For those of you who don’t know it, Gina Bellafante writes the Big City column for the New York Times, where she often waxes philosophically about living in New York City. From time to time, she tends to anger her readers when she questions just how special New York City is in the grand scheme of things. She’s basically Susan Dominus without the preordained love for New York.
I happened across one of Gina’s articles from May of 2012 in which she tries to dissect the allure of New York and how the city may or may not be all that alluring. She starts with a tale about how her husband used to live in New York while working in Nashville. She then digresses into all the things New Yorkers claim they love about the city (restaurants, Broadway, museums, jobs) while trying to prove they either are things New Yorkers don’t actually do or can get from some place else n the U.S.
And to be honest, she had her points. If her data is indeed accurate, and 60% of MoMA-goers are tourists and only 17% of theater-goers are New Yorkers, than there probably is something to be said for the fact that some New Yorkers don’t take advantage of living in New York some of the time.
But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the allure to New York is some mystery that possibly is the result of a Hollywood love/film fest for the city or hometown pride from the biggest voice in the crowd. There are plenty of every day things to love about New York, and in the interest of time, I’ll just go through a few of them.
Sure, as Gina mentioned, this isn’t the best place to come get a job. Sure, some of the creative job opportunities are clustered here, so there are networking effects that make it advantageous to be where your contemporaries are. But now thanks to the internet, the cost is far much lower and the chances equally as good to become an internet video star or prize-winning columnist from the comforts and cheap rents of Ohio. Not to mention that unemployment in New York is higher than the nation’s average.
But even though we can’t find jobs like they can out West or in the middle of the country, we still spend all of our money on door covers and bottle service. That’s right, when it comes to nightlife, there is not a city in the United States that can hold a candle to The City that Never Sleeps. Sure, most of the partying is nothing more than a vein attempt by 20 and 30-somethings to show off money they probably didn’t earn, but it sure is fun. And I don’t care what stats Gina pulls out, partying is something that the locals do better than any NYC tourist does.
While I probably could poke holes in Gina’s argument that New Yorkers don’t do culturally-related things—well, actually, how about I just poke holes in it. I’ll just go with the first thing I know to be misleading, which is her claim that foreigners make up 60% of those who frequent MoMA. Because while that is indeed true, we’re still doing better than a lot of the rest of the U.S. that comes to New York to visit. Because if you break it down into percentages against the population, over 5% of New Yorkers go to the same destination, versus 1.8% of domestic visitors, who should be inclined to go to cultural attractions. And that 5% doesn’t even account for people that live outside of the 5 boroughs.
And speaking of culture, New York kind of invented it in the United States. Where were hip-hop and punk founded? Where did Fashion Week begin? Isn’t Madison Square Garden both the mecca of basketball and greatest music arena in the world? Last time I checked, all of those things are alive, well and a part of the daily ongoings of New Yorkers. Oh, and try to get a seat when the New York Philharmonic plays in one of the parks during the summer and tell me New Yorkers don’t have any culture.
Last but not least, Gina just has to look at her own life to demystify the allure of New York. Her husband worked in Nashville while living in New York. That’s not an everyday story some place else in the U.S., but here it’s the norm, because New York is full of diversity. I have decade-long friends that swear they live here when I know they work in Philly, D.C. or even L.A. And try to beat the ethnic diversity we have. Nowhere else in the nation are you going to find a city where a quarter of it is black, a quarter of it is hispanic and 10% is Asian–and nobody thinks twice about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know New York has it’s problems. It smells like trash sometimes, we have a huge wealth gap, and as I speak, the 7th Snowmageddon of this decade is going down outside my window. But let’s not pretend like people don’t know why they love New York and that those same reasons aren’t things we partake in on a regular basis. Yes, like the rest of the country, we’re getting lazier, dumber and are watching more Netflix. But I’ve been outside of New York–hell, I’m from outside of New York–and if you think the middle of Texas or somewhere in Mississippi is more alluring (deservedly or otherwise) than New York City, then you haven’t been to those places.