The Debate Over South Street
by Lauren Evangelista and Jessica Mazzola
No Satisfaction for Waterfront and Tourist StudiesOf the formal opinions made on the development of South Street Seaport, most have reflected pessimism and disappointment. The most prominent proponent of these negative viewpoints is M. Christine Boyer, who only objects because of a hope to rekindle appreciation for New York’s maritime past . Her essays about South Street Seaport highlight the anomalous nature of the Seaport’s festival marketplacein comparison with the rest of New York’s cityscape, noting: “no unified image of the city emerges” from most waterfront renovations.i Even with the adherence to the codes and regulations mandated by the development team and the state of New York to preserving a historical context at South Street, Boyer expresses dissatisfaction with the results due to their illusory projections of New York.ii Instead of restoring the sense of maritime history, Boyer believes that the attempts of South Street “to historicize is to estrange, to make different, so that a gap continually widens between then and now, between an authentic and a simulated experience.”iii The Seaport represents, to Boyer, an unresolved mixture of commerce and history whose “aim is theatrical” instead of educative.iv Recreating a historical environment has been an utter failure according to Boyer, and it, along with other “scenic enclaves” of New York, “reduces the city to a map of tourist attractions” that further perpetuate certain illusions of New York’s history and culture.v
In conjunction with Boyer’s sentiments about the artificial nature of historic preservation, tourist studies reflect a conflict with connecting to the authenticity of a given place. The proliferation of tourism has, indeed, turned travel into “an ordinary experience, taken for granted as a routine part of life.”vi Studies even reflect that “[T]he viewing of a harbor or a walk through downtown is insufficient as a tourist experience.”vii Thus, it was a concern for South Street’s developers to “try to anticipate the tourist’s desire for the extraordinary.”viii The difficulty in achieving the extraordinary is finding the balance between “carnival-like diversion” and an authentic reflection of the area’s culture.ix The juxtaposition of maritime education programs and major retailers, the most notorious being the Pier 17 mall complex, instead pushes forth one over the other. The museum and historic district often fight with the mall for the proper association of the name “South Street.” The former owner of a maritime knick-knack store Captain Hook’s, Joe Hill, remarked, “People come here for a seaport and what do they get? A shopping mall, just like they have at home.”x With the mall seemingly reigning supreme, this “suburban-style” observation of South Street by waterfront enthusiasts like Philip Lopate seems understandable and unavoidable.xi The “historical and cultural identity” of historic tourist sites like South Street become “completely irrelevant” in these viewpoints.xii What, then, is left to appreciate about the waterfront with all the distraction of historical falsities and commercialization?
Historical Appreciation and Enjoyment
i Boyer, M. Christine. "Cities for Sale: Merchandising History at South Street Seaport." Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. Ed. Michael Sorkin. (United States: The Noonday Press, 1992) 182.
iii Boyer 199.
iv Boyer 184.
v Boyer 192.
vi Judd, Dennis R., and Susan S. Fainstein. The Tourist City. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 1.
vii Judd 14.
viii Judd 9.
ix Judd 7.
x Stamler, Bernard. "Rough Sailing for South Street Seaport." The New York Times 29 Mar 1998: Gale. Fordham University Libraries. 15 Sept 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/printdoc.do?contentSet=IAC-Documents&docType=IAC&is>.
xi Phillip Lopate. "Fish Tale: Falling For a Live One. " New York Times [New York, N.Y.] 5 Jan. 2001, Late Edition (East Coast): E.37. National Newspapers (27). ProQuest. Fordham University Libraries, New York, NY. 16 Oct. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>
xii Judd 262.
xiii Carmody, Deirdre. “Rejuvinated Seaport is Due to Open July 28.” The New York Times. 15 July 1983.
xiv Von Eckardt, Wolf. “South Street Seaport Opens.” Time Magazine. 8 August 1983.
xv Stamler, Bernard. “Rough Sailing for South Street Seaport.” The New York Times. 29 March 1998.
xvi Interview with Jack Putnam, South Street Seaport Museum Historian.
xvii Stamler, Bernard. “Rough Sailing for South Street Seaport.” The New York Times. 29 March 1998.
2005 Fordham University
Rose Hill Campus Bronx, NY 10458 (718) 817-1000
Lincoln Center Campus New York, NY 10023 (212) 636-6000
Marymount Campus Tarrytown, NY 10591 (914) 631-3200