Sunday, November 3, 2013

Back to Gracie Mansion

According to today's New York Times, the next mayor of New York (whichever candidate wins) is likely to return to living where mayors have traditionally lived since the 1940s - the colonial home on the East River known as Gracie Mansion. To read the actual article (and see a slideshow of photos of Gracie Mansion inside and out past and present) go to
Outgoing Major Bloomberg brought much to the city in his 12-year reign as its uncrowned king. But no one is perfect, and he may fittingly be faulted for having preferred to live in his own (presumably classier) private quarters than in the home that has been the official residence of New York's mayors since Fiorello LaGuardia. True, Gracie Mansion has continued to be used for official functions and has been well cared for even while empty, but something is lacking when official residences are not used as intended and when private quarters are preferred to what is publicly provided. For an official residence is precisely that. It is official - an emblem of the irremediably public character of the official who doesn't just have a job but also a socially symbolic function that is important in itself.
The King of Spain lives, I believe, in the smaller Zarzuela Palace and "commutes" to Madrid's enormous Palacio Real  for official functions. Yes, the trend toward privatization, the preference for what is private and individual over what is public and communal and official, is endemic; and that, it seems to me, is precisely the problem. 
Admittedly, not too many people's lives are directly affected by such things, but symbols do matter and have a large and lasting effect. Returning the Mayor to Gracie Mansion won't solve the city's affordable housing shortage or any of its other immediately pressing problems, but reclaiming the character of the city's public space is a small symbolic step toward recovering the city's communal character.

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