Sunday, August 31, 2008

New York with blinders on

You know you've made it in New York if you can, without leaving city boundaries, lead a life that in no way resembles... life in New York. If things go well, you can mow your own lawn in Manhattan or park your very own car in a garage. Next, the elite of our city will have their very own personal Walmart, a members-only megachurch, and other exurban delights that the less well-to-do among New Yorkers think of as things no one in New York would even want. This may seem absurd, but the new fetishization of farming--tied to the organic-foods movement, and popular especially with the wealthy--is just one more way New Yorkers fantasize about life anywhere else while paying massive sums to stay put.

Obviously, there are certain New York experiences we'd all (or most) gladly pay our ways out of. The subway, for one, although I'd sooner trade it for a walk than a drive to work. The walk-up apartments. The impossibility--due both to the size of apartments and the necessity of cars outside the city--of purchasing anything in bulk.

In a sense, these elites just want the best of both worlds, a chance to live close to interesting job opportunities and museums, without an accompanying need to bring laundry to a laundromat. The people who use their wealth to recreate fantasy versions of poverty, who pay tons to live in pseudosqualor in Williamsburg, are the city's most-mocked demographic. But this approach is both less popular and, at any rate, ceases to have much appeal to those over 23. The common goal to which most now strive is to be as sheltered as possible from all that is urban. To an extent this is nothing new, but I get the sense that today, with the city much safer and wealthier, with more people living here to work in banking and fewer doing so to escape what they perceive of as the suburban conformism of their childhoods, there's now this significant population of New Yorkers who all-out hate city life.

I find this depressing. Not as someone who love-love-loves New York, but as someone who's from here and who, like anyone from anywhere, sees my hometown as normal and everywhere else as odd. It's parochial pride more than anything making me ask, is it really that bad to live in New York? Is Wall Street really the only reason to live in this town? Just as we forget the reasons we as a species first abandoned the 'organic' lifestyle, many New Yorkers forget why they left home for this place.

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