Like pretty much every other ambitious person, I always figured I’d eventually move to New York. It is, at this point, half-dream and half-obligation for people trying to do big things. It’s the American Dream inside the American Dream.
I also always figured I’d love it.
So when I moved to New York last year, I was predisposed to liking it. I was already successful and could afford to pay rent in the city. I was young (25), but not so young that I’d be intimidated or overwhelmed. I had a ton of friends there. I made my own schedule so it wasn’t like I’d be grinding it out in some drab office tower. I had business contacts and invitations that kept me plenty busy. I’d already spent many cumulative weeks in town over the years on business trips (sometimes close to a month in length) so I knew my way around too. I’m in love with New York’s history and couldn’t wait to experience it every day.
But today, I write this having happily escaped. New York as it stands today is antithetical to many of the ideals that drive people to move there. For that reason, it is not the city for me (I perfectly understand why it is perfect for others and I mean no offense to them) and I would just argue that, increasingly, it is not the city for many others who are being told that it is.
I say this having lived in many places across the country, in many socio-economic neighborhoods in those cities and having done my share of traveling. There are many problems with New York. Basic problems. We’ll get into most of them below.
But I think it begins with a premise and a question: New York is like an expensive stock: hyped up and trading at many multiples because everyone wants it. It might pay off for you and still go higher–that might be very likely, in fact. But is it really the best opportunity for you? Or is there something better, less coveted, with more upside?
My advice to young people would be this: Don’t move to New York. It is not is where you will find yourself. The obligation is artificial. The payoffs are low. The risk is high. The dream may be dead. I’m going to avoid the trap of telling you where to go instead. I’m just warning you to reconsider. Don’t move to New York, find your own city and your way.
-It’s not that money should be precious, but it is dangerous to internalize the attitude that to survive you have to make and spend tons of money. And that things like savings and investments are pipe dreams. It makes you a very short-term person. New York, because of how expensive it is, is full of short-term people.
-There is no question that being around peers comfortable with spending $5,000-6,000 a month on an apartment has a warping effect on your perspective. There is no way that it cannot.
-People say that visiting and living in New York City are very different things. I’ve found that they are exactly the same and that’s why it is a bad place to live.
-The parks are beautiful, no question. But how much of that beauty is a result of contrast? How much of the respite they provide is relief from unnecessary (and dare I say, unnatural) conditions?
-You wouldn’t think there would be such a thing as “too many opportunities” but there are. With so many smart and successful people in one place, it is inevitable that there would be an excessive amount of good meetings, drinks, introductions, events, etc. So you feel like an idiot saying no. But really you should be sitting at home working (or doing nothing). Because that’s life.
–This Banksy piece basically describes New York City better than it does America.
-On a New York street corner, I once saw a homeless guy get hit by a car, launch through the air and land face first on the pavement, skidding to a stop like a cartoon character, except–horrifyingly–the ground doesn’t give way in real life. A handful of us rushed to the scene (that rare spirit of human connectedness in an emergency). Then cars started honking and people got upset because this was holding up traffic.
-Some of the most amazing people I know live in NYC. That doesn’t mean I (or you) have to.
-Breakfast for two shouldn’t cost $38 plus tip.
-An economy where people at the bottom of the service industry–your bike/food delivery men, your CVS employees, your busboys–cannot remotely afford to live in or enjoy the city they do backbreaking or dangerous labor in, creates an intolerably close equivalent to a slave economy. In Los Angeles and other cities, being around immigrants is inspiring. They are touching the American Dream and reminding you how much you take it for granted. In New York, it’s a reminder of gross inequity and unfairness. The American dream is not an hour-plus subway commute from a shithole apartment for an embarrassing minimum wage and faceless employment. Unless of course, you’re a stagehand at Carnegie Hall.
-You cannot will a city's past back into existence, no matter how in love you are with that vision and legacy. I figured this out in New Orleans and Downtown Los Angeles. The New York that you’ve read about does not exist anymore, whatever decade or century you happen idolize. Yes, there are some cool reminders and awesome history. But you live in a very, very different city.
-I’m saying that whatever book or movie or narrative that drew you to New York–the person who wrote it would hardly recognize the streets you’re walking right now. Not literally of course, but you know what I mean.
-Oh, you need to run over to Home Depot or head across town to pick something up at Office Max or some other perfectly minor errand? Ok, see you in four hours.
-There are so many great, accomplished, inspiring people in New York…and you can visit them!
-Things like Airbnb, Yelp and blogs make it possible to experience something close to living in New York by lowering the transaction costs. It’s cheaper to get an apartment (for an extended period of time), figure out what’s good/cool/new, learn insider tricks and secrets than before. You don’t have to move there, acclimate and learn by trial and error.
-Have you ever shopped at a grocery store where you’re shopping while in line, able to buy only what is within arm's reach of the queue which circles the entire store and backs up literally to the front door? Because that is a thing in New York.
-Is there anything worse and more jarring than walking down the street and getting hit with the sound of a shrieking siren or a taxi laying on its horn five feet away? Or the terrible crashing of truck cargo as their insane drivers barrel through intersections or over dips in the road? These noises do more than distract, they violate the body cavity and destroy any semblance of normal human equilibrium.
-How does Bloomberg try to ban sodas before taking a serious crack at noise pollutions? Isn’t that what rich people care about it?
-I met a young woman a few months ago. She had just graduated from some college and moved to New Orleans. I asked why. She said “I don’t know what I want to do with my life yet, but who can afford to live in New York while they figure that out?”
