The Problem with Native New Yorkers: On the Importance of Leaving the City

escape from new york

A couple of weeks ago, we published a list of 100 reasons that everyone should live in Brooklyn, if only for a little while. And while that’s a list we fully stand behind, its very existence presupposes that most of the people considering a move to Brooklyn are coming from somewhere else, somewhere far (or even not so far) outside of the five boroughs. But what about native New Yorkers? What about all those people who don’t need to be convinced to live within city limits? What about all those people who grew up with Prospect Park as their playground and the Bronx Zoo as their personal menagerie? What about them? Ah, well. They need to be told to get the fuck out.

With soaring housing costs and news of limited seats in the city’s public schools continuing unabated, it only makes sense that something has to give. The city’s resources (which, we’re finding out now, were artificially inflated during the Bloomberg mayoralty) are stretched beyond their means. And so it only makes sense to dissuade people from coming here, right? We should actually be encouraging people to leave, even if that means we’ll be implicitly calling for a whole slew of Didion-wannabes. It’s worth that risk, right? Sure. Right!

But! Instead of doing what people on the Internet (and, let’s be honest, they’re usually anonymous commenters) usually do and command people to “go back to, Ohio,” we’re taking a different stance. We think it’s the native New Yorkers who should consider leaving, if only for a little while. We’ve been thinking about this for some time, actually, mostly because we spent the winter receiving Instagram dispatches from friends in LA and San Francisco (it’s the produce we long for the most, which says a lot, we guess, about how fun we are), and have felt tempted more than we’d like to admit to pack up the car we don’t own and head for the opposite coast. And yet it sometimes feels impossible to move and relinquish the only home we’ve ever known. New York is special, we tell ourselves. New York is unique. And part of that has to be the New Yorkers themselves, right? Maybe not! Because recently, when reading Jake Dobkin’s “Ask a Native New Yorker” column on Gothamist, we were reminded that many native New Yorkers number among the most  provincial people we know. And we know a lot of people.

In this particular edition of “Ask a Native,” a long-time Park Slope resident asked Dobkin whether or not he should convince his New York-native son to give up on his dream of going to Wesleyan and just attend a New York City college instead. Now, we’re no advice-giving goddess like Heather Havrilesky, but we felt pretty confident that the appropriate response to this query was something along the lines of “if money is not an issue (which it seems like it’s not because you’re also considering NYU and Columbia), do whatever you can to encourage your kid to go out and see the world.” But Dobkin did not see it that way. Not at all.  Instead, Dobkin explicitly stated that leaving New York “often leads to bad outcomes: unhappy kids, transferring, rehab bills,” and that this father should “only [allow his] kid to apply to schools within the five boroughs of NYC. ” Dobkin related his own experience of attempting to leave the city for college, despite being “the kind of NYC kid who got homesick anywhere north of the Bronx,” but then returning to New York via a transfer to Columbia the first chance he could get. Dobkin goes even further, reminding the father that since the son will be attending college in New York, he will then have better access to people who can connect him with a good job, clearly implying that the goal for every New Yorker is to never, ever, EVER have to live anywhere else other than this city because there’s nowhere else like it on earth and how dare you imply that there is and why don’t you go the fuck back to Omaha where you can just go “insane from the boredom.”

Which, BULLSHIT! How is it any less provincial for a New Yorker to claim that there isn’t anywhere else worth living than it would be for someone from small town Texas to say the exact same thing? One of the real luxuries of living in the 21st-century is that we’re afforded the possibility of travel and the attendant exploration of places and cultures different than the ones with which we grew up. It might be easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we have the world at our fingertips simply because we have the Internet at our fingertips, but there’s no substitute for actively participating in the expansion of your world via going out there and actually seeing it. One of the benefits of living in New York City is the diversity of people and cultures found within the span of a few blocks. And that’s great! As far as it goes, if you care about knowing one place well and investing in it deeply, New York is not a bad city to choose. But that comes with a caveat, because for every New Yorker we know who has made it a point to travel far and wide and experience life outside the confines of this city, there are those who live an entire life within the limits of a few square city blocks (i.e. our grandmother, who once told us that there was nothing we would ever need that we couldn’t find south of 116th Street, north of 110th, and between Riverside and Amsterdam… ahhh!).

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with a person who decides to settle down and live their entire life in one location. Planting roots like that is basically the foundation of much of civilization because it afforded people the opportunity to feel stability in a Maslow’s hierarchical kind of way. But! It’s also an indication of stagnation; it betrays a lack of curiosity that is just as disabling as is pathological peripateticism. Because, as it turns out, there was a lot more that we needed than could be found within a small part of Morningside Heights. And there’s a lot more that everyone needs than can be found within these five boroughs. So, yeah, before anyone ever says or even thinks that someone else should go back to Ohio, they might be advised to strongly consider going to Ohio themselves.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen