It’s hard to explain to people who didn’t live in New York City in the 1970s just how terrible things were. I didn’t know any better because I had nothing to compare it to. I was just a kid growing up there. Muggings, filth, fear were just part of city life. Today, the Big Apple certainly still has problems, but it is so much safer, cleaner and kid-friendly it’s essentially a completely different place. When I was a kid, Times Square was a dystopian mess with pimps and hookers and porn theaters all over the place. Today, it’s like an Epcot Center annex. When I walked to my grade school on the Upper West Side, I often had to walk four or five blocks out of my way because the direct route was simply too dangerous.
While I’m nostalgic for my youth (it was my youth after all), I’m not terribly nostalgic for the old New York. Sure, there were a few things that were better or at least more charming. I for one don’t find the saturation of Manhattan with chain stores to be an unequivocal improvement. When I was a kid Manhattan had a lot more blue-collar neighborhoods than today, which made it a more interesting and representative place. But, even though I don’t live there, it seems obvious to me that the quality of life has improved tremendously, overwhelmingly thanks to Rudy Giuliani and the trends he trail-blazed.
Anyway, I got to thinking about all of this because I saw these photos of New York City subways in the 1970s and it brought back a lot of memories.
Oh and if you’re interested in this sort of thing, here’s a video I found on YouTube. It’s not very well-made, but it’s got some good images: