The Insipid City

Food halls have spread far and wide, deflavorizing neighborhoods every step of the way.

The New York Times hailed it as “a UN of food”: a destination for Swiss fondue, Russian caviar, and raw seafood from Japan, featuring an Italian sausage shop, an Argentine grill, and “a natural food bar with such attractions as a made without chemicals red wine from Aix en Provence, even tacos and hamburgers and salads.” As construction on Citicorp Center, a foil baguette rising over Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street, continued through the 1970s, there was great excitement in New York over the culinary offerings planned for its ground floor. Preservation requirements meant the tower had to be built on stilts, with its cantilever looming imperially over the development’s sunken public plaza. But food offered a tether to reconnect this strangely suspended loaf to the life of the neighborhood beneath it. When the building opened in 1977, the stores, restaurants, food counters, and semipublic spaces at its base were thought to offer a fresh way of thinking about the relationship between new construction and its urban context. Citicorp Center, the Times wrote in a 2006 obi…

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