FiDi Isn’t Cozy or Communal, It Just Sucks

The New York Times has caught a lot of flack this month. #CancelNYT trended on Twitter after a poorly-worded Trump headline. Times star White House reporter Maggie Haberman again prioritized Trump access over actual news. And its opinion writers continue barfing up neoliberal dreck. But nothing screams journalistic malpractice or exposes the Times’ editorial bias more than its Real Estate section describing New York’s Financial District as “village-like.”

The Times interviewed FiDi residents, who described the neighborhood as having a real sense of community. Clearly these folks don’t get outside much. But I work in FiDi. I’ve walked its streets, smelled its air and gotten caught behind countless confused tourists. And that description of the area is complete crap.

New York City’s Financial District is a fully commercialized machine of a neighborhood designed to efficiently circulate people and money during business hours. It’s as communal as a megamall food court. Putrid air spews out of restaurant vents, lunch lines stretch out the door at $15 salad places and sidewalks are crammed with tour groups. The only difference between FiDi and similarly corporatized NYC areas like Times Square are the several bodies of water available to throw yourself into.

But sure, FiDi offers plenty of history. From Trinity Church to Federal Hall to the New York Stock Exchange, there’s no shortage of buildings symbolizing rotted-out American institutions. And the streets are so winding and narrow, you can almost imagine the founding fathers sauntering about in their trousers and waistcoats—until a Lexus trying to beat a stoplight blindsides you. In 2019, FiDi’s narrow streets serve as cobbled reminders that New York City should ban cars altogether.

Aside from a few side street dive bars and Irish pubs, there’s not much night life either. The neighborhood becomes eerily quiet after about 7 p.m., when even the most go-getting banker types are long gone. Stone Street comes alive on sunny weekend afternoons with white guys in boat shoes, and that dudebro debauchery extends into the wee hours of the morning—or like midnight, because at a certain point even the drunkest of people will remember where they are and want to trek toward a more entertaining area. FiDi offers plenty of places to buy expensive suits, but you’d struggle to find a 70-watt lightbulb. There are no supermarkets, hardware stores or mom-and-pop shops. Every business is designed to catch people during the 10 minutes they have between urgent phone calls.

But there’s nothing wrong with FiDi for the wealthy, who the article (and the entire New York Times real estate section) is targeting. I can see how FiDi would appeal to elites. It’s loud and bustling during the day and dead at night, when you’re actually at home. It’s more WASPy and historic than most New York neighborhoods, plus it hasn’t yet been re-gentrified by multi-millionaires. And if you can afford to have your groceries delivered, who needs a Whole Foods? Maybe that’s exactly what FiDi residents need. But it takes more than Sephoras, Ciprianis and Sweetgreens to call it a community.