect/.

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