Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who Wants to Live in New York?

In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley reviews a new book by journalist David Owen (not, I presume, the British politician of the same name) called Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability. Yardley quotes the book:

A former resident of Manhattan who has lived for many years in a rather remote Connecticut town, Owen finds in New York City, Manhattan in particular, a model that the rest of the country could profitably emulate. A city of "extreme compactness," New York "is the greenest community in the United States." The "average Manhattanite consumes gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn't matched since the mid-1920s," and "eighty-two percent of employed Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot," which is "ten times the rate for Americans in general, and eight times the rate for workers in Los Angeles County." It all derives from being a very crowded place:

"Manhattan's density is approximately 67,000 people per square mile, or more than eight hundred times that of the nation as a whole and roughly thirty times that of Los Angeles. Placing one and a half million people on a twenty-three-square-mile island sharply reduces their opportunities to be wasteful, enables most of them to get by without owning cars, encourages them to keep their families small, and forces the majority to live in some of the most inherently energy-efficient residential structures in the world: apartment buildings. It also frees huge tracts of land for the rest of America to sprawl into."
A "model that the rest of the country could profitably emulate"? Really?

Well, it's possible, given a sufficient level of coercion. The fact is, if people wanted to live in cities like New York, they would have already chosen to do so.

New York attracts nearly 50 million tourists from around the world each year. In 2007 and 2008, more than 37 million came from the United States alone. An incredible 35 million people visited Times Square in 2007. (By comparison, only 6.7 visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris.)

Those tens of millions of tourists don't arrive back home and say, "I want to replicate the New York living experience right here." If they are like me and most of the people I know, they view New York as a nice place to visit for a few days, but think that it would be a most unpleasant place to live. As Marianna Allen (a Mask & Bauble colleague from Georgetown days gone by) sang on the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along:
"Who wants to live in New York?
Who wants the worry, the noise, the dirt, the heat?
Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street — ?"
I know I'll be scolded by residents of the five boroughs, many of whom would never choose to live anywhere else. But that's their choice; it's not mine, and it's not the choice of the 290 million Americans who prefer not to live in New York or in urban conglomerations very much like it.

Authors like David Owen are condescending control freaks who think that most Americans are not smart enough, or sophisticated enough, or sensitive enough, to pursue the lifestyles that Owen and his ilk would impose on us. They disdain the choices people make as a consequence of being free and liking it.

And why, if Owen thinks New York is the ideal place to live, does he live in "a remote Connecticut town"?

Because he chooses to do so. I respect his choice (hypocritical though it might be) and he should respect mine and that of every other American.

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1 comment:

Steven Latimer said...

Groan ... you're bringing back memories to my Urban Planning class I had to take in college. It was terrible.