Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to live in Manhattan. The gritty, bustling, edgy city I saw in movies and on television was always attractive to me. When my dad brought me with him on a business trip to the Big Apple when I was ten, the deal was sealed: I was going to live here when I grew up. And after I graduated from college, I fulfilled a dream and moved here.
As an aspiring actor who waited tables, tended bar and frankensteined an income with other odd jobs, I was always able to make it work. When a hobby in web design started paying the bills and a career as a working actor didn’t, a new journey began that enabled me to call my own shots and stay in the city I loved. Gradually, the work expanded into other directions, including graphic design, copywriting, social media and consulting. Clients came to the table with budgets that were commensurate with the cost of living here, and I really enjoyed the work. Things were good.
Then there was a shift.
As rents went up, client budgets went down. And while budgets went down, expectations rose. People looking for creative services demanded more while paying the same or less, expecting a white-glove Bergdorf-Goodman personal shopping experience with an H&M budget. For a while, I thought it was just me. But it was also happening with every other creative freelancer I knew: filmmakers, graphic designers, artists, copywriters, photographers… everyone was being asked to produce more in exchange for the same or a smaller paycheck. There was an all-out assault on the creative class, made worse by unparalleled economic disparity.
There have been a few revenue supplements here and there, like the occasional voice-over job or consulting gig. But still… the pay is less than fabulous. It’s getting-by money, really. These days, clients and companies seem to forfeit the value of experience, aesthetics and taste in the interest of cutting costs and maximizing their own profits, paying rates and wages that are appropriate for 22 year old amateurs living in Queens in a two-bedroom with three other roommates while being young enough to stay on mom and dad’s health insurance. (When I look at the output of former and prospective clients who opted for the cheaper route, it is depressing to see the uninspired ideas, the boring graphic layouts, the flat, lifeless copy with dubious grammar, and the overall lack of attention to detail. I suppose they’re getting what they paid for.)
When I moved to New York in 1994, I shared a studio with a roommate on West 74th between Central Park West and Columbus. My half of the rent was $380. A year later, I moved to my own tiny studio in a doorman building on West 45th in Hell’s Kitchen. The rent was $595. In the building where I currently live, my rent for a nice 19th-floor studio with a gorgeous view was $1800 in 2009. Due to a change in ownership, I have since moved to the same apartment model on the 6th floor with three working burners, a 30 year old microwave (no proper oven), a bar fridge with no freezer and a view of a brick wall. My rent is $2300, which is just below the average rent for a studio apartment in Manhattan.
My first job in Manhattan was as a receptionist in an exclusive hair salon on Fifth Avenue. In 1994, I was paid $14/hour. Earlier this year, I tried to see what was out there for a creative with no agency experience and went looking for something to supplement my dwindling income – something I might actually be interested in. I needed income so that I could afford to buy Viagra. So I interviewed for a job at a custom tailor – a job that required an intimate understanding of tailored clothing, measuring clients for custom suits, customer service, a sense of style and additional tasks when needed. At the third phase of the rigorous, Pentagon-grade interview process, I asked about the starting salary for the full-time, 40-45 hour/week position. It was $32,000 per year, i.e. roughly $15/hour. In Manhattan. In 2016. The prospect of suiting up and going through that process again and again, only to find compensation that was appropriate for a Midwestern suburb was spirit-killing.
In light of the worsening pay and the monthly struggle to just survive, the writing is very clearly written on that brick wall outside my apartment window: It’s probably time to go.
This disheartening epiphany is painful for several reasons. The first reason that comes to mind is the personal psychological warfare in my head that tells me that the cumulative value of my knowledge, my experience, my skills and everything I’ve done is zero. It’s not true, I know, and I’m grateful for the friends and family who can strike the self-pity off my face with a good open-handed slap. On a good day, I know full well that I’m really good at what I do and that I deliver a Bergdorf-Goodman touch no matter what. But I’m just being rigorously honest. My harshest critic is inside my own head, and it can get dark in there.
Another bullet comes in the form of defeat and the dreaded “F” word: failure. The socio-economic complexion of this island is markedly different than it was when I moved here 22 years ago. Sure, Manhattan has always been about status and money, but the importance of money here has exploded exponentially. Unless you were born into money, make a ton of it or were lucky enough to grab a rent-controlled apartment when it was possible, you don’t belong here. If I were smarter, I would have gone into something more lucrative and useful like real estate or something involving Excel spreadsheets. But since I’d rather swallow live bees than show an apartment or use a Microsoft application, I’ll need to come up with a different Plan D. I have to cut myself a break, because I’m a single middle-class creative who pays the full-ticket price on his own. No roommate, partner or spouse. The fact that this island is no longer a place for single middle-class creatives is neither my fault nor my failure.
One observation that eases the pain of the changing the economic topography is a social one. I live in a pocket of Hell’s Kitchen that is at the epicenter of a luxury high-rise construction boom. I see the people moving in, watching the neighborhood around me slowly morph into a childproof luxury high-rise suburb. Every month, there are more and more hedge funders, tort lawyers, luxury realtors and Excel spreadsheet people who do money for a living – not the most stimulating group you’ve ever met. None of these wealthy new New Yorkers seem particularly colorful, hilarious or interesting, and it’s a big bore. In 2013, David Byrne wrote a brilliant article in The Guardian about this very thing, claiming “If the 1% stifles New York’s creative talent, I’m out of here.” This ain’t my crowd anymore.
The big downer in all of this is my love of this town, or at least what this town used to be to me. As I said earlier, I always wanted to live here. I made it happen, and subsequently wrote the entire story of my post-college adult life here. In my early years in the city, before my rent had a comma, there was such an incredible mix on this island, particularly downtown. On my first weekend in Manhattan, my West 74th Street roommate James took me on his rounds to the nightclubs, where he moonlighted as a promoter for John Blair. He introduced me to downtown drag queens like Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine, Girlina, the pre-op Candis Cayne, Mistress Formika and Mona Foot. (I still know some of them to this day. Candi, Sherry and I lived in the same building on West 47th Street for a while.) When James introduced me to the hilarious Linda Simpson, she put her arm around my shoulder, clinked her plastic cup to mine, winked and said “Welcome to our fair city!” It was like a little baptism in an Emerald City that promised wonders, possibilities and opportunities for anyone who wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. And there were places we could all afford to live.
Since then, I’ve had an incredible adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I got to work on stage, television and film, and had the honor of managing and writing Joan Rivers’ social media, re-doing her website, creating a brand look for her QVC line and even penned a few jokes she used, which was a fun kick. But that scene is gone, the affordable apartments are now unaffordable (or gone), and those wonders, possibilities and opportunities seem to have evaporated. In a strange way, my current relationship with Manhattan now feels like a betrayal of a disloyal lover who traded-up for someone with more money. New York has been my home for more than two decades, and the thought of leaving truly breaks my heart.
I know, I know… “Move to Brooklyn!” “What about Inwood?” “Queens is really starting to happen!” I’ve heard it all, and I’ve visited all of these neighborhoods. They all certainly have their appeal and charms, but the truth is that none of them hold the allure for me that Manhattan did.
The New York fashion icon and costume designer Patricia Field was interviewed in The New York Times last year as the permanent closing of her legendary boutique loomed. (Ms. Field dressed me when I appeared on an episode of “Sex and the City” many years ago.) When she reflected on the consequences of gentrification and the changing economic climate in the city, she said, “I don’t feel like there’s any hope in ever going against the tide. I believe you have to get on your surfboard and ride it.” I’ve built a nice surfboard, and I’ve had a nice ride. But these days, it definitely feels like the tide is headed out.
So head where? Do what? I’ve made no definitive decisions yet. This is just a period of realizations. We do what we do until it stops working. Then we change, like when I stopped drinking and got sober in 2002. Of the many things I’ve learned while living here, I’ve learned how to be resourceful, how to adapt and how to survive. I’ve changed careers, learned new tricks, earned self-taught skills, rolled up my sleeves and built something. I can do it again.
I’ll figure it out.
For now, I’m off to hustle up the next gig to cover next month’s rent and feed the dogs. If there’s any cash left to pay my health insurance premium, awesome.
I published this post in the wee small morning hours of Wednesday, July 6th. By pure coincidence, NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast a story this afternoon on how middle class New Yorkers are struggling to pay rent. It’s an 8-minute story worth a listen…
*** PHOTO CREDIT: Aerial shot of Manhattan by Tim Sklyarov – timsklyarov.com
George, move to Chicago. I love it here. It’s big city living at a relatively affordable price. I pay $800 for my studio, which is a 20 minute subway ride from downtown. If you prefer to be in the center of everything, you can get an 800 Sq ft 1 bedroom in the downtown area for around $1500 a month. The city is clean with tons of stuff to do. We have awesome parks, beaches, museums, restaurants, theater, comedy, etc. Plus great bike paths and the divvy bike share program. The people are great too…Big city mentality but Midwestern at heart. We get a bad rap on the news for gun violence but it’s mostly contained in a few neighborhoods; I never feel unsafe, and I travel all over the city.
I wish I could agree with Matt, but the same forces on the creative community are at play here… not to mention Illinois is broke.
Big property tax hikes just hit Chicago and Cook County. More are coming and that’s bound to flow through to renters.
Matt, what you’ve just described can be found for much less across the rest of the country with a better quality of life. The gritty, interesting New York is gone.
A wonderful reflective piece on what was and what is. Our paths have crossed often over these last 25 to 30 years. No matter where your journey takes you you will continue to be an inspiration, just as you were when you gave me that trademark George Hahn smile 11 years ago around this date when I walked into the Rainbow Room for the first time.
Thank you, Mark!
Hey, George. Really good piece of writing. You’ve made me all sad and wistful at 8 in the morning. I hope you find a happy solution.
What about a regular, full-time job? In the academic library world, perhaps the hottest kind of job right now is for user experience librarians. They have to know web design, human-computer interaction, and how people conceive of information. Aren’t there similar jobs outside of librarianship? This is sophisticated work, and I’d imagine it pays OK.
Or there’s Chicago, which feels to me like a less neurotic version of New York. Or Los Angeles, if you don’t mind owning a car.
Thank you, Hal!
Don’t leave George…
Seriously, George. We need you here. You are a big part of what we have left that comprises both character and community here.
How can I talk you out of this?<3
Oh, darling, you are so kind. The cost of living here is crushing me. To stay would be like staying in an abusive marriage, magically hoping that the monster who keeps hitting me will one day wake up and be the nice guy I keep telling myself he is.
do not leave you will regret it. I left regretted every minute and now that I am back i will never betray Manhattan and leave again.
I may regret it, but my masochistic thirst for real estate rape is waning and I’m tired of being sore. The powers that be sold this city out to the highest bidders, turning it into a free-for-all for luxury whores and throwing anyone without millions of dollars overboard. Manhattan is now a gated luxury life raft for the 1%, growing increasingly less accessible (and less interesting) by the minute. The moment clients and employers start paying a rate that is commensurate with the cost of living here, I’d consider coming back. Until then, I’m done.
So very well said. And just think about all the luxury real estate that sits vacant most of the year just so the rich can say they have a “place in New York”.
Hey George – your column struck a nerve, an ache, and I also struggle with the F word of Failure in a city that I love(d?). I am grateful for my rent stablized place, which makes it more affordable for me to live here than… Portland, OR (which I have considered). I am finding the city loud and annoying of late. Not sure what to do either. I have no answer for you, but you have my empathy for sure.
It;s a tough one, buddy. At the age of sixty I find myself working harder for less pay than twenty years ago. In fact, both my body and my doctor tell me that my current life is not sustainable. Moving won’t help, in my case. I already live in a trailer park in Florida.
But as for you, what the hell? Sounds like a new adventure is on the horizon. How’s your Cantonese?
yer pal, tj
It is not you, it IS New York. I spent the last 7 or so years making repeat attempts to set up a gig that I could then take overseas – and finally pulled the trigger in January. I now have what was a hand-to-mouth income in NYC, somewhere where it is a king’s ransom – and working form a nice, big home has improved my work performance dramatically as well.
Make a plan, and follow it through. Don’t just make the move without a plan.
Excellent! Thank you, D!
I agree with the writer and some of the readers comments. But is over for some and open for a new generation of residents and professionals. 40 years ago we were over 200 great designers and a few artists, now exist thousands of designers and creative people, with differents levels of standards that compete in quality and price. Definitely, I can not compete with a young professional with low prices and standards. It is over for some professions but new for fresh technologies and standards. For me, I am constantly reinventing mine. Buona Fortuna for everyone!
George, i can relate. I also move to NYC in 1994 and got myself a rent stabilized studio apt on w.70th between CPW and Columbus. I paid $850. Who knows, our paths my have crossed… AOL chat rooms were in at the time… ..ha.. The area sure has changed and i miss some of my favorite restaurants. I also had a great job and was living the good life and clubbing frequently…but then my landlord was trying to get me out…. my job changed and i was making less money and simply couldn’t afford to live in the area anymore.. Fast Forward 20 years, i know have a house in NJ, two kids and still struggle, but don’t miss the crampness of NYC, the tourists, over inflated prices and over population…. and subways. My only salvation living in the city was being so close to central park. I could never afford NYC today unless i was earning $1m a year.. and thats just to live comfortably in a one bedroom… I’ll take my house, though home ownership is not all its cracked up to be. Good Luck!!
Great story, Steven. Yes, I like simple apartment living, which can fortunately be had in any city. Thank you!!
New York IS over. You have told my story, more eloquently than I. Details differ, but like you – new media, new technology, great aesthetics, great client roster, etc. All informed by the bright lights. All undermined by the maw of capitalism, no where less forgiving than New York City. I did my NYC time from 1984 – 2009 or so. I relocated to Philadelphia, (NYC circa 1984). Easier, carless, far less expensive. Easy access to the 800 pound gorilla on the Hudson. Now the paltry fees add up to something. Oh and it is still held in disdain by the Manhattan cognoscenti. And that is good. Real good. Change IS good as long as you want it. New York… what’s that definition of insanity? Good Luck. John
A moving piece. I recognize the resourcefulness; as creatives in this town we are like flowers that grow through the cracks in the sidewalks. The fact is, wherever we go, the paper-pushers will follow. Gives the term ‘gypsy’ a whole new meaning. As a life coach for artists, I’ve had to start re-niching, which pains me because you are my people. Your article gives voice to many of my clients fears and all I can say is, identify your top values and live by them. Success is not a staid destination. You wanted to live in NY. You did. Check. What do you want to succeed at next?
Okay George, you’ve had the pitch for New Jersey, Chicago and Portland. How about Toronto? Think New York 25 years ago financially and culturally. A young, booming, multi-ethnic, media, finance and communications center. No Donald Trump EVER and our mayor, lesbian Premier of Ontario and hot Prime-Minister just marched in the Pride parade. Our baseball and basketball teams are even winning (I know that’s not on your shopping list, but consider them a good omen). We even celebrate our dogs with their own festival (Woofstock). It’s worth crossing the border!
Haha! Fantastic! Thanks, Joe!!
Except Toronto is dull, BORING and I’m from here! It ain’t no NYC…wouldn’t even compare it to Chicago!
Don’t hype up Toronto. No matter what Drake says, the 6ix isn’t that great. The rents and property prices are getting up there and as Sam says, it doesn’t even start to compare to NYC. I also grew up here…
Boston! No question. Gives you the country, the city, and allows you the opportunity to visit the love you of your youth when you want to snoop on her. It’s an educated, culturally rich, vibrant place with a demand for creatives like yourself.
Love Boston! Went to school there (BC) and stayed for a year before moving to NYC.
Brooklyn, Queens, Inwood, all would be a temporary move as they all have the same problems as Midtown. My husband and I were cased out of Brooklyn by Hipsters and bad landlords as well. Two adult creatives with Masters degrees and we just barely got by. I noticed the same problem with wages in my field. In 2000 when I was just starting in costumes, I made $10/hour. Now, with all my training and skills gained I’m lucky to get $17 on my freelance gigs! (I have a seasonal job at a university) I noped on out of the city with my Jersey boy to the NJ suburbs. Still have a one bedroom, it’s $1300 but we have a real kitchen, a back patio, basement storage, and a parking space!
Great story. I’ve lived here for 13+ years, and can attest it’s all the same in Brooklyn. My new line: “I constantly feel like I’m paying top dollar for two-star experiences.” Everything is going down in quality, but costing more. My rent for a one-bedroom is over $3,000 (with increases ranging from 5%-9% each year), and I’m an inconvenient 12-minute walk to the nearest subway. My apartment is a chicken corpse’s throw away from two separate slaughterhouses (sorry, “live poultry markets”). But I digress.
So many brunch conversations (when I can swing it) end with conversations of how expensive Brooklyn has become, and capped with “if you were to move…” type scenarios. It’s bleak. It’s affecting everyone. NYC is changing. You are not a failure.
man. couldn’t agree more. i’ve been trying to figure out if it’s me or the city. i feel like everything is piss poor quality too which is another reason to leave. new york used to be the place where you got the best of everything. now everything is mediocre and the best has moved on to more adventurous and affordable places.
Astoria 2016 is a microcosm of the Village in 1982 when I moved here. I’ve fallen in love with the city all over again. Give outer boroughs a try before you head for the hills…
Astoria is marked for dead. I’ve lived in Atoria since 2010, and the amount of luxury buildings going up within a four block radius of my apartment is heartbreaking. Hint; it’s double digits. We’re five years away from Williamsburg if we’re lucky. Probably less.
Definitely can relate to this. Came to NYC in 1987 “for a year or two,” reluctantly moving away in 2009. Had my share of sublets and under-employment in the beginning until getting a studio in Gramercy and a wonderful career in apparel design. All that changed when the economy tanked and designers like me became facilitators to have apparel produced overseas and replaced by 20-somethings who didn’t know design, but were computer savvy. I should have done some things differently and might still be there, but really it is like you say New York betrayed me to trade-up to someone with more money (and no taste). I visit the city often, but to see the rise of soulless condos, and longtime NY institutions and mom&pops disappear to a vertical, bland suburbia replete with chain stores & populated by douchebros, it makes it easier to accept the timing of my departure was right. Of course, if I were to win the lotto jackpot I’d move back in a heartbeat….but even with all that money, I might be able to afford New York for a year or two, living modestly.
Lived in NYC since 1977. Lived on 14th between A and B in a little two and a half room flat in a tenement since 1986. Started paying $420 a month rent in 1986 in a rent-stabilized apartment, and it was up to just under $700 in 2005. But my last few years in that apartment, the building was ridden with bedbugs. I’d have the exterminator get rid of em, but they’d be back in 6 months. So when the new landlord offered me a nice chunk of change to leave, I took it. The rent immediately went up to $2500, and now I hear it’s over $3000, and the bedbugs are still there! Living in Chicago now, and quite enjoying it. Also living with a cousin so we can pool our resources. Also hear that people are starting to move to smaller cities like Detroit and Cleveland and making artist and activist communities. Kind of like setting up little East Villages in these cities. Had I not already settled in Chicago, I’d might go there. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
Wow….you just told my story as well (though I had a 10-year head-start on you). I also moved to the comparatively affordable West 70’s (when Verdi Park in front of the Ansonia was still referred to as “Needle Park” and you’d think twice about walking up Amsterdam, past, say, 80th?). This tidal shift–wherein the artists, the oddballs, the disenfranchised small-towners who longed to live nowhere else but Manhattan–no longer have a place here. It’s such a cliche for us still-struggling, longtime Manhattanites to ask each other, “What do young people who come to New York DO now?” One hears the stories of five roommates sharing a LES, 5th floor walkup one-bedroom and such. Where’s the ‘next step up” for them? And why am I worrying about THEM, when the wolf is constantly hovering at my own East Side door, waiting for that day that I get a 30-day eviction notice, since my building’s been sold? Same as you, for me, personally, “my New York” is Manhattan–or this dreamy image I’ve carried in my head since childhood in a small Midwest town…this glittering, glamourous land where I’d finally feel accepted….where I’d finally be “home”. Your excellent essay spells out the sad fact that…it’s not here anymore.
As a native NYer of about the same age (born early 70s), your article strikes a raw nerve. As it happens, I am finally leaving (the day this article came out in fact) and moving to southern CA. I adapted my business so I could do it anywhere, and as much as I love NY, I love what it used to be as opposed to what it’s become. It’s now a suburban mall, a Disneyfied version of itself cleaned up so that the genteel tourists aren’t disturbed by the real rawness of a real city. God forfend they see someone passed out on the sidewalk with a spike in his arm, as we used to see all the time when we went to the Pyramid Club in the late 80s/early 90s.
Not that I want a return to the bad old days (I am old enough to remember them and they WERE scary). But this, this is complete fake BS. Most of the mom and pops are gone, and no one seems to give a damn. And they were the heart and soul of the city, encouraging folks to take a chance, whether it was entrepreneurial or artistic or whatever. NY was a place you went to to express your inner self. Now NY’s a place you go to to express your inner Gordon Gecko (and no I’m not against capitalism, but rather unfettered capitalism – it inexorably leads to the lowest common denominator). This explains all the chain stores/banks/pharmacies all over the place, as well as all the For Rent signs.
So while I still love NYC, the things that I dislike are now overwhelming those I love. I will come back (I have to for work anyway), but unless something changes (and NY is ever-changing, so who knows), I won’t want to live here. I am sad but looking forward to new adventures in a new part of the country. And maybe bringing a little of old NY to my new home.
You perfectly crystallized my exact feelings…..about Hollywood and Los Angeles!
My husband and I have taken our artistic show on the road, down the shore to Asbury Park. We still have a small studio apt in Weehawken, because our bread and butter is still in Manhattan, for now, but the promise of affordable creative spaces for theatre, and art and music and an audience rife for the entertaining has called us. I feel you. I feel you. And when you said “rigorously honest” I immediately identified. 😉
Don’t feel bad. My husband and I are native New Yorkers. He was ready to retire and NYC renting is not friendly to retiree’s budgets. We moved to Athens GA! Last year. We even own a house, the whole house costs less than we spent in 11 years rent in Carroll Gardens. I am even learning to drive 🙂 It’s fine here. Everything is 15 minutes or less away. It’s a liberal college town. You can survive!
I, too, am a middle-class creative with no trust fund nor sugar daddy nor even double-income. I moved here to be a photographer but gave up that feast-or-mostly-famine lifestyle of a freelancer for a staff gig at a photo agency – though the corporate companies were suffocating and relentlessly brutal, and I’ve since switched to being director of celebrity photo assignment at a small independent photo boutique – but my industry is shrinking and salaries are stagnant and I can’t do what I do anywhere else but here or LA.
I moved here in 1994 and lucked into a rent-stabilized studio in the East Village for the first year, but lost that sub-lease and then landed in Park Slope, Brooklyn. where I found a dirt-cheap (but NOT rent-stabilized) brownstone studio for only $600, utilities included, which would rise to only $850 in 2000 – the year my landlord unceremoniously ended my lease so he could gut my floor and join two studios into a one-bedroom with much higher rent.
Staying in Park Slope at that point would have meant doubling my rent to $1500 just to find a much crappier studio in the “vicinity” of the neighborhood I had loved for 16 years, so I took the plunge and left the coveted borough for downtown Jersey City, NJ – and while it was OK, it never came close to the charm of the Slope, while having the added disadvantage of being Atlantis-in-waiting, where my one-bedroom townhouse apartment building was flooded after Sandy with no power for almost a month.
After that, I vacated for the higher ground of a nearby suburb – and finally found the apartment of my dreams for that same rent of $1500 – a HUGE one bedroom with home office/art studio, with original parquet floors, molding and French doors, a kitchen as large as my former Brooklyn studio, and my OWN PERSONAL WASHER/DRYER! Not to mention a peaceful, clean, quiet rose garden and white picket fence…it’s a two-family house, and my upstairs neighbor/landlady happens to be a very cosmopolitan – yet unpretentious – lady who also works in Midtown, and has become my surrogate Italian aunt who is always feeding me.
But don’t roll your eyes – I can also walk to the train station in 8 minutes (under 1/2 mile) and it’s just one stop to Secaucus, another single stop to NYPENN, and I work one block from that – so my commute is SHORTER than when I lived in Brooklyn, only slightly more expensive for a monthly train pass (but I deduct the city tax I’m saving by living outside NYC), and I can get a nice, clean seat 99% of the time – it’s a much less-crowded, more-civilized commute that makes me feel like Don Draper – and there’s still plenty of cute eye man candy to enjoy, if not as densely cute as taking the subway in Chelsea.
Now I don’t have to hate NYC for being outside my budget, because it’s still within what I consider a reasonable commute (under one hour). If you prefer death over New Jersey, then I would highly recommend you consider Washington Heights – given your current rent, you could certainly afford it, and the commute would be a little shorter than mine (while still being well above the flood zone).
GREAT post. Thank you!!
New York I love you but you’re bringing me down…
Totally. Thank you, LCD.
I wish you well and hope that the next place you go to, you consider what you can do for it and the people there rather than what it can do for you. We’ve too much of that in NYC and that seems to be the major common denominator with all the people who write these leave NYC think pieces. They came to the city to get rather than give and when the getting becomes too hard, they move on. Something else you could do is join various activists groups who are working on NYC housing issues. If you can’t afford the city, help to make it affordable. And if you don’t want to commit to NYC because it’s too difficult, then yes, go. We need the room. I hope this reads as more tough love than nasty.
