“Lost New York 1609-2009” Conference Friday 10/2 and Saturday 10/3 at NYU

I just learned of this conference coming up later this week:  “Lost New York 1609-2009” at NYU Friday, October 2nd and Saturday, October 3rd:

Lost New York marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage for the Dutch and the 200th anniversary of Washington Irving’s legendary reimagining of this New World encounter in his Knickerbocker’s History of New York. A wide array of conference participants will explore the dynamics of creativity and destruction, nostalgia and invention, that have for centuries marked efforts to “Do New York,” as Henry James advised Edith Wharton.

Apparently, the organizers, Cyrell R.K. Patell and Bryan Waterman (who also have a blog, The History of New York), were inspired by NYC bloggers.  Bryan Waterman writes there (and mentions WSP Blog, among others!):

“When Cyrus and I were narrowing the theme for the conference this coming weekend, our imaginations were led along the lines suggested by diverse a group of blogs that dealt with neighborhood scenes, New York history, and, more often than not, the link between the two. … In the case of many — though not all — New York blogs, we find a new kind of urban literature emerging, much of it focused on nostalgia for a lost city and a desire to create and preserve cultural memory.”

In that spirit, this panel looks interesting:

Saturday, October 3rd 2:00 – 3:30 p.m.
Sukhdev Sandhu (New York University), moderator

Lost City
Ephemeral New York
Flaming Pablum: Vanishing Downtown
Bowery Boogie

Location: 13-19 University Place, room 102 (all panels Saturday at this location)

Full schedule for both days here. All free and open to the public. Conference sponsored by the Department of English and Humanities Initiative at New York University. Organized by Cyrus R. K. Patell and Bryan Waterman.

Leave a comment


  1. Gene

     /  October 1, 2009

    WIll the speakers talk about all the lost Villagers tossed out of their homes on Wash. Sq. South to build the Law Library in 1947?

    WIll they talk about the destruction of the Edgar Allen Poe house, and the wall of the Provincetown Playhouse?

    Will they include in “lost” New York the entire South side of Wash. Sq., save the now-dwarfed Hudson Church?

    Will they include the entire North side of W. 3rd St., Macdougal to Broadway?

    Will they include the destruction of the priceless interiors of the 1840s row houses on Wash. Sq. North to make office space?

    Will they include the 1/4 of Washington Sq. Park that is cast into shadow in the Winter by the Bobst Library and the “Lighthouse” Skirball Center? And just wait for all the cold and darkness the Catholic Center building will bring.

    Worst of all, the destruction is not just all in the past.

    Will they talk about the _future_ of the Villages, in the face of a NYU “plan” that shows no sign of stopping, no point at which NYU can say, “OK, we’ve destroyed enough now; we’ll start instituting satellite campuses.” No, NYU gives no indication that it will EVER bring a halt to its anschluss of the Villages (it seems to have been able to co-opt all arms of government that were meant to protect us).

    And lets not forget the skewing of local businesses to service a massive, yearly, ever-increasing influx of tens of thousands of young transients.

    I see no indication from the conference materials that this major threat will be addressed, that there is any awareness that Greenwich Village is heading inexorably toward NYU-ville–even though it’s impossible to ignore.

    Well, maybe that’s just the price of admission to this Conference. The anshluss continues, from the politicians (Community Boards 2 & 3) to the writers (Edgar Allen Poe room) and now, even to the historians, the very ones who you would think would be _most_ concerned.

    These “historians” owe it to us and the threatened Villages to openly recognize and address the fact that the loss of our history is NOW.

  2. Hi Gene,

    You point out many true and sad facts of the REAL “Lost New York” and I agree the conference doesn’t really seem to ‘go there.’ It’s broad and overarching, and, other than the one blogging panel (which I assume will address some of the above), the panels don’t seem ready to take on what the organizers state as what inspired them to put together the conference. (Maybe it’s the way the panels are written up but the speakers’ backgrounds don’t point to it either.)

    It is sort of ironic (?) that it’s held at NYU and an NYU department is one of the sponsors. I agree there’s room for a more focused look at what you write about — I wrote up a brief proposal for a conference which might have gotten into some of that (details under “Donate”) focusing on blogs chronicling the changes in our city, but just couldn’t take it on at this point.

    Perhaps the organizers or some of the panelists will drop by this site and read what you wrote and the incidents you outlined.


    WSP Blog.

  3. Gene

     /  October 1, 2009

    Hi, Cat–

    NYU’s conference sponsorship is no surprise. It’s like the tobacco industry sponsoring youth smoking prevention initiatives.

    It’s purposeful flak, classic PR meant to obviate any comments that they’re destroying history–why, they’re actually _saving_ it (over history’s dead body).

    Wait till you see all the playwriting events at the half-destroyed Provincetown Playhouse.

    It reminds me of the Marriott Renaissance in Indian Wells, CA. In the midst of this huge expanse of desert-destroying golf greens, swimming pools, tennis courts and giant buildings is this little patch of sand and a few native plants, cacti, etc.

    There’s a sign there that says, hey, look! We’re giving our guests this sample of the desert to enjoy. THE DESERT THAT NO LONGER EXISTS because they destroyed it to build the complex. But now, isn’t it nice? Those rich enough to afford the Renaissance can observe a tiny example of what Marriott plowed under.

