I’m generally interested in writing about issues that I believe are pressing concerns for our generation. However, for a change I felt like writing an altogether more upbeat and personal post this week about a very positive and formative experience in my life. Living in New York.
New York has certainly had its share of problems over the years. From being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, through to suffering the tragedy of 9/11 it has been through a lot as a city. And it still has its fair share of problems, from huge disparities of wealth, to significant levels of homelessness, and poor healthcare provision. Yet somehow, despite all this, it has emerged as, what I believe to be, the best living example, of a truly global and multicultural city, on the face of this planet. So what is it that makes New York tick in the way it does? And on a personal note why did I fall so head over heels in love with it?
New York postcards tend to depict the unparalleled Manhattan skyline, the majesterial statue of liberty, the grandiose empire state building, one of the city’s magnificent bridges, or the lush beauty of Central Park. All of these landmarks are undoubtedly awe inspiring in their own right. Beyond these, New York also has restaurants showcasing cuisines from every corner of the world, art and theatre to rival anywhere in the world, and live music every night of the week. It is truly a city that never sleeps, with its 24 hour nightlife or its round the clock convenience whether in terms of travel, food, or anything imaginable. All these characteristics will of course keep the steady flow of tourists coming back. But it is something else altogether that makes this city truly special and is what gets its hooks into those who stay long enough, and are curious enough, to experience it.
What makes New York truly unique, what gives it its soul, in my view, is the melting pot of people that inhabit the city. New York has the largest foreign born population of any city in the world. Given the proportion of American non-New Yorkers I’ve met here I would guess it also has the largest number of inhabitants born in America but outside of the city. However, it is not these numbers in themselves that make it special but rather the environment that results from the combined interactions of the population. In this instance the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. At this point I could wax lyrical about the go-getter attitude of New Yorkers, a characteristic so often found in immigrants. Or about the buzz and energy created by such an eclectic population. While these things certainly contribute to my overall love for the city they all pale in comparison to what I would simply call the open mindedness of New Yorkers.
New York is a city where whatever the colour of your skin, your sexual orientation, your set of beliefs you can feel free to express yourself, free from judgement. Not only that but you are certain to find at the very least a subculture of people with whom you have an affiliation. The diversity is quite astounding. And what make it all the more amazing is that more often than not differences are celebrated in this city and bring people closer together rather than isolating them from one another. In most of the world we see, on a daily basis, the smallest differences between people leading to full blown wars and other horrors. Why then in New York are these same differences, and far greater ones, for the most part celebrated rather than utilised as sources of division?
My theory is that everyone in New York feels in at least one way or another to be a minority or at least different. And by feeling different it is therefore far easier for one to empathise with someone else’s own feeling of being different. Why is New York unique in this respect? Because it is a city that was built by immigrants, and that continues to evolve through the transplants it attracts from across the country and the world. Ask any “real” New Yorker and they’ll tell you without blinking that they feel like a minority in their own city. The city’s transient and constantly evolving population ensuring that those born and raised in the city are indeed outnumbered.
The beauty of this is the virtuous circle that is created. As New York becomes ever more diverse in its composition, the more accepting of these differences its inhabitants become. This in turn attracts like-minded people from outside its five boroughs, therefore further reinforcing this mindset of openness and acceptance. While there are of course bumps along the way, New York is truly out on its own in terms of its level of diversity. Yet through the collective will of its population it has found a way for these people to live happily together in often ridiculously close confines. Not just in a way that allows for diversity, but in a way that celebrates this diversity. Living in New York has certainly helped my own growth, helping me to embrace my own idiosyncrasies and pushing me in my journey to discover my true self. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather have spent the last 3 years of my life and look forward to what the next has to offer!