You must be kidding! To frame this conversation as somehow being selfish or self-centered is a true disservice to the many, many of us who DID spend years “doing” for New York by bring energy and creativity and a distinct style that made so many of us out of place or unemployable in middle America. We “did for” New York by creating New York as the center of arts and media and publishing and nightlife. New York paid us back by forcing us out with gentrification and an economy that penalizes anyone who makes less than $250,000 a year. The attitude inherent in your comment indicates that somehow expecting to be able, after years or decades of devotion to being a part of the city– and often to cleaning up blighted neighborhoods only to find ourselves forced out by yuppies who find it now desirable– that expecting to be able to live in the neighborhoods and in the city that we CREATED makes us somehow unreasonable. Your comment, particularly the final sentences, is completely dismissive. No one should have to suffer and struggle to the extent that many of us do who are long-time residents, priced out by real estate interests facilitated by mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and penalized for not being wealthy.
As you know George I have experienced a ride not unlike yours. Trepidatiously our new home become Los Angeles. While there is so much about New York I miss (or rather the fantasy of New York) I truly feel hope and home out here. It was instantaneous for me. There was no “figuring out” if I liked it here. One day (probably very soon) your choice will become obvious and clear and you will feel the same excitement about a new place, much like I feel now. I get the same feeling when I come home from LAX when the San Gabriel mountains open up before me like I used to get when Manhattan opened up before me coming back from JFK heading to the midtown tunnel. I love you from my midcentury always sunny So Cal home.
I love you, luv.
I’m 27 years old and I was born & raised in Queens, so my experience is a little difference but much of the sentiment remains the same.
Lucky enough to live at home, rent-free until the age of 24, I ran a lucrative business in Manhattan for the past 2.5 years and was so proud of myself to have “made-it” and to have not given up on New York, like many of my friends have (who have since moved to Florida, Oregon, Greece).
But due to economic forces, political forces, it all ended quite abruptly. Even in Queens, I pay $1800 with my wife for a 1BR and $110/month for a parking spot that is still about 3 blocks away. I once made a small fortune and now using my creative talents to complete odd jobs and extra money on the side (I’ve always been good at finding money).
But the appeal is lost. I have no desire to work to live and live to work. I don’t want to fight for money to live a life I can no longner enjoy, because I’m spending the better portion of my day working. I would much rather have a home somewhere, where I can park for free in my own driveway, have more than 1 bedroom, have whatever kid of pets I want, enjoy free time. The dream of having ALL of that, with the backdrop of NYC is unattainable and unrealistic. I have decided to move
Great share. You are obviously not alone. We seem to be all on the same boat and fail to realize this. Very timely piece. This was my second attempt at NYC. Even with income over $100.00 it’s a struggle. Renting and far from ever owning, years are passing by and – things seem worse not better-
The real problem with NYC has been a major influx of wealthy individuals from other countries, especially in the last 10-12 years that have driven real estate prices through the roof not only in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn, where the average rent is actually higher than in Manhattan. Many high-level apartments are actually owned by LLCs, which creates another problem as many such apartments are dark all the times and some think are actually being used illegally in that regard. That, coupled with individuals who are very wealthy that are often fleeing bad situations in their homelands and those who have to live in NYC no matter what are why rents have shot up as they have, which actually has been the case going back to the 1980’s.
The difference between the 1980’s and now is that influx has had ripple effects in other cities. There are many work in New York, but commute on Amtrak for two hours every day between there and Philadelphia where the rents (compared to Manhattan) are considerably lower for living in a big city. That in turn has caused areas of Philadelphia that were very bad for years to gentrify and see rents even in many of those areas spike in price from years ago (but still considerably lower than New York). For many of these types, spending a small fortune on Amtrak between New York and Philly is worth it because of big the difference is in rent.
What’s happened in New York in recent years is simply too much and has driven those who actually grew up there out over the past 30-35 years or so.
There was a great series called “Towers of Secrecy” in The New York Times last year about that very thing.
I remember “Towers of Secrecy” because that’s where I first heard of that.
Tha magical land of Cleve calls…
I’ve heard tell of this place…
I moved here as well in the 1990s – and yes, things have changed, but things always change…and if you don’t keep up with the changes you get left behind. Sounds like a bunch of middle-aged teenagers with overinflated egos that didn’t want or accept change nor saved any money…quit whining or leave NYC.
Feel free to keep up with current events anytime: http://www.wnyc.org/story/middle-class-earners-struggle-to-pay-rent-in-new-york-city/
This is heartbreaking. You’ll be fine, I know, but the city has had its soul ripped out and been rinsed clean of culture and creativity by money. I moved here in ’77, and I am only here because of my rent-stabilized (small but beautiful) apartment.
May I take you to dinner before you go?
I’d be delighted.
Wonderful and thought provoking. I’m glad you have been part of my ongoing NYC journey. I wonder often if I’m more a part of the problem or the solution.
Thank you, Tom. And likewise! XG
Cle all the way. Affordable. Three Major sports teams. Art Museum and thriving Art district. Trendy food spots all over town, again affordable. Becoming bike friendly. Parks like nowhere else. Cheap flights to Florida when getaway needed. Old connection just waiting to reintroduce you to your home town. As Pat Dailey been saying for 30 years ” Get your ass to Cleveland, it’s the best town in the land”
I’ve heard tell of this CLE place. Hmmmm…
I have been living in New York City since 2001. The creative culture is here : I work in the Motion Picture Buisness for 17 years. It is why I still live here. Buisness is good for me, but yes the rise in prices prevented me to live in LES, and Alphabet City, where the film community lives. And the city killed Fort Greens film community years ago. RIP. I currently live in Inwood… Yes, in Manhattan. I live here because it’s quiet. And there is more space. So I get it, you want to live by everything. There is an artist community here. I love it. I live by opera singers, filmmakers, and broadway actors and musicians. So I found a little piece of the island for myself. The midtown, and lower side of city has changed and does not have that personality and it’ squeaky clean. And so boring!! Ugh! So I found my haven, and now there are great bars and a great summer club La Marina here that gets attention of certain celebs who come . So I am still hanging in here with you, and I am staying because this city needs colorful people who needs to save this city from boredom. So care to join that ban wagon. Let’s have fun.
I love it! Thank you, Veronica!
Wow! I have never commented on an article before but your piece seemed to echo exactly was has been going through my mind the past few years.
I moved here in ’98 and NYC still had some of that grit that we all moved here to experience. I was 22 with no real cares and living that young, NYC life. Splash was still open and unrenovated, HK hadn’t seen one luxury high rise yet, and subway fares were still $1.50.
Flash forward and everything you reference in your article has stripped away that lively “thing” about Manhattan that made our parents fearful of us living here. I, too, have bounced around the idea of moving out. Suburbs, maybe?? A different metro area entirely, perhaps?? There doesn’t seem to be much point in staying in this relationship when I’m not getting really much of anything out of it anymore.
In short, thank you for this article. I am with you 1000%.
Not to mention the soaring glass towers that are turning our once unique metropolis into “Tokyo, Jr.” As a filmmaker, it’s becoming disheartening that there are fewer locations here that say “New York City.” We’ve been steadily reduced to filming in areas like Greenpoint, Williamsburgh, and the East and West Village. NYC has become a corporate town with little use for aspiring artists.
Hi George. You have said what I have been saying for years as I’ve watched the city I love turn into a boring blob of money movers, and chain stores. I moved to NY in 1980 and was in a creative field as well and still am. So were all of my friends, we were all able to live in the city and make that city great with our young creative energy and ideas. I was a freelance hair and make-up stylist for many years. I had the same exact experience as you, with clients slashing day rates and adding insane shot counts per day. No one seemed to care about quality anymore. By the late 90’s almost all of the people I worked with, photographers art directors, stylists had left the city and changed careers.. I was fortunate to have been able to parlay my New York experience into a salon and spa that I opened in Bucks County Pa.. I still go back to New York a lot for business, and stay in the city. It’s hard not to get sad every time I do. I am grateful to have lived in New York during the years I did. It was an incredibly creative time.
I thank goodness that both my wife and I both, together, make enough money so we can live without fear. BUT….we live in Jackson Heights, Queens (and now I have a one year old son!) It’s a trade off to some degree from my days living all over Brooklyn. But I have piece of mind. And the neighborhood is fun and getting better all the time!
Thankfully this place will never get to the insane prices and pricing of Manhattan. Or Brooklyn. Or some parts of Queens like LIC and Astoria are headed. But if you ever want to hang out, let me know. Jackson Heights is kind of groovy, extremely diverse (our hospital speaks 140+ languages) and it is kind of cool feeling like I am back in the early 1990s when I moved to NYC watching things surge and become better and better.
Yeah, my job is now 11 miles, when I lived in Carroll Gardens/Red Hook it was 4 or 5. But people are biking like crazy out here. And I like the 22 mile commute a few days per week. I get my exercise so I don’t need to go to the gym! 🙂
hi George, when Greg and I left NYC, we knew it was time to go, but had no idea what would happen when we moved to the country. Within a few months both of us were working at the same college but in very different gigs. Most important, we went someplace we love, and things fell into place from there. I felt like an utter failure when we left, and snapped out of that after a while, realizing that my talents and experience were both rare and valued here. if you ever want to come for a visit, pack the dogs, and breathe some clean air, we’re here.
