There was a lot about which I agreed – primarily being befuddled when non-native New Yorkers wanted to ask me about my favorite bars and clubs, and me (and her) meeting their requests with an air of befuddlement. Our New York City is not one of clubs and bars, but of where we grew up. The hot new club is not the typical hang-out of a 12-year-old (although, I’m having a flashback to Kimmy Schmidt, where the rich teen goes everywhere, so this might not be entirely accurate).
But what really struck me about McArdle’s piece was this line: “We left because those of us who grew up there were less willing to bear any burden, pay any price to stay.”
The operative word there: willing.
And it hit me that McArdle is writing from a particular standpoint: one of a moderately wealthy New York family (if you lived in the Upper West Side at any point in the last 20 years, you were moderately wealthy.)
And with (moderate) wealth comes the luxury of choice. She could choose to leave New York City. Others – such as lower middle-class workers who had never lived anywhere but New York and were heartbroken to think of leaving it – were effectively thrown out on the street when the price of everything grew beyond their reach.
She talks about her background, of her parents not being from the city but somehow acclimating and becoming tried and true New Yorkers. But what of the multitudes of blue-collar workers whose parents, and grandparents, arrived on boats sailing into Ellis Island who opted to stay? They eked out livings in the dirty, unforgiving streets for decades, committed to making it in “the city”. Committed to sending their children to proper schools. And they did it, and their children remained there.
But paying the bills got much, much harder, as a wave of gentrification and price increases on food, transport, and life became ever steeper. And those children had no choice but to leave, or face financial ruin.
Of course it was easier for McArdle to leave New York City. Her roots were elsewhere. She didn’t feel the city in her bones, I would argue. She didn’t see the city as the place where her forebears had struggled and come out, ever so slightly ahead, despite all the odds, through the generations.
For those of us of working-class ilk, we were thrust out by our inability to pay obscene prices for less-than-standard living spaces. These people, if they were smart, left New York. The working-class neighborhoods of the outer boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, even Staten Island, which is its own beast), are increasingly being taken over by moneyed offspring wearing signature beards and plaid shirts. And the working class culture of New York – that from which sprang Arthur Miller and George Gershwin and so many others – has all but disappeared.
Which left me with this other thought: who is covering New York from this oh so vital perspective? As university tuition gets more and more astronomical, and j-school prices follow suit, that awful future we were warned about seems to be upon us, where only the privileged masses who can afford the suffocating tuition rates and the years of relative payless-ness break through to major media outlets. And the New York they write about is seen only through these privileged eyes.
Once upon a time in my not-so-distant youth, the New York Daily News served that function, standing with the unions and the firemen and policemen to combat privilege and City Hall and fight for the working population.
But those days are gone.
And I have yet to see anything, or anyone, take its place.
‘Real’ New Yorkers would never have believed they’d see the day where the working poor couldn’t find a way to make it in their beloved city. But it looks like that day has come.