As I mentioned on Twitter the other week, our family is leaving New York City and going home to North Carolina. Our plan was to try living here for a year or two, and we’ve done that now. We bought a house back in the Triangle (that’s the Raleigh/Durham area for anyone unaware) for a small fraction of what a crappy 1BR costs anywhere in the New York metro area, and we’ll be there for the foreseeable future.
Some brutal honesty here: I have not enjoyed New York City, and think it’s a pretty awful place to live. I was thinking of writing a little screed on that, but honestly, no one wants to read it. All of my reasons are the standard ones: the filth, the noise, the crowds, the stench, all on top of the exorbitant cost of living. The “why I’m leaving New York” blogthing is its own clicheed genre at this point. No thanks.
So let me point out what’s been good about New York: it’s been instructive to observe a branded, global city up close. See, New York does not exist for its inhabitants. Like a very small group of other peer megacities, NYC exists to play a national, and global, role. “New York” is as much a brand as it is a commerce hub, and even an asset class. It’s where high school groups from Missouri go on their big annual field trip, and where every Japanese tourist, European backpacker or Russian oligarch imagines visiting. It’s this increasingly global role that has transformed Manhattan into part billionaire’s playground, part Disneyland, where crooks from Russia or Nigeria or Saudi can safely park their illicit fortunes in vacant super-luxury real estate and prestige industries can associate themselves with an urban brand. There’s good money in all of that, so the people come.
As a global city, New York is a crossroads where lots of interesting and ambitious people pass through. In the last two years here, I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of them, and made some connections that, honestly, I wouldn’t have down in North Carolina. As a professional network-building place, NYC wins.
But the other thing about New York that you don’t hear as much about is that there is no one “New York.” There are many New Yorks, and many of them do not intersect at all. There are 100,000 severely housing-distressed people in this city – meaning they’re either homeless or nearly so. Volunteering at the New York City Rescue Mission, I saw a side of the city that is, for the most part, utterly invisible to the bright-eyed, well-off business/tech-y set that I otherwise associated with. But it’s a good side, nevertheless. Some of its best, in fact.
So – New York, it’s been real. Chicago’s pizza is better, your transit sucks, your police department is a garbage fire, you mispronounce “Houston” and your residents suffer from low-grade Stockholm Syndrome. Bless your heart. Good luck.