-Goddamn, you think a city of walkers would know how to walk. They do not.
-Great food. Shake Shack is certainly better than In-N-Out, for example–but there’s also never a 50-minute line for In-N-Out.
-I actually like the smaller apartments thing. It keeps you humble and less needy when you move elsewhere and have more options. After New York, you don’t need an extra bedroom or a huge dining room table. But grass and light and some space are basic human needs.
-If you travel a lot, New York is not a fun place to be based. First off, it costs $120+ round trip to get to the airport (more if you don’t feel like getting sick and jostled in a cab and take a car service). The main airports are terrible (what LaGuardia gains for being closer, it more than undermines by being worse the crappiest small-town airport you’ve ever flown out of).
-It is not relaxing to come “home” to New York. Because again, New York is busy and buzzing and always on. Normally that is a good thing, just not when you’re coming off a couple weeks on the road.
-I’m not sure if New York really deserves its reputation as a haven for creative people or as a creative, inspiring place. It is very clearly a “reptilian environment” which research shows to make being creative very difficult. As someone who wrote a book while living there, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say you have to work harder to feel safe, be vulnerable and produce creatively in New York than you do in other cities.
-I’m saying that this environment is not good for you as a human being, whatever you happen to do for a living.
-Yes, you can get breakfast delivered. You can get Chinese food at 2 AM or pick up supplies at a bodega. And? This is what you pay 3x a higher cost of living to reside in a inhumanely small space for?
-Sprawl. Driven by the need for affordable living space, New York City is no longer a concentrated mass of people all living on one island. In fact, one will be shocked at how regularly you need to commute out to Brooklyn or Queens or some other borough. Basically, New York is like Los Angeles now. Except Los Angeles has cars, better weather, the beach and mountains, and does sprawl right.
-Living in New York has some of the same problems as being a vegan. Psychologists have been able to figure out that we have a finite amount of self-control–they call it “ego depletion”–and stressful activities and willpower are very taxing. So do you want the place that you live to sap your most precious resource? Do you want to be a dick to everyone because you spent all your self-control on the minor frustrations of city life, the way a vegan used it all up avoiding chicken stock?
-There is a certain hardness to people who have lived in New York a long time. I’m not talking about old people–old, long time New Yorkers are the best. I’m talking about men, and especially women in their 30s. The women in Sex and the City would be a worn out shell of what they looked like on TV in real life–just as the characters in Girls would. Most of the guys would be delusional losers, fat assholes or if they weren’t, obsessed with fitness in a very sad, lonely way.
-New York can be a crutch. Yes, your music career is stalled. Yes, your art remains unknown. Yeah, you’ve yet to be published or your startup is only hype. But you live in New York, and that makes you better than the people who don’t (or so you reassure yourself). Where you live is not an accomplishment.
-Fucking cab drivers.
-Culture and nightlife. First off, let’s be real. By these you mean clubs–and clubs are all terrible, whatever the city. In terms of culture, I think this is overstated as well. It’s not like we’re all going to poetry readings. There might be a few more indie bands, but so?
-There is something to be said about diversity. Real diversity–as in an ecosystem that truly lets different people do different things. The South is great at this, strangely. So is the West Coast. The economy and culture of New York does not allow that. It allows people to grind it out and be hardened at whatever income bracket they’re at. That’s about it.
-I’m sure there is some union or distributor explanation for this but it’s really annoying that like no restaurants in New York have fountain soda. I try not to drink soda anymore so the fact that they serve it by the can and rip you off isn’t what bothers me. It’s the trucks unloading pallets of cans on a daily basis that block traffic and clog up streets for no reason.
-Speaking of drinks, why does everyone use tiny water glasses in the city? Who wouldn’t be happier using a normal adult-sized cup instead of the shot glasses they set out on most tables?
-Winter. Ugh. Modern Phoenix, AZ is not a pleasant place because our modern interventions dramatically amplify the natural climate (heat island effect). Arizona is rightfully docked for this. New York on the other hand, dramatically amplifies the terrible northern winter in equal fashion. It’s freezing but the snow disappears. The sidewalks are iced with the runoff from buildings. Its muggy and steamy inside. The wind races through artificial tunnels created by skyscrapers. And then we just pretend it’s normal winter weather.
-This isn’t to say that New York isn’t getting better in some ways too. I’ve seen a bunch of improvements just in the few years I’ve been there off and on. Citi Bike is clearly awesome and makes the city a lot more accessible. The High Line is great and will hopefully inspire more cities to do the same. Even the cool LED screens that tell you when the next subway is coming is a nice innovation. But who are these changes really for? Are they exceptions that prove the rule?
Some of these criticisms seem pedantic, I’m sure. But they add up to a low quality of life. One that, quite frankly, amazes me that people are able to endure day in and day out for years or even lifetimes.
I’d respect it more if I felt the benefits were clearer. I’d respect it if it was necessary. If it wasn’t–in too many cases–endured simply because of cognitive dissonance and a stubborn refusal to consider alternatives.
I also know that most of you will ignore me. I did. I heard these things before I moved. But I thought It’s New York… I figured it was all worth it. Now I’ve reconsidered. I hope you’ll do the same–but I understand and appreciate that you probably won’t. It’s one of those things that we need to see for ourselves.
I don’t consider my time there a failure. I genuinely love New York. Or at least the idea of it, what it is supposed to stand for. I’m just so glad I don’t live there.