If You Don’t Like New York, You Don’t Have to Stay

moby musician los angeles new york
Moby, safe in Los Angeles, via New York Times

Thanks to the publication of a book and a proliferation of essays, “Goodbye to All That” has become shorthand for a new literary genre: the Why I’m Leaving New York piece, in which a writer who may or may not be a celebrity explains to you the reasons they’ll no longer call this city home. The subtext in almost of all of these pieces is that you shouldn’t live here, either, or that it’s not the writer’s fault for leaving but the city’s. This whole issue is, like, almost six months old, and I’d just leave it alone, except people are still contributing to this newly revived genre! The latest is from Moby, who wrote a piece for Creative Time Reports ostensibly about why he moved to Los Angeles that’s mostly about why he moved out of New York—it’s a classic Big Apple takedown, tearing down a giant in the popular consciousness to… what?

This isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate problems with the city: during the decade-plus of Bloomberg, his focus was on accommodating more wealth, rezoning neighborhoods to welcome affluent international buyers into glass-tower pieds-à-terre, encouraging big-money business like investment banking and real estate development at the expense of working-class industries like manufacturing. We have a homelessness problem. We have a problem of income disparity. But these are problems many New Yorkers are aware of and are working on to fix—or at least ameliorate. Still, it can be very difficult to pay your rent here, especially if you’re also trying to raise a family. Difficult, but not impossible—if you’re still committed to the city, you can find ways to make it work.

“I was so accustomed to the city’s absurd cult of money that it took me years to notice I didn’t have any artist friends left in Manhattan,” Moby writes, “and the artists and musicians I knew were slowly moving farther and farther east, with many parts of Brooklyn even becoming too pricey for aspiring or working artists.” This is all he has to say about that, really, the rhetorical device at work suggesting that you can’t be a struggling artist and pay rent in Manhattan, and even parts of Brooklyn are expensive, so who could live in New York? But of course that’s simplistic: it discounts the whole of Queens, the Bronx, even Staten Island, as well as the many parts of Brooklyn—which Moby later vaguely dismisses as “the worst part[s] of Brooklyn”—where rents don’t rival those in Manhattan or Williamsburg (even if they’re still unforgivably high). To dismiss entire swaths of the city is to dismiss all the people who do live and work in those neighborhoods, some of them in capacities, say, to expand arts outreach to communities ignored by people like Moby. “Part of why these pieces… piss me off is because they dismiss out of hand myself and all of the creative people I know living in New York,” my friend Jillian Steinhauer writes at Hyperallergic. New York isn’t just a place where people are hustling to make it—it’s also a place where millions of people live like they do anywhere else.

But Moby’s experience of New York is limited to the Manhattan-centric bubble into which he was born and where he began to encounter more people who were cultural consumers but not creators. “New York had entered the pantheon of big cities that people visit and observe and patronize and document, but don’t actually add to, like Paris,” he writes. “No one goes to Paris imagining how they can contribute to the city. People go to Paris thinking, ‘Wow, I want to get my picture taken with Paris in the background.’ That’s what New York became, a victim of its own photogenic beauty and success.” What the hell is he talking about? Tourists? Do people move to Paris thinking about all the snapshots they’ll take without thinking of how they’ll live in the city as a part of it? Give me a break.

The larger problem with Moby’s essay is that he confuses his limited personal experience of New York with the way it is everywhere for everyone. “New York is exclusively about success,” he writes. Which is as silly as me writing, “New York isn’t about success at all!” For some people, their personal New York will be about nothing but success and money and the things you can buy with it. But if that’s the New York you’re in and it’s not the one you want, you don’t have to move to LA or Portland or St. Louis. (Though if you want to, go ahead! Spread art all around America and find what works best for you!) You might also move to a different part of New York, travel in different circles, and re-create your experience of the city as one in which you’d want to live. There are still merits to living here—the unparalleled access to film and theater and music and literature, for example—and, for all the reasons to leave, a whole lot of reasons to stay, too. Chief among them? To work to make New York better.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart