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HABITATS by Constance Rosenblum


Private Lives in the Big City

by Constance Rosenblum

Pub Date: April 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8147-7154-9
Publisher: New York Univ.

A collection of recent newspaper columns on the homes of New York residents illuminates the ways in which the city has (and hasn’t) changed.

The byline of Rosenblum (Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, 2009) may not be familiar even to regular readers of the New York Times, and the column she was the last to write no longer exists. Yet these 40 pieces have greater staying power than many collections of newspaper columns and show the ongoing fascination with the subject of how, where and why people live where they live. These expanded selections from the newspaper’s Real Estate section are less concerned with that market—prices and square footage, though such details occasionally highlight the pieces—than they are with the stories of the inhabitants. “I wanted to use the column to write stories,” writes Rosenblum. “I wanted to use the physical nature of a home as a wedge to delve into personal history, and to produce, as one reader nicely put it, biography through real estate.” The results, she continues, “offer a mosaic of domestic life in one of the great cities of the world.” There are examples of shelter voyeurism that will leave readers in other parts of the country amazed at how much some are willing to pay to live in New York (often for so little space). But mainly, the interest in the home reflects the interesting people who inhabit it: the two clowns who must combine living quarters and rehearsal space (so many of these stories find residences serving double duty), the woman who rescues and nurses ailing kittens, the artists in their communal building, the stepdaughter of a famous author. Whether the living space in question is a fresh start or a link to the past, the thread of continuity throughout is that “the story of urban renewal has been written, rewritten, and rewritten yet again.”

Some intriguing stories better read the way newspaper columns are published—one at a time—than as an extended series in one sitting.