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

escape from new york

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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

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Well I am a native new yorker and so are both my parents (born and raised in nyc since the 1940’s) and 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are also native new yorkers. In fact, I have family roots in nyc that go back to before the 1850’s in part of my family. I have lived in two other states and let me tell you, I loved it! I lived in nj and Maryland for a total of 6 years before I got divorced and moved back to nyc. I am looking forward to move away again, the only reason why I came back is because of family reasons after my divorce. NYC is too stressful to live in. I hate every minute of living here nowadays…cant wait to get the fuck out again!!

  2. Again, you’re 100% right. I spent the first 30 years of my life in New York City, almost all in Brooklyn, and have come back several times for years at a time. Now, the friends I grew up and spent my 20s with did mostly leave NYC, but of course we came of age in the 1970s, when the city was not what it is today. A lot of my friends at Brooklyn College would spend much of their undergrad years planning to get out. It was the era when people felt slightly sheepish and apologetic about living in Brooklyn.

    But some never left. And I think they paid the price with their provincialism. I wish a good example were readily at hand — senior moment, I guess — but I’ve noticed people calling things by terms that are used only in NYC. And sometimes their ignorance about other parts of the United States is really scary considering that they’re fairly well-educated professionals.

    There are some neurotic people who cannot function outside NYC. We’ve all met them or at least encountered them in public. They are pathetic.

  3. THE PROBLEM W/NATIVE NEW YORKERS IS PRIMARILY HIPSTER SNARKS MASQUERADING AS JOURNALISTS PUBLISHING NONSENSE LIKE THIS. WHAT THE HELL IN IN OHIO EXCEPT LESS OHIO-BORN INHABITANTS WHO HAVE RUN UP LOCAL RENTS AND CONTRIBUTED TO THE RAPID GENTRIFICATION OF ONE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST IMPORTANT CITIES IN THE WORLD , WHICH IS NOW BARELY RECOGNIZABLE ? THE CONTENTION THAT NEW YORKERS ARE MEDIEVAL HERMITS STAGNATING IN THEIR PROVINCIALISM IS ABSURD AS EVEN THE MOST CURSORY OVERVIEW OF THE CITY’S HISTORY BEARS IT OUT AS ONE OF THE MOST COSMOPOLITAN PLACES IN THE WORLD.I PRAISE EVERY BORN AND BRED NEW YORKER WHO PULVERIZES THE CONCEPT OF ALLOWING NYC TO BECOME ‘STOP 210 ON THE MAGICAL HIPSTER WANDERLUST TOUR’ , A CHEAP IMITATION OF SOME LONG HELD ADOLESCENT WHIM OF MIMICKING KEROUAC. WHAT UTTER RUBBISH.

  4. I wonder how many native new yorkers BKmag employs??
    NYC is done. You all have sucked it dry and its on life support. You talk about having all these cultures within a few blocks but even that is almost non existent in certain neighborhoods.
    Same hipster type a guy and type A girl. How is that diversity?
    You have no right to tell a native of any land to leave you gentrifier/colonizer/settler.

    RIP NYC. You can have it but please don’t ruin Oakland just because it’s close to San Fran.

  5. You first, Kristin. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out to River City or whatever flyover hellhole you think will make you happy. This native New Yorker is gonna stay in his rent-controlled two bedroom until EMTs carry me out in a black bag.

  6. This entire argument for native NYers to move somewhere else is a reaction to a blurb in a Gothamist article. Yes, all the native NYers should move out (and let’s give up what rent controlled spaces are left, while we’re at it) so there can be an even bigger influx of transplant dildoids moving in to those now vacant spaces. That way we can truly degrade what makes NY great a hundred fold.
    “Because, as it turns out, there was a lot more that we needed than could be found within a small part of Morningside Heights.” So leave and don’t ever come back. Thanks.

  7. I’m a native Brooklynite from the part of Brooklyn where you have to take a bus to get to a train, and then it’s still an hour to Manhattan, and what the author is talking about is exactly what I grew up around. Provincial Brooklyn is a backwards thinking as any imagined Southern backwater.

    The real problem IMO is that Brooklyn used to carry a tough Do The Right Thing/Goodfellas kind of thing, and since North Brooklyn became gentrified, that went away…and it’s not coming back. Losing that tough/cool factor is more devastating to natives than any increase in rent.

  8. Back in the day I went to school with a kid who never stepped outside of Queens. We called these types of kids urban hicks. But if I had to choose between an urban hick or a hipster–give me the native and his fuggetabout accent any day of the week. At least the urban hick is a genuine, not some entitled little shit who moved here 4 months ago complaining about the annoying newcomers encroaching all the brunch spots.

    The problem with this article lies in the utter lack of understanding on the author’s part of what it is to grow up in a city that everybody wants a piece of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked someone where they’re from, only to be told they live in Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s not what I asked. When pressed, these folks will finally admit with a hint of shame and self-imposed guilt they’re from Ohio or somewhere else. Own up to your roots transplants and stop trying to change the roots that NY has got. This is a city of immigrants, we natives (as rare as we are) get it, but please do us favor–don’t come here and tell us to get the fuck out. If this were the 80’s, you’d get bitch-slapped by a lock in a sock. Or worse, thrown off the High Line. Now try to imagine that.

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