Just last week, Virginia Smith relayed information about where to move if, you know, you love New York but it's bringing you down. And then it turns out that there is real evidence speaking to the fact that you really ought to just get the hell out of this city because it's not just miserable in your mind, it's actually really terrible here. Like, empirically so. That's right. Forbes released its list of the 20 most miserable cities in the US and New York is on that list at number 10, right in the middle of all the miserable cities. That's us—moderately miserable. That sounds about right.
So what is it exactly about New York that makes us so miserable? Why do we all lead such tortured lives? Well, even though New York "offer[s] a myriad of opportunities and positives as the home of financial centers, world-class culture, leading universities, sports teams galore and high-end restaurants" it also has one of the highest tax rates for any urban center and boasts the longest average commute time (36 minutes) of any of the other cities. So, basically, New York is expensive and we all spend a lot of time getting around. To which I say, ok. Sure. That's right! But is that really so terrible?
I mean, I don't like paying high taxes, but I do think it's part of living as a member of a functioning society. And as far as the long commute goes, well, I'd rather spend an extra ten minutes commuting by subway, where I get to read and ignore people, than have to drive in a car, where I'd have to pay attention to people and all the stuff going on around me. Getting to take public transportation is basically a huge privilege, I think. Anyway, the most telling figure in this pathos-plagued list of miserable cities is the one noting how many people are moving out of New York. Although New York doesn't have as many foreclosures or people fleeing as Detroit does, the city's population is expected to decrease in the next few years by well over 100,000 residents as more people move out than move in. And now that the Times has helpfully informed us that all of the really cool and important members of the creative class are creating their own "hipsturbias" up in Westchester, we know that the end is imminent. New York as we know it is kind of over. But! Before we all flee to twee little towns at various points up the Hudson, let's stop a minute and think about what makes New York not such a miserable place. Really, it's not so bad at all.
So, ok. This is kind of a weak starting point, maybe, because lately it seems like we hear about a different terrible accident on the subway every day. And, of course, the latest MTA fare increase is about to go into effect. But it's really not all that bad, you guys. We still have the most comprehensive public transportation system in the country and it's by far the most convenient way to get around this city. Other than maybe by bicycle, which is also a transportation method that is getting easier and easier to use. This is all a good thing. As I mentioned before, it's stupid for our longer than average commutes to be thought of as a terrible thing. You can read on the subway. Or you can just stare at your fellow New Yorkers, like I do. It's strangely meditative to watch someone clip their fingernails on the F train. Just be careful not to let an errant shard get into your eye. But these kinds of interactions let us know that we're living in civilization, not some insular bubble like all those people in the suburbs. This is humanity, warts and all.
I know it's still February, but it already feels like spring is in the air, right? And probably you think this is a good thing, because probably you like warm weather and green stuff on trees and iced coffee. All of that is totally legitimate, but I'd like to point out that we just got through a whole winter and it really wasn't so bad at all. In fact, it was kind of great, wasn't it? It was cold, sure, but then you got to have the fun of warming up once you were inside. And we had that one great snowstorm. Wasn't that not so bad at all? It didn't screw up the subways and it was on the weekend, so you could enjoy it without having to worry about your commute, and if you went to Prospect Park or Ft Greene Park you got to see all the families out sledding and having fun and it was like a scene from a Breughel painting and it was all just great. Winter came and I really, really liked it.
Spring Is Coming
But maybe you didn't like winter? Maybe you really, really don't like the cold or the wind or hot toddies? Well, no problem! It's really not so bad at all. Spring is coming. And for many people, spring in New York is a magical thing. For one thing, it's baseball season. Which (and some people I work with will disagree with me but I don't care) is even better than hockey season. Although—luckily—the seasons overlap, and so this really makes spring not so bad after all. Plus all those ginkgo trees start flowering and they're so pretty and their blossoms smell just like semen and it makes walking down the street so wonderfully awkward and that's spring in New York, you guys.
Diversity Is Still a Real Thing Here
Rents are ridiculous. And buying property in Brooklyn is unfathomable for all too many people. This has definitely led to many residents reassessing whether or not they can afford to stay here. This has even led to some people leaving to create their own private "hipsturbia" miles away from New York City. But what they find when they get there is, as the Times put it, a "relative lack of racial diversity [that] is striking to newcomers." Well, guess what? There is still a ton of racial, cultural, social, and economic diversity here in Brooklyn. And not to sound too Pollyanna about the whole thing (although I liked the movie "Pollyanna" as a kid and totally coveted Hayley Mills's button-up, turn-of-the-century shoes) but this is a thing we can all feel not too bad about. Yes, there are huge disparities in this city, but there are also a lot of people working to right certain wrongs and a lot of instances of people coming together and doing community-building instead of just running away to make vegan soap in a commuter town half an hour away on the Metro North. This is a good thing and a reason why New York is really not so bad after all.
I mean, everyone wants a little danger in their lives, right? If you wanted a safe and boring life you wouldn't be living here at all. Or, even worse than a safe life, is just a plain old easy life. Who doesn't want to struggle? Dead people. Dead people don't want to struggle. Even little babies want to struggle. Have you ever seen a baby reach for something that's just a little too far away? It's terrible and beautiful all at once because it's so human. And that's what living in New York is. We're all babies. We're all terrible and beautiful babies who get over-stimulated by the sounds and the lights and the moving objects and the people making funny faces. Living here means we're always young and always hungry and things are never easy and sometimes we shit ourselves because we just can't help it, but you know what? It's not that bad. Because we're alive.
A thing that is not so bad about living in New York is that you can get away with living your life as exaggeratedly as possible. Can you do that other places? I don't know! I don't care, either. Not really. I feel like if you live somewhere like Flint, Michigan, you can easily talk about how it is the worst place ever. But you can never talk about how it is the best. Because you would have nothing to back up that assertion. The same holds true for living in Napa or something. You can say that it's the best, but never that it's the worst. What's cool about living in New York is that it is both the best and the worst at the same time. Everything is really extreme. Even our storms are out of control. Nothing is normal here and so everything is better. Or worse. Which is also kind of the best.
There's Nowhere Else Like It
I mean, I'm certainly not the first person to say this, but New York is not like anywhere else. I mean, I guess anywhere is not like anywhere else? But none of any of those other places are anything like New York. Now, you might not really like New York. And that's fine. For you. By all means, go and move to hipsturbia or Napa or even Flint, Michigan. Do what you need to do. But don't forget what you're giving up, which is a place of striving and opportunism and desire and frustration and highs and lows and elation and misery. This is a city with seasons. You'll shiver and you'll sweat. It is not a place that should ever be ranked in the middle of a stupid list of miserable cities. New York is both the most and the least miserable place you'll ever live. What it is not is mediocre. Save your mediocre spot for Boston, Forbes. New York is the best, and the worst. And it always will be.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen