On Wall Street

On Wall Street

For over half a century, Dissent made its home in what was once affectionately called in these pages “the intellectual kibbutz of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.” The neighborhood was synonymous with Jewish intellectual life. It was a small world, perhaps, with its own “ruts of tradition and conformity,” but it was a world that regarded arguing about the larger world as an ethical imperative—in other words, it was a world for Dissent. Most of the magazine’s editors lived on the Upper West Side (some still do), and Dissent lived in the apartment of two of its founders, Simone and Stanley Plastrik. The office emerged each morning from a closet and was packed away again by the evening. The magazine needed a new home when Simone died in 1999, but it didn’t leave the neighborhood or even move into a commercial office. For the next fifteen years, the staff and editors met in a tiny studio sublet in a building whose co-op board looked the other way out of affection for this Upper West Side institution. The rent stayed steady during those moneyed years, for which we can thank landlords who liked us or who didn’t realize how much they could get for the space.

By last year our staff had come to realize that the Riverside Drive studio would no longer suffice. Our executive editor, Maxine Phillips, who had worked out of her own apartment ten blocks away, retired during the summer, and now four full-timers plus an array of volunteers and part-timers were feeling the squeeze. Moreover, there were intimations that we shouldn’t feel secure in our residency in a residential building. We would need to professionalize. On the January day we rented a van and packed up our back issues and books, Maxine stopped by to see if we needed help. But she was also there to say goodbye to our cramped, beloved home, and to Dissent on the Upper West Side. We were headed for Wall Street.

Wall Street is, like the Upper West Side, one of those places that serves as a metonym for something bigger. But how could the home of the banking sector be Dissent’s world? There was Occupy, of course. Those contentious months in the fall of 2011 provided many a young leftist with an education in navigating the Financial District’s hostile terrain: the narrow and steep canyons, the islands of contested public space.

But by that time, Lower Manhattan was no longer the fortress of finance capital it once was. While so much of New York City’s social geography has been shaped by immigration and, more recently, gentrification, the Financial District’s transformation came in the long and terrible wake of September 11, 2001, when many banks left the Financial District for Midtown, or New Jersey, or Connecticut. Over a decade later, the sector still dominates the neighborhood, but new tenants have been moving in: residential apartments, NGOs, media companies.

Dissent now finds itself at Wall Str...