    So that’s what NYU will do to the Village–just as they facade the Edgar Allen Poe house and then hold celebrations of Poe’s work. Once they’ve destroyed it, they’ll erect a wonderful, respectful museum, a monument to the quaint, historic Greenwich Village that no longer exists. A Madame Tussauds of an entire neighborhood, as creepy in its lifelessness as the Poe façade.

    Thanks so much for this blog. We’d never know much about this (we’re temporary, just people trying to make a living and in the meantime trying to protect the treasures around us) without this blog and of course the wonderful “VIllager” newspaper. No one else seems to care, and NYU sure does, and keeps at it full-time, with powerful resources. The battle seems so uneven.

  4. Hi Gene,

    For someone who is temporary, you are very well informed! Thanks for your comment about the blog. All your examples are right on. You really have framed things well and (sadly) accurately. Particularly about NYU, this really resonated:

    “So that’s what NYU will do to the Village–just as they facade the Edgar Allen Poe house and then hold celebrations of Poe’s work. Once they’ve destroyed it, they’ll erect a wonderful, respectful museum, a monument to the quaint, historic Greenwich Village that no longer exists. A Madame Tussauds of an entire neighborhood, as creepy in its lifelessness as the Poe façade.”

    I think if we could manage to get Bloomberg out of office perhaps this destruction would slow down a bit. Or, the other option is, he stays in office, but slowly implodes out of guilt (over rigging the whole term limits issue). I do think these things balance out in the end. At least, I hope so.

    Thanks for reading – and writing! Share your thoughts anytime.


  5. Hi, Gene and Cat —

    Thanks for your comments about the conference, though it’s not clear either of you attended. (I hope you had a chance at least to make the blogger panel, where the irony of the location/sponsorship was addressed directly by the NYU professor who moderated.)

    This was a small conference, focused more on writing than on historical preservation, except for the degree to which writing can, and sometimes does, work to preserve the past or create feeling that helps others do that sort of work. The shape of the conference was not aiming for any kind of encyclopedic coverage: the organization was more conceptual and the topics more representative case studies (reaching all the way back to New Amsterdam) than they were attempting to address specific debates or the history of individual neighborhoods or buildings. Maybe if we’d held a much larger conference we could have done that and many other things, but this was a fairly small affair in terms of the number of people involved.

    It would be a serious mistake, though, to assume that sponsorship by various university departments or institutes meant there was any sort of censorship. We invited the bloggers most critical of the institution, after all! If they chose not to “go there,” that was there choice. We made it plain that they could say whatever they wanted to.

    It’s also a mistake to assume that people who work for the institution don’t care about the same preservation issues you do. It’s a pretty diverse faculty with a pretty diverse set of community interests. Not only do some of us participate in neighborhood organizations and community efforts, we also actively undertake research on the history of this and other parts of NYC. To say that the efforts of historians here are simply part of a big plot to gut the neighborhood and then pretend to celebrate its past is to miss the boat about the very real commitment individuals hold to community organization and preservation.

    Drop by our blog sometime — you’ll see we care about a pretty big swath of the city’s past and present. And we really dig this blog!


    bw (one of the co-organizers of the LNY conference)

  6. “that was there choice” s/b “their,” of course.

    You’d hardly know I teach in an English department.

  7. Hi Bryan,

    Thanks so much for writing and for your thoughtful comments.

    I think it’s great you organized this conference and thank you for doing so! Is there video perhaps? I did not make it to the bloggers’ panel but would love to hear some of my fellow NYC bloggers talk about these issues. Great to hear that the moderator, an NYU professor, addressed the “irony” of NYU’s sponsorship, etc.

    I understood that the conference addressed many facets of literature and history, focusing primarily on writing. I think Gene was mostly critical of the NYU “leadership” (such as John Sexton and the NYU board’s “vision” for NYU) more so than individual professors.

    I’ve checked out your blog and *dig* it too!

    You wrote there (I believe) that many people were interested in following up on the discussion that occurred and you pointed them to the “Vanishing City” events which, I agree, have been great. It does feel like there’s a need for additional forums to link all these issues and concerns going on across the city.

    Take care. Thanks again for writing.

    WSP Blog.

  8. Hi, Cat — Thanks for picking up this conversation. There were a lot of people on hand who talked about wanting to bring together blog authors and readers more regularly, which I think could be fun, though for some it raises the issue of anonymity, of course. Someone in the audience suggested something along the lines of Kevin Walsh’s Forgotten NY tours. That sounds great to me — if not actually FNY, then maybe Lower East Side History Project: a walking tour and drinks with likeminded folks who share an interest in NY history?

    I hope I didn’t sound too defensive above. I just thought the idea of our conference functioning as NYU PR in a sort of conspiratorial manner was a little funny: we were just two English professors who teach and write about NYC planning a conference using outside funds: no strings to pull. And we really did want it to involve community and not just academics, which I think it did to a significant degree.

    We’ve been posting highlights on the blog, though no video. We didn’t video the blogging panel because some of the panelists write their blogs anonymously. We will likely post highlights. We did run an interview with Jeremiah Moss and EV Grieve, though, which I hope you had a chance to read.

    Best — bw

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