The Street is dead—long live the streets! While vultures are still picking over Wall Street’s corpse, we interrupt this cataclysm to pay homage to an earlier era in our annual survey of what makes us love this town. We’re talking about New York City street life, circa the Reagan ’80s. Another volatile time politically and economically, in the end it paid huge dividends culturally: Wall Street greed flourished back then, but so did hip-hop. So we’re looking back, but let’s be clear—not every aspect of those years was terribly desirable, and, as you’ll see in these pages, in hundreds if not thousands of little ways, we’ve got it much, much better now. This is still the best city in the world, and we’ll take the Depression of ’08 over the Bronx burning any day.
The economic downturn is going to hit us hard—perhaps harder than other parts of the country. But, if anything, hard times have only burnished this city’s luster. It’s when times are tough that the arts, in particular, seem to explode with creativity. And one of the first places that transformation happens is in the streets of New York City. We bloomed in the ’80s, but the grim ’70s provided the soil. Now, it’s not a question of if that will happen again, but how. Our annual best-of issue helps us figure that out, compiling the people, places, foods, fashions, bands, and bizarre public happenings that help our city grow and adapt and innovate. Even before this crash’s full impact was obvious, before the bubble had even burst, we’d noticed that New York street culture was making a comeback: We could see it in the clothes, the clubs, the music. And it left us wistful for Dancetaria, the Mudd Club, Run-D.M.C., and breakdancers making it tough for three-card-monte players to find a spot on the sidewalk. Now, on the eve of another uncertain but possibly triumphant moment in our city’s history, it’s time to celebrate what we’ll all be nostalgic for in 20 years.