Greenwich Village has undergone many changes throughout the years. I witnessed and experienced these changes first hand, over nearly 40 years of living in New York on and off.
Historically, it’s been a working class neighborhood. The neighborhood was originally industry. Ships docked at the piers in the village. Cargo was unloaded and taken to the West Side freight line (most of which has been demolished, and the remaining portions are currently known as the High Line Park).
Residents of the Village were working class. In the late 1970s and ’80s, the ships were more or less moved over to Port Elizabeth, NJ. The village piers became vacant, and were used for drugs and sexual activity at night (there were a lot of gay men cruising there, prostitutes, and occasionally straight couples there). A number of gay clubs opened up, and the Village became known as a gay neighborhood. Crime became an issue on Christopher Street. The easy access to public transportation that the Village had became a curse, as certain bad elements came over from New Jersey and the outer boroughs.
In the era of Giuliani, the police began arresting the street prostitutes, aggressive drug dealers, and aggressive panhandlers. I even saw the whole of Washington Square Park closed off, and everyone exiting had to go by a check point where they were stopped and frisked.
In the Bloomberg era, as city and state incentives encourage developers to purchase distressed properties (after the previous tenants were evicted or bought out), a number of brownstones were renovated and sold. Some of them were converted to mansions as the wealthy loved brownstones with backyards. New buildings were built with beautiful courtyards. However, not all were happy about these developments. When St. Vincent’s Hospital went out of business, after bankruptcy court, a deal was struck to turn most of the hospital into luxury condos. Only the O’Toole building will be renovated into a new medical facility.
The Village became a very popular location for celebrities to purchase homes, as a number of celebrities such as Emma Stone, Famke Janssenn, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, among others live in the Village. While new chic restaurants have sprouted on the Village’s side streets to cater to the newcomers, this gentrification has come at a price. Many of the village’s gay residents have been priced out of Manhattan (ditto for other gentrified Manhattan neighborhoods like Chelsea, the Lower East Side, and Hells Kitchen). This is contributing to the overall collapse of the gay scene. The most famous and most prestigious of Manhattan gay nightclubs, Splash, closed on August 10. So while the upscaling of the West Village has certainly improved the neighborhood and made it safer, it has certainly come at the expense of working class people in general and gays in particular. Keep in mind most gays are working class and work in jobs like retails, social services, or hospitals and are not the super elite that certain gay organizations might like to present.
The types of businesses in the Village have changed as well, as small businesses give way to well funded restaurants, Starbucks, CVS or Walgreens, and other big corporate chains. So while some people love the new celebrity hotspot that the West Village has become, others view it as the epitome of the attack on working class New York.