“Selling New York,” HGTV’s hit show about luxury real estate and boutique brokerage firms, largely succeeds as escapism. When it isn’t affirming the idea that New York real estate is still one of the most Jewish professions on the planet, “Selling New York” takes viewers into fantastic, glimmering spaces that they would otherwise never get to see: classic wood-paneled nine-room apartments on the Upper East Side; converted spaces with unique fixtures; sleek steel and glass condos with amenities like in-house massage services. The apartments and homes on the show — and the astronomical prices they fetch — are so far removed from the national real estate market that you can watch “Selling New York” and escape into a world where the solution to the problem of “How do I sell a $23.5 million apartment in DUMBO?” is to throw a fabulous cocktail party.
But lately I’ve found it almost impossible to watch the show without thinking of that great New York real estate story of the past few months: the tent city of Occupy Wall Street and the transformation of the previously obscure Zuccotti Park into an international landmark. Certainly, Zuccotti Park is shorthand for many Americans’ anger at income inequality and the collective frustration that the biggest beneficiaries of the subprime boom have gone unpunished while millions of people have lost their homes to foreclosure. But what happens next? When Occupy Wall Street ends — whenever that is — how will the story of Occupy Wall Street and Zuccotti Park be assimilated into the larger narrative of New York City? Will Occupy Wall Street become just another way of selling New York, a distinguishing feature for brokers to point to when they show apartments in the financial district? Will Zuccotti Park become Union Square in miniature?