Thank you so much, Jim! I love that story. And please say hello to Greg!
I heartily recommend the historic district of Jackson Heights. Incredible authentic diversity and pre-war block long garden apartment buildings that aren’t going anywhere. And no big box buildings anytime soon. 35 minute commute door to door from your choice of five train lines
I hear you though. The city is obnoxiously crowded (waiting on line to exit a subway station, anyone?) and I’m planning to move to the Berkshires as soon as possible.
Be careful where you move in the Berkshires! It’s rapidly becoming the new Hamptons and is becoming very unaffordable in many places with a lack of jobs. Look for a smaller town and avoid Great Barrington at all costs, especially in the summer. Great for culture and theatre, but terrible for the traffic and high cost of living.
Great story Gearge…Detroit is calling
Yes, George! My partner and I returned to The D in 2013 after spending 18.5 years in NYC. Both actors (I’m now a writer) we started out in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn at $775/mo for a 900 sq ft 1.5 bedroom w/ dining room and ended in Sunnyside, Queens at $1400/mo for 500 sq ft. Not a bad jump, rent-wise — but even making $22/hr at a part-time “survival” job, I couldn’t afford to do any of the many things NYC has to offer. Throw in a $40k student loan for an MFA in Playwriting and well… Twas time to move home 🙂 Here we have a 1600 sq ft house w/ yard and we pay $1200/mo mortgage. Yes, the wages here are lower — and I can’t find a “real” job to save my life. But our families are closeby and Detroit is becoming somewhat of a food mecca, which is one of the few things we misd about living in NYC. And all our dear friends who we left behind 🙁
885 People Per Day MOVE into the State of Florida. This number is expected to rise to over 1,000. MANY of which are from NY, I am one of them…..13 years ago I left friends & food…..and left High Property, Sales & and State Income TAX.
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Born and raised New Yorkers don’t like transplants, so this is a good thing to us.
I agree… Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood is not what it used to be. Mainly because of transplants
I work in film/tv/theater. Living in Harlem gave me an escape of what you loved but now everything is blending in.
You nailed it.
Thanks for sharing your insights. I’m curious to see where you end up if you do end up leaving.
Or better yet, that people with no talent have travelled here because they thought it was cool to live in New York. It’s not cool to live in New York. It’s cool to be from New York. Something that people just cannot ascertain by moving here.
Other than being from New York, what is your talent?
My talent you ask, first I am a IT manager at a top tech company in TriBeCa. And I am also a published photographer (http:eddieelmi.com).
But my landlord doesn’t take pretty photos as rent, which most transplants think is a reality. Neither does having a dirty beard…
Once upon a time, starving artist residents of the Chelsea Hotel paid their rent with their work… back when there were people who valued the work.
really nicely written and hit a nerve with me. MY DW and I got here in the 80’s. I’ve stayed somewhat active in the arts, but day gigs are really hard to find, especially those that pay enough to cover the rent or mortgage. And while we lucked out on living space, we make enormous sacrifices to live here in terms of commute times, cost of living, etc. We were watching the Tony’s last month and we realized that we hadn’t been to live theater in ages–we have been priced out of the culture. And we have a relatively high household income–My young friends have discovered that the gig economy won’t cover their expenses even if they throw in a bit of dumpster diving.
I❤️NYC! Wish I could be there!
thank you, George. these were my thoughts when I got out in ’09, after off-on-mostly on 40 years. even then the tide was out. it was a fantastic dream, but I was now awake. my big fear of leaving — where to? after a stay in MA taking care of my mom, I’ll be off to Palm Springs. how’s that for a departure. thanks for your tale. it triggered so many memories for me
Thank you, Ted!
Durham, NC is going through a great renaissance. We moved down from NYC two years ago and love it; local politics aside. Hoping to contribute and make some positive changes in our new home. Oddly enough, we don’t miss NYC at all.
Thank you for this! As a born and bred NYer, I left to just over the bridge in Jersey after getting married a decade ago, but swore I’d be back… as a creative I missed the vibrant energy of the city. But my amazing hubs is a suburbs boy. We both hated Jersey though and last year we took our business and our kids and moved to San Diego. It’s smaller than a big city but bigger than a suburb, and certainly more beautiful, and the people aren’t as boring as I thought they’d be. In a strange way they’re more down to earth in a similar way that (old school) NYers are, and they’re not at all like LA people, which I count as a huge plus. (No offense, LA… sorta.)
Anyway, I’ve been nostalgic for the grit and creativity of Manhattan but thanks for reminding me that the NY I miss isn’t actually there waiting for me.
Oh my. Where to begin? Let’s try the Staple Theory: an economic model that posits that one “staple” guides all human movements and ancillary activities. You name it… ivory, oil, beaver pelts, iron ore, cod, souls … the pursuit and exploitation of which was the “staple” that built empires and paid for the all who did everything else … boats, shovels, art, saloons, haircuts.
NYC “creatives” who try to do the same craft for the same clientele as 25 years ago are being cruelly replaced by a) foreign copyists b) artificial intelligence built into software and c) nothing at all … because the unique staples of Manhattan (finance, music, publishing and fashion) are all themselves shrinking too … to the same forces of globalization and technology. The staples of NYC have changed, people! They’re now tourism, retail, educational institutions and medical services. They require few, if any, creative types. They need obedient, cheap labor (clerks, drivers, etc.) to cater to all the brilliant / highly paid programmers, property developers, doctors and researchers here now. Plus the rich oligarchs whose kids want to live her (part-time, for fun). This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. It’s over alright. And it’s NOT about the rent. It’s about the new staples. I suggest we stop looking to Botticelli, Joyce and glo-tubes to be inspired and start thinking … what program or invention should I unleash on the world today?
I lived in NYC for 5 years, and lived very affordably in Harlem. Washington Heights is also more affordable, and apartments have lots of space. It’s not midtown or downtown, but these neighborhoods are vibrant and still in Manhattan. But I don’t think there are many studios under $1200-1500 on the island anymore…
That’s nothing, George. Am born and bred since 1970. Born in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, grew up on the Lower East Side and Chelsea. My hometown is too expensive for me.
NYC is not St. Maartens. There’s millions of people here and most of us are poor.
Bless you, George, for voicing exactly what I feel and the struggle that brings me down almost every day. As a classical musician I often wonder if I’m alone in my abrupt disappointment with the state of culture and living in general, in NYC. As it turns out, I’m not alone – and although this is a relatively small compensation, it really does feel good! Thank you!!
Hmmmmm… I read every word of your fascinating and super well written essay! And I must say, it makes me feel like I have it so good here in Portland, OR! Jeez. My rent is so affordable. I live in a beautiful house with a large front and backyard. We have a garden. I make plenty of money. I have a dog, who gets to do her business on the earth. I’m not stressed out about the cost of living. It’s gorgeous here. I get out into nature frequently…
I love NYC. I’ve never lived in Manhattan, but I’ve spent enough time to fall in love with it, feel super at home there, and also realize I would never in a million years ever want to live there. I always felt like New Yorkers were a unique breed of humans, who seem to think that the only place in the world that exists is NYC and who could never seem to imagine living anywhere but NYC. To a certain degree, I feel it’s a trap. The world is large & the options are vast. I grew up in Ohio as well and escaped as well, and had also fantasized about moving to NYC when I was in college to “make it”… but thankfully I realized access to nature is more important than a frenetic urban environment.
I’ve read quite a bit of the comments on here and have seen that you are hitting a nerve with a lot of people, and that you are very much not alone… and that there are quite a lot of other people who came to the same realization as you and migrated elsewhere… Chicago, Athens GA, Philadelphia, Southern California, etc… Maybe your soul is beckoning for a huge transformation and ready to make the leap into a vast new self! Good luck listening to your inner calling and allowing life to move you in breathtaking new directions!
I went through a similar thing as yourself. But I only lasted two years in New York, not twenty. I moved to New York in 1997, had all sorts of the usual misadventures, which inspired a fabulous series of artwork: https://hughcards.co/ny/
Then I went and worked for an old-school London Savile Row tailor as marketing director. Now THAT was interseting.
It sounds to me like you’re having all the right thoughts, as scary as some of them may be. But there’s no disgrace in trying to reinvent oneself in a meaningful way… it’s trying to cling onto the person you were at 25 that kills you.
Good luck! 🙂
“It’s trying to cling onto the person you were at 25 that kills you.” That line is as spot-on as the brilliant original post. Thanks to the both of you.
You want to live in Philadelphia. You’ve lived your dream in Manhattan, don’t let it fizzle into a nightmare. You can still get jobs up there too .
You’ll thank me one day.
I love AP.
Move to the Bronx. The Bronx is the last frontier. The rents still tend to be cheaper although they are getting expensive. The Bronx has very easy commute to midtown whether by bike or public transportation. There are numerous bridges including two car free bridges to get to Manhattan. The car free bridges are the Randall’s Island Connector and the Highbridge connecting the Bronx to Upper Manhattan.
The South Bronx is becoming desirable for real estate developers due to the abundance of the waterfront and easy access to Manhattan. The South Bronx is supposed to be the next Williamsburg.
Manhattan is only a borough. I ride from the Bronx to Manhattan all the time.
I visited NYC when I was 9 and knew I would live here.
I arrived in 1994.
My second year here I moved to 46th St. (my best friend James got me the apartment). I’ve lived on 46th, 47th and 49th for over 20 years.
I’ve spent my career in the advertising industry, in the creative department.
In January I temporarily moved to Harlem. I’m currently interviewing for jobs in other cities. Only a couple of my closest friends know.
My late husband and I (investment brokers) had a choice to live in Manhattan decades ago, and decided to live in a beautiful Minneapolis suburb instead. What we got in return for our choice were lovely homes, great schools and lifestyle for our three sons, extra cash to take our children to Europe, Central America, and Asia to observe great art, archaeology, literature and music, and plenty of opportunity to visit the great cities of the world when we needed an injection of the urban life. It’s never too late, and shouldn’t be conceived of as failure – but as a smart effort to study other smaller cities with vibrant, dynamic lifestyles that don’t force an older person (no longer able to receive parents’ healthcare!) to live in a studio with a brickwall view. My only word of advice – choose a place with values like yours – some inexpensive cities are intolerant, others are wonderfully buoyant of all people.
Funny, I’m also in Hell’s Kitchen – watching as all the things that made New York the city I moved here for get pushed out to make way for the Bed Bath & Beyond generation of Manhattanites. In many ways, I’m happy that the city is cleaner and safer than in years past, but a deeper part of me longs for just enough pee and vomit on the sidewalks to keep the Yelp-review crowd back in the ‘burbs where they and their bottomless brunches belong.
Ooooooo…VERY well stated!!! (Former New Yorker myself…though my living residences were in Queens – but spent much time in Manhattan!)
George … I think all these … Global cities are the same … like London. Massive rises in property prices, a lot of overseas investment and globalisation of business seems to detach them from the rest of the country be it UK or US. I think San Francisco is a smaller version for the Global technology company reasons. The good news is you had the best of it, unlike the future for the next generation who will never have those options and experiences. They are getting crushed in the East End enclave of London which is supposed to be the happening lower cost ? hipsterville here.
People don’t like change, especially enforced change, but it will only accelerate over the next ten years … faster than the last thirty so we will have to adapt. A lot won’t of course which will be a major challenge for governments globally.
You will of course, I can tell by the writing and thinking, maybe a few false starts ahead but the good news as freelancers or entrepreneurs we are way ahead of the thinking of people stuck in the corporate world. Keep well and thanks for a stimulating article.
Thank you, Damon!
“I know, I know… ‘Move to Brooklyn!’ ‘What about Inwood?’ ‘Queens is really starting to happen!’ I’ve heard it all, and I’ve visited all of these neighborhoods. They all certainly have their appeal and charms, but the truth is that none of them hold the allure for me that Manhattan did.”
To say nothing of the fact that the overwhelming majority of appealing, charming neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and upper Manhattan are almost as unaffordable as midtown Manhattan. Astoria was the neighborhood no one wanted to live in 25 years ago, because the subway was unreliable. Now you can’t touch it unless you have a six-figure income.
I was touched and wish you the best.
As a former (semi-literate) New Yorker, I must say – beautifully written! Kudos!
I heard myself and my conversations of the past few months in your article. After 25 years of an amazing, even fabulous career here in NYC, it’s obvious to me that the time has come to seek a new place to call home. Thank you for your observations, they round up the experience so succinctly!
Thank you, Trena!
Don’t listen to these people. Avoid corrupt Chicago at all costs. Cook County, highest sales tax in the land at 10.25%, but you get no services in return. It’s a secret slush fund for payoffs so local politicians can keep their loyalists in private schools, summer homes, vacations, etc.
If you’re a creative, there’s no money there, no clients, and local-yokels will freeze you out of any opportunities. Do not make a move unless you’ve got a solid corporate job offer with benefits, moving allowance, etc. Nice place to be if you’ve already got money and don’t have to depend on local connections. Come for a weekend, sure, but don’t live there.
Listen to these other folks. Detroit is on the rebound. Philly (still close to NYC). Athens, GA. Durham, NC. Cleveland. Austin, TX.
Austin, TX is overpopulated and still growing, even though it is lacking three very important essentials for a city of its current population 1) there aren’t enough houses (high rents and a buyers’ market) 2) there aren’t enough roads (traffic and congestion) 3) there isn’t enough water (depending on the current drought conditions). Other than that, it’s probably the coolest city in the country right now, because so many creatives and all the “cool kids” have moved there…many from NYC! But I do love visiting Austin, just hate driving there.
Not surprising. I’ve heard great things about Austin!
I fear that the crunch you describe, of working harder, for less and less, is happening all across the country. Like everything else, it simply has more intensity in New York.
Everyone who moves to New York always does one of three things: 1) becomes very wealthy; 2) lives in relative poverty even if they make a “decent” income; or 3) leaves. This is basically why I left, in 2005. Of the friends I graduated from college with in 2000, many of whom moved to NYC out of college, one inherited serious money and now lives in Battery Park City, one made a ton of money as an investment banker, and the others are all long gone. We went to many places, from Los Angeles, to Raleigh, to Hoboken, to Portland, to Connecticut, to Seattle, to Africa, to Columbia, South Carolina, etc., etc.
But this is not a brand new story, though it has become worse. My father lived (with a decent job) in relative penury in NYC in the 1980s and 1990s, and that was true even after he moved to Queens. You’re single. Even by the 1980s it was hard to raise kids in NYC, to have the money to do it right. My mother blew town with me in about 1984, after spending more than ten years in the City (and, of course, I went back when I hit adulthood).
New York City is a fun-house. It is indeed a place of dreams, but it is also a massive, distracting, strobe-lit hall that is chock full of curvy mirrors and shiny objects. One can easily wander in the fun-house for decades before finding out one is right where one started.
Leave now. It doesn’t matter where. Just someplace where you can make a pleasant life. When you leave, you’ll quickly learn that you will not in fact fall of the edge of a flat earth and into an oblivion of infinite nothingness upon crossing the Hudson River.
Also, nice piece. Needless to say, I and hundreds of thousands of others feel your pain.
Yes, it is time to leave. I lived in NYC for 17 years and much of that time it was the only place I truly felt was home. Then, the shift that had been quietly happening for all that time went into overdrive. My East Village apt changed from artists and creatives to newly graduated frat boys working for hedge funds and other paper pushers and money traders.
I looked around and realized all my artistic collaborators, revelers and oddballs had moved to Portland, LA, Austin or other places. Those that were left were too tired from trying to make rent to have passion and dreams anymore. During a conversation with one colleague about the issue of client expectations and budgets they offered his reply was, “your problem is you still care”.
And I do. I don’t want to be an artist without a voice or a vision. I don’t want to be a human without passion and ideals. And I don’t want to live afraid of risk and stifled by my environment. So, last year I left.
I’m in LA now. It’s not much cheaper really, nor is the culture – if you can call it that – much less materialistic and vapid. But, there is still a sense of creativity and passion, a culture of individuality, and there are spaces for people to take risks and try new things. I feel alive again.
Just yesterday I got back from Portland which has that same vibe. So many doing such unique and creative things. No one talking about stocks and trades.
I go back to NYC about once a month for work and to meet with clients (most in the fashion industry) and when I go out for dinner or just walk the streets I feel like a stranger in a place that was my home for nearly two decades. It’s a facade of its former self. It’s Epcot Center for the global elite.
I didn’t fail. I still made a critically acclaimed motion picture, had music videos reach MTV globally, commercials globally as well, and much more. I could afford a split level apt near Union Square with a balcony. I just stopped loving the city. I didn’t like going out anymore. I didn’t get inspired walking the streets.
You didn’t fail either.
New York City failed. It’s time to leave.
Bravo. In your final sentences you summed up the entire issue.
