Bad, Worse, Worst, By Cracky

July 13th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Dig in the cliché bag. You don’t have to go far to find, ta da, that no one can afford to live in Manhattan.

My recurring chuckle on that emerged after reading a humor piece One of the Grumpy Old Men of the Blogosphere. As he writes, “I walk around smacking the young folks with my cane and tell them that when I started blogging seven years ago it was a different blogosphere than it is now.”

Thus it is on so many topics, including NYC.

A few weeks ago, number one son considered another job, moving from Davis Square. One of the company’s options was California and another 200 miles South. He commented that Manhattan, where he was born and lived his first six months, was far too expensive.

Where’s my cane?

Truth be told, residents of the City have told that truth for well over a century, like Bostonian love to brag about ephemeral weather. Even such visitors as Mark Twain spoke of that, as in 1876. Before the pop term meme, pride in the mercurial weather was conversation filler and marginal assertion.

Let’s set aside that over 1.5 million live in Manhattan, over 8 million in the five boroughs, and over 18 million in the metro area. Let’s pretend that they all moved there decades ago, “the last time the area was affordable” or that they inherited a rent stabilized flat.

If that’s not enough to kill the cost fantasy:

  1. Compare NYC prices to other high-rent/ownership cities
  2. Ask old, long-term locals

I got my first lessons in this shtick in the 1960s, when I was in high school about 20 miles west in New Jersey. Having moved from exurban Virginia, I was ready for a real city and thrilled to be there. For a small bag of dirt (under a buck, really), a bus would drive into the Port Authority station. I was a regular.

Many other students were afraid to go and had parents who refused to let them take the bus to see the larger world. I think of one of our class trips, to visit the United Nations, when a teacher asked the captives how many had been to Manhattan before. I thought that had to be a stupid question and that surely 100% would raise a hand. Under half did, including my seatmate, who said his father had been last when he left the Army there after WWII ended, over 20 years before. That dad found it dirty and did not feel safe, so he and his family had sat 22 miles west all those years without the museums, shows, restaurants, and wowsers, the energy of Mahattan.

I was all over the 14 miles of Manhattan and much of all the boroughs, with limited Staten Island time beyond the ferry and a few near-dock spots. I promised myself I’d live there after college, and did for a decade. Even as I moved to first the East and then West Village, people all around me who somehow managed to afford living there said no one could afford to live there.

Circling back to the cliché and grumpy old and young people, I have heard it at least hundreds of times, maybe thousands, each with great assuredness. The discussion comes in two flavor:

  1. New York used to be affordable, but no longer is
  2. People have always said it used to be affordable, but no longer is, so blah blah

While Manhattan is way down the list in overall expense worldwide (maybe 32), at the moment it does top the U.S. list. Oddly enough, it’s not that far beyond the next four — San Francisco, LA, DC and Boston. At various times, it has not been at the top.

Of course, housing prices, which reflect desirability, are the largest driver. Moreover, the results for many residents are skewed in favor of the big five cities by income. Employers, particularly white-color ones, compensate staff to adjust for higher prices, bringing the real expense down.

Forget the mitigating factor though. The fun part is that for over 40 years, I’ve heard the same loony rap about unaffordable Manhattan. I also have met long-term New Yorkers who are more rational and less emotional about it. They don’t feel the need to chant no-one-can-live-here-anymore at the least provocation.

Instead, the observant and experienced say they too had heard that from much older, longer-term residents and know it’s jive. Sure, you pay to live where the vitality, personal, business and artistic, is. Yet millions have, do and want to. Let the cliché ricochet around the room or vehicle. It’s boring, but harmless, plus it keeps the easily daunted away.

Those millions manage. They just have to want it, not be afraid and make it work…by cracky.

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One Response

  1. Robin Edgar says:

    Are you sure you don’t mean –

    Bad, Worse, Worst, By *Cranky*?

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