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July 1st, 2003

Growing Up In SoHo

by Alexandra Schwimmer

Where are all the SoHo kids? Certainly when I was growing up, crossing Broome Street with my doll carriage on the way to Thompson Street Park, I did not encounter any playmates until I arrived at the Park. Now that I have completed my first year at Connecticut College, I realize how few of us there really are. Kids I meet from New York City are from Uptown. There is not even the random TriBeCean thrown into the mix of a college campus only two and a half hours from the City.

When applying to college, I thought to myself that I would leave the City and the neighborhood which I love for four years in order to get a taste of something new. What I discovered was that there was nothing new which could challenge the old. The thirty six square blocks of my neighborhood can possibly teach a local sitting on the steps outside of What Comes Around Goes Around more about diversity and the interactions of people than four years of classes in these subjects. I am currently applying to transfer to a city school, so I can return to my streets.

Terms which come naturally to my lips such as “cut through the lot”, “a few blocks up”, and even “across the street” do not apply out of the city, as streets are roads, blocks constitute streets, and asphalt parking lots do not exist. True, children grow up faster in a City. This is because they are able to. The City stimulates individuals to grow and forces their minds open to all nationalities of the world. On a basic walk to pick up some eggs at the Portuguese Deli on Grand Street, a New Yorker will pass Caribbean, Argentine, Italian, and Indian restaurants, not to mention the French one across the street and Ken and Bob’s late Nineteenth century American saloon up the block.

Development certainly occurs faster in an urban environment but it is a positive kind of developing, not the detrimental fast life constantly being stereotyped. The City teaches you to have a tougher skin and more realistic outlook towards life, yet you also learn not to take small kindnesses for granted. This positive way of growing up is, of course, highly influenced by the neighborhood you grow up in.

SoHo is a true neighborhood. Thompson Street Park has undergone much renovation and safety planning since my days of swinging and sliding. There is no longer a great risk of splinters or falling onto bare concrete, the edges have been smoothed and the ground is now covered in bouncy rubber to break the falls. Mine was the SoHo of the Eighties and early Nineties. I remember the Duck Man, walking all around the neighborhood wheeling his rack of two foot tall stuffed yellow ducks and the smell of the Italian Feast as I won my annual goldfish in its plastic bag. To the SoHo of today, I can offer these words of advice: don’t stray far. As a sparkling red shoed young woman once said, “There’s no place like home.” There truly is no place on earth quite like SoHo; our neighborhood is an experience unique unto itself. It is a very different thing to have grown up Uptown with Central Park and a doorman. There are very few doormen in SoHo and one does not need to wear a tie or pantyhose to walk our streets. Everything about SoHo is casual cool- the height of fashion. True neighborhoods just exist, they are not forced upon you. While there are strong European overtones and influences, there is no specific ethnic group which controls the neighborhood. SoHo is made up of art galleries, fashion boutiques, restaurants, hotels, outdoor cafes, and tourists. There is no other neighborhood in the City where you can?Ǭ bet on next week’s boxing match at the bar and bring your dog inside for brunch.

College campuses attempt to recreate neighborhoods yet the New England charm loses its idealistic state when you have grown up in the real thing and lived the vibe. Suburban campuses across the nation are built in the New England town style, all dormitories and classrooms face inwards, onto a large green, away from the outside world. Lofts and apartments in SoHo look outwards onto the streets below and buildings across. SoHoites are a curious artistic assemblage who appreciate their privacy mixed with splashes of variety as soon as they leave their front door. Never the twain shall meet.

The love of neighborhoods is enough to make a young woman change her geographical life plan. A day in June, sitting at a caf? table, World Cup Soccer blaring on opposite corners of West Broadway, enthusiastic fans who have gathered from across the globe fall into the street at the final goal waving their flags. I gather more material and characters in one hour of SoHo Time than in four years spent sitting in New England classrooms, gazing at the trees and green grass with khaki fleece clones all around. To me, the concrete and bubble gum feels more natural than grass and bubbles.

Alexandra Schwimmer

Filed Under: Articles | Arts & Leisure | New York

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