Scrolling through my newsfeed recently I stumbled across an article comparing two great cities–New York and Paris. As I often do when the tagline does not entice me enough to gander the whole article, I clicked to view the comments; I was curious enough to peek what people were saying. After reading a few from homers vying for one city or the other, I landed on one particularly snarky commenter. “Come to Chicago–we have EVERYTHING they have and we’re not assholes!”, she wrote.
As tempted as I was to start a dialogue with this 40-something mother of two (my reaction of “Who is this b—-?” was of course followed by peeping her profile), I deleted the start of my reply to her comment and stuck to my rule of not engaging ridiculous strangers on social media. Still, her comment irked me; Chicagoans and other midwestern people are so quick to jump to say “New Yorkers are jerks”. It seems this slight is consistently necessary if set to defend their own beloved city.
I’m a midwestern girl myself; I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I also lived in Chicago for almost 6 years–4 of those were spent in undergrad at DePaul University. That college choice was an easy one for me–I was eager to live in a big city but wasn’t ready for New York or LA. I had relatives in Chicago and had been going there every summer with my family since I was little. Plus, it was just a short 4 hour drive from home. People from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin all end up in Chicago for much the same reason–they get their “big city”, but not too far from their hometown. I try and go back and visit Chicago as often as I can and it almost never fails that I run into someone from Ann Arbor.
Before I moved to New York in January of 2010, I got plenty of warnings and advice from my midwestern fellows on surviving the Big Apple. While there were several people who were genuinely excited for me, many others patted me on the arm as if to say, “Good luck with that, we’ll be here when you come back.” It’s funny, I myself was not overly energetic about New York specifically. I had been to the city twice and had not walked away with a great general impression of it; it was fast and dirty. Still, I was desperate for a change. At the end of November 2009, my sister learned the apartment next to her in Brooklyn was available to sublet. Six weeks later I was on a plane, headed to my new home. I had yet to acquire any love for New York City, but I had all the hope in the world for it.
After living here for almost 6 years (4 more and I can officially call myself a New Yorker!), my feelings about and impressions of the city have changed dramatically. Since I hear the same sentiment of that snarky Chicago commenter echoed often from other midwestern folk, I thought it my duty to shine a light on a different perspective of the city–one you might not get from your 2-day work trip spent in midtown or from the Real Housewives of New York City (it is unbelievable how many people form such strong opinions about a place without ever having set foot in it!).
Here, a few of the most common criticisms–explained if not defended:
“It’s so dirty!”
So I’ll admit it, one thing Chicago definitely has on New York is it’s alleys. It is much easier to keep the city streets looking pristine when you can dump everything behind and in between buildings. Unfortunately for us, every inch of city concrete is prime real estate–space for an alley means space for development. This means all the garbage that the millions of residents and tourists produce has to go on the sidewalks to be picked up. Waste management is always at the top of the local administration’s list of things that need to be improved; some neighborhoods have a better handle on it than others.
The truth is, when most people come to visit they book hotels somewhere near Times Square and don’t bother to venture out into any other areas. If you do this, you’re guaranteed to be left with a less than favorable impression of the city streets. This area is packed with tourists who come here with the disrespectful notion that it is ok to just drop their garbage wherever they please. Like most New Yorkers, I avoid the area, unless it cannot be helped. If some appointment does force me between 34th and 50th street, I can guarantee you’ll find me chewing out at least one tourist for littering.
If you get out of midtown you’ll find that many other areas of Manhattan and the other boroughs (yes, these are a part of NYC–they are not the suburbs and they are not scary…go to them!) are more well kept. People live in these neighborhoods and take pride in them. You’ll be delighted by the beauty and the diversity of the architecture in each part of the city; every neighborhood has it’s own feel. Some streets are flawless, others are more gritty. When you live here, you grow to have a yearning and an appreciation for all of it.
“It’s not safe!”
So I have a girlfriend who lives way out in the boondocks of Wisconsin. More than once she has said to me, “How can you live in New York, aren’t you scared?”. I laugh at this question every single time and respond, “Um no girl, haven’t you seen Dateline?”. “All that stuff is happening out where you live–where if someone broke into your house there is no one for miles to hear you scream.”