Great article! You are not alone – or crazy. I don’t live in New York, but visited often between 1998 and 2008 and said, but not as eloquently, everything you just said. Unfortunately, as others have pointed out, this is a problem not unique to Manhattan. Toronto, my closest metropoo-hell, just keeps getting less affordable and less interesting with every passing year. We now live an hour and half outside of Toronto to carry on our creative class struggle for survival, and the locals look at us sometimes like we missed the bus to get home.
Go upstate where you can buy a place (or rent) for peanuts. Then only go to the city when necessary. Plenty of towns served by trains and busses from Port Authority.
I just bought a house in New Windsor, NY just over an hour north of the City after 18 years divided between Jersey City, South Norwalk and Bridgeport, CT, Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, and Inwood. It took me 10 years working on the East Coast to finally make it into Manhattan, and I still wound up in Inwood. With all that moving around I still managed to build a career in theatre, but I left for a year and a half to teach at a university in TX ultimately deciding I love NY. Especially the Hudson River Valley! And now that I’m older, being in close proximity to the city I love so much is enough and I will “do it on my terms”, not the other way around. Right now I am back and forth between TX and NY, and expanding my career even more. The big difference now is I have a home with space, a home office and studio, parking, a yard, and an uncongested airport just 5 miles from my house. There are two commuter train options (Hudson River/MetroNorth to Grand Central & NJ Transit to Penn Station) as well as a bus walking distance that goes to Port Authority. I still believe in the creatives and artists of NYC both native and transplants (I’m from TX), but I could not tolerate the exorbitant rent any longer and all the nightmares that come with it. Now I have the Big Apple “in my back yard”, but I have real apple trees in my front yard! Not to mention, my mortgage is far less than the average rent on a studio apartment in any of the boroughs. It took me some time to find my new house, but it was worth the effort. And…NYC was still a factor. I just found a better equation for HOME.
Thank you for sharing! Your experience and excellent writing have stimulated what appears to be a very current, passionate topic with many decades of NYers. You are not alone, and wherever you go, you will always have your NYC years in your strength to survive, and…in your heart!
It’s just after 1:30am in South Africa. I can’t sleep, so in an effort to kill time, I thought let me browse Facebook. A friend, who is based in NYC shared your link and so I clicked and read it. I did so because for as long as you’ve been living there, I’ve had this burning desire to do the same. Only difference is I’m not American and trying to get a sponsor, let alone an interview has been virtually impossible. I see loads of others going across and living it up in the city that captured my heart and soul/ sealed my desire to live and work in it when I first visited back in ’05, and I get upset. And then I read your article and wonder if maybe there’s a reason why it hasn’t happened yet.
We’re in the same game and so my situation would likely be similar to yours… Never ideal, but I guess you’ve had over two decades there, which is amazing. If it’s time to go, maybe the next adventure will surprise you. A new phase in life that’ll take you in a direction you never thought you’d go in, but that could be the most incredible one yet. Looking forward to reading/ seeing more. George, great article. Regards from arguably the biggest Manhattan fan at the bottom of Africa, who is still aiming to get in 🙂
The smartest such piece on a mighty relevant topic I’ve read in years! My story is so very similar… moved to NYC in 95, lived the dream as a music journalist, laid off in 08 and as a renowned freelance writer, saw my legacy nickel & dimed as clients de-valued my talent while NYC rocketed in $$$.
It hurt at the time, but I made the right decision. I’m middle aged and realize that NYC is for young folks to build their dreams… and yet, the only youngsters who can afford NYC anymore are soulless millennials with pre-lined pockets. In 2014, I moved to VA, sold my Brooklyn apartment and bought a house on a lake.
As a fulltime freelance writer, i now have coffee on my outdoor patio, plant sunflowers, drive a car again… and don’t live in the past. TURN THE PAGE GEORGE. you will love your new chapter.
I love this story. Thank you, Chuck!
I completely resonate with this piece. As a native New Yorker, I can’t even afford to live in the city I was born and raised in! I left my parents’ place, just to move from apartment to apartment with other people! I’m even one of those 20 something year olds with an excel spreadsheet job and I still can’t afford a Manhattan/Queens/Brooklyn apartment alone. My only choices are the Bronx or Staten Island (I can count the times I’ve travelled to those boroughs on my fingers)! It’s tough, but it doesn’t look like these prices are going down anytime soon! We just have to survive.
For me it’s a bit different. If you want gritty New York it’s still out there in small pockets. If you about it then, you’ll find it.
I’m born and raised in Washington heights. I love uptown Manhattan( notice the “UPTOWN” and not inwood) and the Bronx, they were my stomping grounds. These places still have that NYC feel. You are not going to find, that Midwestern fantasy of NYC in these regular places you all keep searching in. Everyone that’s New in the City moves to the same area because they are all searching for that gritty nyc, giving birth to fake versions such as Williamsburg and bushwick. Get out of your safe zone and move to Harlem or the grand concourse.
Most of you don’t know NYC!!!!! If you want to pay ridiculous amount of money to live in some fairytale and complain that you want it cheaper, go fuck yourself and bounce. This is NYC if you can’t think about the outer boroughs, you are not a new Yorker, you are one of those yuppies making this ship sink. New York CITY hasn’t failed you, nor have you failed it, grow a fucking pair and move to the outerbouroughs. Don’t just sleep there, interact and live there.
Everybody wants some gritty nyc yet most of you couldn’t really take it to be honest.
I love a native New Yorker who acts like being born here is a skill or some special birthright. Listen… I get your point loud and clear. When I moved to Hell’s Kitchen, there were still street hookers, porn theaters, drug dealers and pimps lining 8th Avenue less than 50 yards from my front door on West 45th Street. Not to mention a few murders at the Carter Hotel around the corner. Dark, noir and exciting. That’s why I moved there. I loved knowing that a playground for bent adults was right in my backyard. Maybe it’s why my rent was so affordable at the time. Then Giuliani’s “Quality of Life” program started a shift so that Disney could put a hotel in Times Square without its guests having to see a XXX store and showroom across the street (the former “Show World”). The truth is… this town IS the people who move here from somewhere else. Just like this country IS the immigrants who built it. The Trumpian “fuck you outsiders” attitude is stupid and unnecessary. This town would be nothing without the talent, ambition and hard work ethic that comes from beyond the city limits. Born and raised? Good for you. But stop acting like you personally had anything to do with building the Empire State Building. Do the people who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 who didn’t happen to be born and raised here also fit into your proprietary preciousness about NYC? Spare me. I don’t care if you want to be a dick to me, but you’ve apparently come here to tell me and my readers to fuck off and bounce. It is you, Andy, who can fuck off and bounce.
Right. Then get blamed for gentrification!
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and yearned for Manhatten. But that os okay because I was always there anyway! As a child of the 60s , let’s say there was no were better to grow up.
FAST FORWARD..a divorce at the turm of the millenium, saw me struggling to stay in NYC, so I decided to head south to Florida, fully acknowledging that while living expenses were less, so we’re wages. It was as if the employer thought you should be greatful for the opportunity to oversee the success of the business for $12 an hour, WITH a college degree and 20 years business experience.
FAST FORWARD once more to the man I met and married. He raised a family as a professional photoghaper and as digital photography came into play, everyone was a photographer and he found not only did he have to learn to adapt to new technolgy, he was being asked to work at 1985 rates.!
Long story short, the world has changes and we have to change with it. Luckily we survived the real estate crash…I am no longer upside down on our motgage. And my dream of retiring at 60 was dashed with the market crash and I will work to the end of my days OR my lotto ticket pays off.
I get up to NY as often as I can, I do miss it, but I chose this delightful town of Delray Beach and am happy I did.
Great story George, loved the way it’s was written :).. Try Europe :).. It’s Bohemic, architecture , and here people put a lot on art , web design, IT and so on :).. Plus it pays really good and apartments are affordable :).. Just saying, I know it’s hard but once you discover a city from Europe you will just love it, either the sea from Barcelona, the Colleseum in Rome, the Pallace of angels in Florence , and many more :).. I say Europe if you want a big great adventure :)..
I moved to Barcelona in 2008 after living in NYC since I started grad school at Columbia in 1992. Living in NYC, even when working 100 hour weeks, felt like constant vacation, and I never ever ever could have imagined myself living somewhere else.
But when I am back in NYC in 2016, a feeling of void overwhelms me. Yes, the record playing at 33 suddenly jumps to 45, but for no reason except what I perceive as panic for nothing. There’s not much grit or soul left in NYC. It’s not crawling like it was with the greatest and most talented people on earth who needed to physically converge to be stars of their own craft…or in their own minds. Sadly I do not remember the last time I felt disconnected from what’s happening or out-of-touch in music (in which I work).
I am content to be a NY’er mostly by Skype it turns out. I can do that from the beach directly in front of my house.
Advice if you move to Europe: don’t expect to be treated as royalty or impress anyone these days being a New Yorker. That worked for me 8 years ago, but now a NY’er is just another dumb American until you prove ’em wrong.
