It’s a tale of two cities. It’s a place where gangs of casually-clad joggers commandeer public space outside Central Park to bend their legs into abnormal positions, while fashion-forward celebrities lounge over restrictively-priced delicacies in the Trump Tower restaurant across the street.
The prohibitiveness to living well in New York is overlooked by its residents, who pay an exorbitant cost to live in an average manner. This is perhaps why the city’s authorities go to great lengths to ensure that there are an endless variety of free distractions of the highest quality. The result being that the people complain less about the dirt and the danger, and extol in ecstatic tones the unparalleled greatness of the city’s offerings and opportunities.
There is no doubt that the city is dangerous and dirty. To this day, there are large parts of Manhattan – what many consider the greatest island on Earth – in which one cannot walk with surety of one’s safety. In even the tourist-heavy areas, garbage is strewn on the streets, upon which are placed at regular intervals human beings of exemplary degradation, left to rot both physically and mentally.
To say that it is better now than it was before is a denial of the great city’s responsibility to its disenfranchised. To say that the griminess of the subway is charming is to ignore the heady stench of crime that remains a hallmark of the city, which seems to spend a great deal of effort enticing people to look up at its pretty marvels rather than down at its dirty truths.
To live in New York is to pay for the privilege of being trodden upon. There are very few cities in which you can pay as much to live as poorly. There is, however, nowhere else that you will be as happy to do so.
That is because New York is a crucible for passion. Everyone you are likely to meet is continually on-the-go, excited about life and its prospects. They are all engaged in atypical endeavours that could only exist in a place like New York, where all things imagined come to life.
New York is the fertile soil that births dreams. It has never lost its New World character, whose two essential aphorisms are: ‘everything is possible,’ and ‘only the strong survive.’
But, that first aphorism – ‘everything is possible’ – is only valid in conjunction with the second: ‘only the strong survive.’ It is true that New York offers the opportunity to be anything, but the price is high, and most do not survive the fire of the forge. Even so, New York can be that smouldering forge in which every man hammers out his own future, fashioned by his own hands, without the restrictions of tradition or establishment.
New York’s traditional foes, London and Moscow, represented to the freedom-loving city the vestiges of those old shackles. The ideology of Moscow, a city with a whiff of decrepitude in the air, was a place where the restrictions of established political structures would forbid a man from gaining the resources needed to forge his own destiny. The social strictures of aristocratic London, a city that is fascinated with the perpetual relevance of its own majesty, would never allow a man to gain more respect than his name allowed, no matter how much wealth he accrued.
Born a mishmash, a place without culture or cultivation, New York was a place where enterprising farmers came to seek their fortunes, escaping an aristocratic Europe where they could never fulfil their upwardly mobile aspirations. In this democratising New World, where everyone was worth only as much as their merit proved, those farmers became industrial magnates within a generation, proving that this was a place where it was the strength of your will that made you, not your name.
That idyllic history retains its grasp on the minds of people today, formulating for them the propelling thought: I can make something of myself here. And perhaps they can. But, the great promise of New York is a fleck of light – something you can’t grasp. The city is the living metaphor of the consumerist dream, populated by too many people who believe that simply being in the orbit of the great city will make their dreams come true.
A place unburdened by history or culture, New York remains, in the popular imagination, a place where one can be what one chooses. For those who are consumed with the need to disrupt norms that restrict their destinies, there is no other place to actualise their visions. It is a place for people who are not willing to do what they’re told. It is a place for people who, for one reason or another, cannot stomach being normal.