Invariably, New York City stirs many feelings and reactions when it comes up in conversation. People love New York, people hate New York. I can’t really think of a time when I talked to someone about NYC and they *didn’t* have a strong opinion one way or another.
Some of the things that get said, however, are just not true. Urban legends, misinformation, and hyperbolic over-generalizations have led to a lot of people thinking that New York City is something it is not. This list is not a cure-all for some of the outrageous things that people say about New York City, and you might notice that it does not completely debunk all of these phrases. What it does encourage, however, is giving some more consideration and depth to careless over generalizing of 8 million people. The devil is in the details as it were, and without bringing the nuances of urban living to light, we cannot hope to address them either.
1. “New Yorkers are Not Nice”
The stereotype of fast-talking, rude New Yorkers stretches as far back as our founding fathers. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (who notoriously hated cities and decided he’d rather build the nation’s capital on a swamp in the middle of nowhere) weighed in about how all of the extravagance and depravities of New York City just ground the goodness right out of people.
Native New Yorkers will tell you there is simply a code: don’t make eye contact, don’t stop for someone who tries to engage you on the street (selling something), don’t buy tickets from that guy on the corner trying to get you to go to _____ tourist attraction. At the same time, there are thousands of examples of kindness and patience on the streets every day: the young woman who lends her phone to a lost teenager from out of town, New Yorkers consistently patient giving of directions to tourists on the street, on the subway, on the bus, on the ferry (you get the idea), NYers helping carry large packages and carriages up and down subway station steps, that guy who held the G-train doors for me despite the train conductor wanting to close them and leave me stranded and late for work (I saw you, grump!), the casual way we make eye contact and smile when we are appreciating the way our City looks in a sunset, or when a particularly good musician is serenading us. The mean stereotype is a bit undeserved, and it would serve us well to fuhgeddaboutit and remember that we are all just people walking here.
2. “Its too dirty”
Summer rolls around and Twitter bursts with commentary about “stinky garbage”. Winter comes breezing through and we’re up to our knees in dirty slush. While we may aspire to be as pristine as small-town America, a look at some context shows that New York City is, in fact, cleaner than it has ever been.
We have cleaner air, cleaner water, and an increasingly more efficient waste-stream (compost, people!).
As far as generalizing goes, this one gets things a bit mixed up. The implication is that the City itself is filthy- a wretched mass of dirty creatures all wallowing around in the mud together. Not true! However, we do play host to some of the dirtiest environmental issues on the country, our three EPA superfund sites, polluted brown fields, asthma from automobile exhaust near highways and truck routes among them.
3. “It’s too big”
It is true that New York City is the largest urban area in the United States, totaling nearly 470 square miles and 8.5 million people. Add in the metropolitan area of commuters and smaller cities, towns, and counties, and you’ve got a whopping 13.3 thousand square miles and nearly 20 million human beings. Make no mistake that is a large number. I have heard many a lament back home about how they could “just never, because it’s too big” and I ask, compared to what? There is a perception that since the city is so large, and so populated, it must feel like a feverdream of chaos- human beings every which way, and buildings menacingly rising above us to lend our landscape the feeling of a Dali painting. It is worth noting, however, that not all of the City is that dense- the hectic vibrancy of Midtown (and the dreaded Times Square) stands in stark contrast to the quiet streets of Brooklyn Heights, the easy-flowing music and stoop culture of outer-borough neighborhoods where folks hang out and enjoy summer nights, or the serenity and dare I say bucolic scenery of parks like Van Cortlandt, Prospect Park, and Fresh Kills.
4. “It’s a great place to be young but I could never raise a family there”
If New York City isn’t a family town then someone forgot to tell the Prospect Park Stroller Brigade. Tell it to the Astor’s, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilt’s, tell it to the families in el Barrio, and Bed-Stuy, and Rockaway, tell it to the kids at the block parties in Brooklyn every summer, and the ones who come out for Summer Streets. New York City is bursting with old family names, and with new young families just getting started,.
Sire, New York City is a great place to be a young person, but not the *only* place, and not a place only for hipsters, and single twenty-something’s. Where better to raise your family than a city with incredible diversity of culture?
5. “Public Transit in NYC is terrible”
I’m sorry, you try maintaining 468 subway stations on 24 different lines, thousands of miles of bus routes and even more busses 24/7 the entire year! This doesn’t even take into account other methods of public transit like ferries. New Yorkers have their fair share of completely valid misgivings about the good old Metropolitan Transit Authority: continued fare and toll hikes, late and over-budget projects, and the mysterious Second Avenue subway line among them. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement. Contrary to the Orwellian portrait painted by the Guardian, which compares the NYC subway to the London Underground (apples to oranges considering differences in ridership numbers and fares, frankly), the NYC public transit system is one of the largest in the world, and one of only a handful of full-service 24-hour systems. I call that pretty spectacular.
6. “It’s too dangerous”
The specter of 1980s New York City continues to haunt popular opinion. I remember all manner of poorly informed judgments about my safety abounding when I announced that I would be moving here. Outer-borough communities take the brunt of this bad reputation, as poverty and race continue to be associated with violence and crime. We do not live in 1980s New York City. The murder rate is down, the violent crime rate is down, and while it is still possible that some horrible fate might befall you here, it is no more statistically likely than in some other large urban area.
7. “You have to be rich to live there”
New York City income inequality is no secret, and everyone talks about it, and it is an absolutely real issue. That being said, I live in New York City quite comfortably and enjoy only a modest income. The trick, my dear reader, is to budget according to the income you have, not the lifestyle that you wish you could afford. My good friend Chelsea Fagan has been documenting how young women can stay up-to-the-latest in cool without going broke over on The Financial Diet, and she talks a lot about balancing what you want with what you’ve got to work with.
8. “You need to leave to meet a partner”
If I had a dime for every time one of my friends talked about how they thought they might need to move out of the City in order to find love I would be swimming in money like Bloomberg. While it may seem as if there are too many fish in the sea, or too many people fishing, I know plenty of love stories born from New York City streets. You have more options for potential matches, and more exposure to different kids of people, it’s a wonder that someone might believe a less diverse, less highly concentrated geography would have better odds!
9. “I never visit Queens, it sucks”
Repeat After Me: “Queens Does Not Suck”. Time Out New York even bows down to the borough in this week’s cover story! Not only is Queens the happiest, most long lived, and most diverse borough, it offers a plethora of fun and exciting activities to break up the L train monotony. From a growing food-scene in Long Island City, to the amazing al fresco dining in Astoria there’s something for every palate. Take a hike, bike, or stroll in Astoria, Forest, or Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Catch up on film history at the Museum of the Moving Image. Go Shopping in Jamaica. Discover the secret Indian Restaurant in the basement of a Hindu Temple in Flushing or just ride the 7 and enjoy the view. Queens is amazing!
The same applies for other non-trending boroughs and neighborhoods. Get out of your comfort zone and Williamsburg/the LES! Don’t shy away from the Bronx or Staten Island until you give them a try. Check out places like the Botanical Gardens, Fresh Kills, Arthur Avenue, and University Heights for a totally new way to think about New York City.
You have probably heard these statements before. Maybe you have even said them, I know I did before I moved to the City, got my bearings, and started paying attention to the reality of the place instead of its reputation. Most of these things are statements I hear from people who don’t live in New York City. To you, I make this humble request: get informed before shit-talking somebody else’s home.