By Mary Alice Kellogg
Invasion of the Body Snatchers resulted from author Jack Finney’s imagination, but I’m living it in real time, as individuals, couples, family units—my neighbors—are disappearing. My West Village has always been a tranquil place—save for weekends—but now our streets are strangely empty during the week. The stillness is sinister. I search for pods.
Ten years ago, a six-apartment townhouse across the street was renovated as a one-family home. In short order, four others followed suit. Then the first “double-wide” appeared: Two historic houses were taken down to the studs. All of this occurred on my (very short) block. Forty-eight apartments had vanished, my neighbors with them.
When three townhouses on the next corner were bought six months ago to create a mansion (to house two people), I broke out the calculator: Eighteen more apartments gone. Roughly more than 150 neighbors so far. If you examine properties within a three-block radius, where at least five single townhouses and four double-wides are currently being renovated, that number climbs. Did I know all of these people? Of course not. I knew many enough to acknowledge a Village “Good morning” and knew others by name. But they were my neighbors. They were, simply, there. On the street. Every day.
Now they’re gone. I don’t begrudge those with abundant funds to create the homes of their dreams. But only two of seven renovated townhouses on my block have owners who are part of daily street life. The others: not so much. Many are home only a few months of the year, while others jump into town cars and never seem to set foot on the street at all. Instead of using local businesses, their deliveries—entire gardens, groceries, dry cleaning, etc.—arrive in vans marked from places quite out-of-nabe.
I came to the Village in 1970 from a Southwest city where people drove cars two blocks to the grocery store and hardly knew the people next door. The Village was the only place I ever wanted to live; its history, intimacy, and community have nourished me ever since. Now I see that community vanishing. Of the new triple-wide owners, who won’t move in until a year-long renovation is finished, I wonder: Will they be Villagers?
We’re far removed from the realities of Billionaire’s Row, where an Edifice Complex dictates tax haven domiciles and street life is spectacle. I just want those who make a new home in the Village to be part of the community that was so attractive to them in the first place. Is that too much to ask?
In the increasing silence of our streets, I think of my vanished neighbors. Where did they go? Buyouts no doubt sent many of them out of the City; others perhaps found a less expensive nabe which now benefits from their presence and talents. I hope all are doing well, that they found good places to live, and that their children are in decent schools. Even if I never knew their names, they were the soul of the Village and I miss them.
Mary Alice Kellogg is a former Associate Editor of Newsweek, Senior Editor of Parade, and Contributing Editor for Bon Appétit, TV Guide, and Delta Sky. Her writing has appeared in more than 200 magazines and newspapers.