Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Day In The Big City

Sunrise over Manhattan viewed from New Jersey

Here is one more essay by a disappointed aspiring creative type (a writer) who finds life in New York so all consumed with the whole business of how to pay for it all, that she's left; though she didn't go far, just up the Hudson.  The very high cost of living, especially housing, is ending New York's historic role as an incubator for new talent, as a place where artists, writers, musicians, actors, etc. could come to find each other, to compete, to collaborate, to argue, to fight, and to form communities and bonds of friendship.  New York City played that role for over 200 years.  So much of the culture of the 20th century was created out of the encounters between the concepts of the Old World and the New World in the bars, cafes, apartments, studios, and on the streets of New York.

But life is harder for everyone making less than a million dollars a year in this city.  The global plutocracy's fondness for the city is driving a boom in the construction of luxury high rises, but is also driving up rents and leases all over the city.  New York finds itself in an unprecedented situation where rents are rising fast and the median income for city residents is declining.  Considering how much money is taking up residence in this city, it is astonishing to find out that 46% of all city residents live at or near poverty levels.  Homelessness, especially among children, is at levels not seen since the Great Depression.

My friend David Kaplan always said that New York is a city that works for about 250,000 people; certainly not for all 8 million who live here, more than at any time in the city's history.  There are some who say that the solution is for fewer people to live in New York, but it's the longtime residents (like David Kaplan) who are among the first to be forced out of their neighborhoods.  The very very rich moving in (if they are moving in at all) are from around the world.  They are international wealthy transients with no local ties and no national loyalties.

I've lived in New York for almost 23 years now.  Believe me there are times when I think about leaving; but, to go where?  San Francisco's once famous resident subcultures are already priced out of existence (and across the Bay to Oakland where they are getting priced out there).  Housing prices are going up in just about all major cities.

I want to stay in New York.  To those who are thinking about coming up here and have heard all the bad news, I say come anyway.  New arrivals are the life blood of this city, not the stock market.  Be prepared for a struggle.  It is not easy to live here.  You have to decide for yourself if it is worth it.  I've heard from a reliable source (a cab driver; not much more reliable than that) that New York is just as edgy as it always was.  Its edginess is just much more spread out among the 5 Boroughs than before.  There are hosts of sub cultures and sub sub cultures flourishing out there just under the radar.  While the art scene may not be quite what it used to be, there are still lots of artists of all kinds here, and opportunities are still here.  The city has a flourishing musical life that appears to be concentrated in Brooklyn now.  The thing I've always loved about this city is its amazing vitality.  The city's near total recovery from a major hurricane and from the deadliest terrorist attack in American history is astonishing, and testimony to its strength.  I think it likely that the city will survive Manhattan being transformed into a theme park resort for the very rich and for tourists.

But the thing I love most about this city is that it is a place where people from everywhere come to start a new life and to reinvent themselves.  My native Texas is a place where if you fit in, it's paradise.  If you don't, it's hell on toast.  In New York, nobody fits in and nobody cares.  You can find a community of your own kind, whatever kind you are; or you can form a community.  No one will feel threatened by you or come after you for not fitting in.

Today, New Year's Day, we have a new mayor, the first Democratic mayor in 20 years, and probably the first real progressive since at least Lindsey, and the first since LaGuardia to win by a landslide.  We may be at the beginning of a new progressive politics in New York.  There may be only so much the new mayor can do since a lot of what happens in the city is due to state and national policies over which he has no control.  We will all see what happens over the next 4 years.  Already, he is such a break from recent history.  He's the first mayor in forever from outside Manhattan (a Brooklyn native and resident still).  He's the first mayor in forever to have a family with kids (Giuliani dumped his wife and kids rather ruthlessly soon after becoming mayor).   He has a family that looks like the city, and that reflects the growing experience of a lot of people from families that are becoming more ethnically and racially mixed.

The new mayor and his family at today's inauguration


Some abrasive but wise complaining about the current state of the city from Fran Leibowitz.

1 comment:

JCF said...

You can become part of the growing Arts Scene in [boosters, post your burg here: I'm going w/ SACRAMENTO! ;-)].

Happy New Year, Doug---to you and the Big Apple, my former home (1990-94).