Philadelphia vs New York live
“8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live,” ran the headline. A photo showed seething traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, gridlocked with moving vans and U-Hauls, with the explanatory text: “Citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and scum and sadness.”
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The headline was fake, and the newspaper was the Onion. But on September 2, 2010, as I sat in my crappy 1,100-square-foot hovel in Brooklyn—where neighborhood gangs regularly tagged my fence and chucked 40s into my yard—I laughed until I peed. And then I lay down on the floor and cried.
I’d lived in New York for nearly a quarter of a century. Things were possible then. You could be a clothes designer and open your own boutique in the East Village. Your band could start up a bar in Williamsburg. You could get your friends to swing a hammer and build a theater company in a work-live loft in Tribeca. After graduating from Columbia in the early 1990s, I worked like a nut at a journalism career, wrote two books published by fancy houses, was on TV a bunch. Later, I had my three young children in Brooklyn, and a crew of mom friends whose children and mine would romp in our living-cum-dining rooms. My life and New York City were a double helix of fabulous.
Then, in late 2007, the recession and my divorce converged. I was 39 and financially responsible for my children. I moved from progressive (read: expensive) Park Slope to edgy (read: less expensive) Red Hook. I lived in fear of foreclosure every month. The lights were shut off on more than one occasion. I qualified for food stamps. I grew vegetables in my anemic yard—not because I was some urban beekeeping eco-vore, but because I couldn’t afford to buy decent produce. By 2010, the only homeowners I knew who weren’t selling for liquid capital were high-financiers or trustafarians. And rents were untenable.
“This place sucks. … It just fucking sucks” was the sham Woody Allen Onion quote. It hit me: I can’t live in New York. Then I was struck by the meta grand piano from a three-story building: What about … Philly?
Honestly, the thought stank. I grew up on the Main Line and was snobbed out by the generations-deep blue-blood apparatus, so when I came of age in the late ’80s, I moved to Center City and attended Temple. Back then, Philly loomed like a menacing, crack-glutted acropolis, and I felt lucky I wasn’t raped or killed wandering around alone, as I often did. When I transferred to Columbia in 1989, I knew for sure: I was never, ever coming back.
But 20-odd years later, it was incontrovertible: Those of us with young families, in the so-called creative class—entrepreneurs, writers, editors, techies, graphics designers, teachers, small-firm ad execs and marketers, architects, anyone in the arts—were now high-status, poorly paid culture workers who could no longer afford to live in New York, especially with children. Things no longer seemed possible because they weren’t.