info 08.13.12

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Nanny McBloomberg is only the latest in the periodic, countervailing winds that sweep through our boroughs—sudden nor'easters of self-improvement and brisk gusts of orderliness intent on saving us from ourselves—City Hall as knuckle-rapper.

For Mayor Giuliani, it was art: the thugmarm in him emerged to censor the Brooklyn Museum for showing Chris Ofili's works. Mayor LaGuardia considered pinball such a scourge that he liked to take a sledgehammer to the machines for the cameras and send others into the East River. He got the game banned in the city in 1941, a law which stayed in effect until 1976.

Scoring a good dime bag of weed is not the walk in the park it once was. There was that harebrained scheme some years back to crack down on jaywalking, just one of many over decades—this article [PDF] from the Times, 1924, describes a policeman's attempt to shame a jaywalker by doing an instant reenactment of the offense for onlookers (it doesn't end well for the cop).

"Some of the most flagrantly stupid walking ever perpetrated" is how the Times characterized that jaywalker's route. Perhaps it was, though judging for yourself how to get from here to there is an inalienable right to people who live in NYC. We don't need timers on crosswalk lights. Walking between train cars may be stupid walking, but it's our stupid walking and we'd like it back, please.

Smoking is a legal vice. Why should all bars be a front for virtue? Sex shops have nearly vanished. As for non-alcoholic beverages, we're not going to even dignify the 16-ounce soda limit except with a 17-ounce-size belch.

On a more ominous note, the new CCTV/database project, a joint effort of the NYPD and Microsoft, is called the Domain Awareness System—the name alone scares the bejesus out of us. This longer arm of the law suggests a pervasiveness that rings all those whose-watching-the-watcher? bells.

We're by no means libertarians, but we do like a New York where choice is paramount—our choice. Much of this city's appeal has always been an implicit promise: you put up with a lot, but in exchange you get a lot of freedom to choose (vices included) how to live your life. A wide tent in a vertical city.

The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. New York, New York. Are we still a 'helluva town'? Or just a nice place to live?

[A version of this article appeared in MUG in 2006. We're still Nannyhattan, just more so.]

Forty-second Street (from 2008)

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