I have visited a lot of different cities and there is nowhere I have felt safer than New York. While we loved San Francisco, we found it difficult to navigate in terms of safety. We would be in a lovely neighborhood and think all was well, then we’d turn a corner and wonder, “Should be we walking around over here?”. I NEVER feel that way in New York. The streets, neighborhoods, and subways are a breeze to navigate, areas are well lit, and it’s rare to find yourself walking on a sidewalk alone, even late at night. People are always out doing things; I take great comfort in the company of my neighbors.
Oh, and those alleys Chicago gets to boast about for their garbage? They can keep them as far as I am concerned when it comes to safety. Walking home late at night during undergrad I often felt uneasy–you never knew if someone was lurking in those poorly lit spaces between each building.
“There’s no natural beauty!”
If you can’t find a beautiful green space in NYC then you must not be looking. Our city spends millions each year developing and maintaining our wonderful parks and recreation areas. To me, these parks are one of the biggest perks to living in the city. What can I say, I’m a sucker for green all around me and skyscrapers all above me.
“It’s so crowded!”
The engaging cabby who drove me home from the grocery store the other day has been here for 11 years–he came from Pakistan in search of more opportunity. This amazing girl–Vanessa, who just started cleaning at the office I work at, has only been here a few months; she came from Honduras. She risked her life getting here, narrowly escaping the brutal violence that now engulfs her country.
Over 56 million tourists come from near and far to visit New York City each year. People from all over the United States and all over the world.
Diversity lives here. People want to visit. People want to stay. Of course a few throw their hands up and exclaim “It’s not worth it!”. They move Upstate or to Jersey. But, overwhelmingly, people want to be here.
There are those who prefer to eat at a restaurant where there’s never any wait–even if the food is a bit underwhelming, they know what they are getting and they can always get a table. Others have a little more patience–they’d rather check out what they’re serving at the place with the line around the block. They are intrigued; they know what they’ll get there cannot be had anywhere else.
It’s crowded here but people are willing to wait. All the fuss is about something.
“The people are assholes!”
This is the one that feels most important to clear up. When I first moved here, I was actually worried about the type of people I would encounter based off of every midwesterner’s supposed past confrontations. After a ton of great experiences with New Yorkers I realized there was a reason most of their negative stories started out something like, “My friend’s friend who went there a few years ago…”.
It makes me teary-eyed now to think of how many times in the first 6 months I was here someone helped me find my way when I was lost. So many of those times I didn’t even ask for help; some kind soul around me could just sense that I was panicking inside–not knowing where I was and positive I was about to be late to an interview or even my very first day of work. I’m proud to say that I’ve developed that sense now myself. When I see someone nervously staring at the subway map every time we pass another stop, I gladly offer to point them in the right direction if I can.
I live right next to the Brooklyn Bridge and get stopped almost daily for directions to the entrance or to the park. I gladly give them and can’t help but notice the delighted surprise of each tourist at the end of our interaction. Whether they are foreign or domestic travelers, they always thank me with smiles that seem to say “Wow, we didn’t expect you to be so nice!”.
New Yorkers are nice! At least they are my kind of nice. True, it is not the south. Most people here will not smile at you or start up a conversation on a whim. Not everyone has time for pleasantries with strangers and if you’re like me, you appreciate that. That being said, New Yorkers will help you find your way if you are lost. They’ll also tell you there’s nowhere worth eating in the theater district, and to avoid a subway car that’s completely empty. You may not get a “howdy” from everyone you walk past, but they’ll be there for you when it counts.
Of course whether you live in a big city, a small town, or someplace in between, there are assholes everywhere. I must say though, I have to give an extra point to New York assholes for their directness. Coming from the midwest–the land of passive aggression, I find the transparency extremely refreshing.
There are families in New York. There are playgrounds all around cause there are tons of little kids to play on them. There are dogs parks all around cause there are tons of dogs to run around in them. I guess my point is that New Yorkers are people too. There are so many warm, inviting souls here…they even decorate for Halloween!!
There are so many great cities around the U.S. and throughout the world. You’ll notice I haven’t found it necessary to dog any of them while singing New York’s praises. When I talk to anyone here about Chicago I hear one of two things: “Chicago is such a fun city, I had a great time there.” Or, “I’ve never been there, I definitely want to check it out some day.”
Here, there is not a whisper or even the slightest sense of competition between the two cities. I guess it’s just a confidence that the Big Apple has. Go ahead and call us dirty, call us smelly, call us assholes–just as long as you call us New Yorkers as well, it’s all good.
ps–LET’S GO METS!!