Dirty Blvd. by Lou Reed

Music plays an important part in our life - as do streets and cities. It's no surprise then to discover songs about places... The Placefocus Mix

Times Square NY. NY. USA: before and after (Source: Square NY. NY. USA: before and after (Source: by: Andrew Hammonds 

Thanks to: SongMeanings & The Daily Beast

Watch on YouTube (with poignant photos)

Dirty Blvd. topped the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart for four weeks in early 1989. The song demonstrates how much his beloved city has changed in twenty five years. It's the second Lou Reed song to make the PlaceMix after 'Walk on the Wild Side'

The Album New York was released "at a moment when New York was simultaneously grappling with sky-rocketing levels of crime, welfare, crack use, AIDS, homelessness, and racial tension."

According to Sahm the album is not all doom and gloom and even the darker songs, in a way, celebrate New York. Reed was born in Brooklyn and apparently never forgave his parents for moving to Long Island when he was ten.  While he loved New York, especially its rough edges, he didn’t romanticise the city. Perhaps the songs on New York also reveal his fear for it's future?

Did you know the backstory to Pedro's 'Wilshire Hotel'? Apparently it references NY's notorious welfare hotels...

"In the early 80's, the demolition of much low-income housing and other trends pushed thousands of families onto the street. The Koch administration took advantage of Federal emergency housing funds to put them up in hotels. That bent the rules: the Federal money is meant to help victims of sudden calamities like floods. But for a few years, Washington went along.

That was a mistake. In abusing the intent of the Federal law, the hotel policy also abused thousands of poor women and children. City officials were willing to spend as much as $1,800 a month to house a mother and children in a single small room. At one point, the city put up 3,700 families in such accommodations. For a while, city officials justified the exorbitant rates: troubled homeless families needed housing on such short notice.

But embarrassments mounted. The stresses of family life with no place to cook and no privacy were crushing. The hotels bred drug dealing and prostitution. A city inquiry found that hotel operators made excessive profits off the squalor. Finally Washington wised up. Officials announced regulations cutting off emergency funds to any family in a hotel for more than 30 days." Thanks to the NY Times

Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
he looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
his father beats him 'cause he's too tired to beg
He's got 9 brothers and sisters
they're brought up on their knees
it's hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that's a slim chance he's going to the boulevard

He's going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
he's going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, to the dirty boulevard

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month
you can believe it man it's true
somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants
No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
that's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard

Get to end up, on the dirty boulevard
going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, on the dirty boulevard
going out

Outside it's a bright night
there's an opera at Lincoln Center
movie stars arrive by limousine

Do you have any suggestions for songs about streets, places or cities? 

We generate discussion in our training courses on Placemaking and urban design. While there are common qualities to the places we like, our own views matter. I started this blog to continue this discussion on-line. The Comments section at the bottom of each article provides the opportunity, so don't be bashful. Particularly if you disagree!

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Written: 26 July, 2016

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