Move to Columbus, OH. It has the creative types you’re looking for, a huge gay scene, tons of major industries, and rents are the lowest of any city I’ve lived in.
I am in the struggle with you. #NYC
So Manhattan got too expensive. Move somewhere new and create the new place for the creative class. I do understand the frustration with rising rents and lower wages, but when the market sends a signal, take it and run with it. Pretty soon everyone will be flocking to where the new creative class has located. Acting as if you’re entitled to a Manhattan apartment is off putting and won’t earn much sympathy from the many hard working folks who live other places for the affordable living.
SO true….I loved your piece because it’s been running thru my mind lately as well! thank God I am rent-stablilized but still have noticed my freelance creative tour business (private NYC tours for buses, walking tours, etc.) has dropped off…SMART PHONES make everybody an “instant expert” on NYC info; plus the last few years have introduced the double-decker tours which people can jump on with no pre-planning involved (just bring a good guidebook to follow along for real info).
I’m hanging on, but not sure for how much longer.
I moved to NYC in 1984 which in those days had enough magic and enticement to compensate for the enormous bull shit endemic of living there. It helped immeasurably that I was quickly thereafter the occupying beneficiary of a family owned coop in Chelsea. Even with this advantage, I watched in constant pain the progressive blood draining of the creative and middle classes throughout the course of the Rudy Giulliani administration. Even with my virtually free single occupancy apartment, I could not bear the worsening zeitgeist of NYC and the prevalence of highly intelligent yet brainwashed people being spun like tops and driven into lives of constant fatigue and psychoactive prescriptions by the upper 1/32 of the 1%. In 2001, the ever apparent ‘real’ New York and it’s darkening destiny became the driving forces for me returning that coop to my family and moving to Los Angeles. I love it here. Anyone who says there is no culture here is ignorant and recalcitrant. I have never ever regretted my move here for even so much as a single scitilla of one second. There has always been more to me and my life than my career and I make no apologies for that. And neither should you.
Its not New York, it’s EVERYWHERE.. the problem is EVERYONE thinks of themselves as a “creative”… i was a signed recording artist in the 90s..produced by a big guy, managed by Bob Dylan’s manager.. all primed for mega success. then a bit of bad luck and then Napster and the entire music business model collapsed.. what did I do? did I hang on forever? thinking myself special? No after a few years of trying I fucking ATE SHIT.. and struggled.. doing adminsistrative work at first.. USING MICROSOFT APPLICATIONS.. and eventually I made what I need to survive and have a few things extra.. then I found someone and they added their lot and we now live comfortably IN the city.. it IS possible.. There are TOO many people wanting to be a “creative” in their CAREER and not enough in their LIFE.. dont complain.. the city is not for you if you want to live on dreams past the age of 30.. were about the same age.. It didn’t take me until now (40s) to realize what your just coming to.. I know a lot of people struggling on being “creative” and their life is a misery of stress and worry… wondering whats to become of therm.. I have insurance and a pension and a life.. If any ever was a “creative” it was ME.. I actually got signed from nowhere.. and even with all that I knew enough to not push it.. Put your “creativity” in your life.. you don’t need to live here.. you can live anywhere.. Its too crowded anyway
Thank you for your article… it articulates what I’ve experienced perfectly
You brought literal tears to my eyes. Your writing, as always, is beautiful, thoughtful and above all else, honest. Your frankness about the big F strikes a big chord. I’ve had more than my fair share of outward success, but that doesn’t stop the never-ending internal dialogue, the wondering if the F is coming or already came. And while we have never quite managed to keep up as regularly as we should, you are a big bright spot on my New York story. You bridged a lot of different times in my life. You are the centerpiece to some of my favorite and most shared stories, and more importantly to me, the centerpiece to a lot of wonderful every-days spent in random movie theaters around the city with a bucket of popcorn and a diet coke. The idea that we wouldn’t be on the same island just seems wrong. Whatever’s next, wherever it may be, I look forward to your take on it… you always have looked at the world with an enviable candor and humor.
My dear Jeremy… It’s been far too long, my friend. I could say the very same about you in my NY story. I’m not going anywhere immediately, and we’re long overdue for a giggle/scream-fest in a darkened theater. “Lights-Out” is coming out soon…
Thanks for this story. It resonated with me on so many levels. I really enjoyed reading peoples comments you can see its touched so many creative people you are amazing at starting a conversation. You seem to have so many talents and accomplished so much to be proud of already…….I can’t help but feel you will reinvent GEORGE and do something amazing where ever you live its going to happen just keep going.
Thank you, Tina! Yes, the conversation has been incredible.
Come to Buffalo and live like a king. http://gothamist.com/2015/01/28/millennials_buffalo.php
What an absolutely stellar piece of writing. You made me weep. I am (was) a creative, who came through the old days of retail advertising, Bullocks, Robinsons, Broadway, and various 60’s, 70’s & 80’s agencies. The best days were the ones I traveled back and forth from the West Coast to NYC to visit and work with artists with the likes of Antonio Lopez and Jim Howard, an era long before yours, but I hear you.
Today, I live in Venice, CA. and trying to figure out where I will be “squeezed” to next as I listen to my friends who are leaving San Francisco for the same reasons. I was recently talking to a friend who has a restaurant on Abbot Kinney, here in Venice: $39 K per month rent where it may have been $5K just a year or two ago. One building, on the same street, recently sold for $20 million and six months later again for $40 million.
Your story touched my heart, not in that misery loves company, but it comes with the realization that people younger than me are suffering the same way – somethings just don’t seem to change. Fare well, sir and I hope you find your peace, but in the interim, thank you for writing this one.
Thanks for this story. My experience has been the reverse journey. Having moved to NYC a few years ago from a regional market (Seattle), there is a certain legitimacy or center of the universe that happens in Manhattan that just doesn’t exist in any other market in the US. There may be more affordable opportunities elsewhere (Chicago came up numerous times in the comments), but it just isn’t the same thing. Too many industries and too many companies have their main office here, so this is where decision making is, this is where the proverbial heart of many industries (fashion, advertising, etc.) beats.
Though both my wife and I work in the city, we chose to live in Westchester and commute by train. The house here is actually more affordable than what we paid on the West Coast, has more character, and there is a certain Zen about splitting time between living outside and working in the city. Way back when I grew up in Berlin, I lived above a fire station in downtown. The noise and activity level was 7×24. Now I enjoy the transition time between the city and coming home on a 45min train ride. At night I can hear the birds and I can hear quiet again. Then the next time I arrive in Grand Central and see the bustle it has an energizing rather than an exhausting quality. I count that as a huge benefit in well being and ability to maintain my energy level.
However there is a cost to that. I constantly have to push myself to go into the city and stay connected. It becomes part of the job to attend events, dinners, and gatherings. There are fewer impromptu encounters, or spur of the moment creative experiments. No end of the day, come hang out and do something spontaneous. Everything has a certain level of production overhead. And some jobs are just not economical if everything is a production. And that has been a huge tax on my creative output. A price to pay to work in this market.
And so the journey of being an independent creative (I try not to use freelance, since we don’t work for free and we’re past the middle ages) continues. I feel a lot of the pressure on our ability to make a livelihood is not just driven by trends in NYC, but also general economic and political trends that have shifted value away from our class while still happily taken our work for granted.
Great post. Thank you.
I’m so with you, I don’t know how I stumbled here but I’m glad I did.
I moved here (the first time) in 2007 at 22 because, a year after graduating college, I felt like it was time to start living my “real” life…So many jobs, defunct relationships, so much “failure”, for better or worse, I’ve grown up here. I love my friends who are more like family, but I have this gnawing feeling that it’s time to go. This place is no longer magical to or for me and now that I know who the hell I am and what I’m doing here, I also recognize that New York is no longer me. But where does one go from here?! Searching daily… Thanks for this!!!
A bit ironic, but I’m the guy who took the photo you’ve used in the header and I just moved from NYC 6 month ago for very same reasons. I was able to sustain my lifestyle in NYC financially, I just could not justify spending that much for living there.
WOW. Beyond ironic. Your work is absolutely exquisite and the idea that you couldn’t justify the expense is telling. Thank you for the comment and a huge thank you for not getting made that I used your stunning photo of Manhattan.
It’s the same story in my birthplace of Chicago, and it’s the same story here in Los Angeles. I wonder what they all have in common? More to the point, I wonder if – here in this article’s climate of honest assessment – anybody is willing to admit what it is. (Hint: it’s the same thing that turned other formerly great cities like Philadelphia and Detroit to salt, and it ain’t scarce money.)
Berlin is hiring. Come to Europe.
I hear ya’, George.
My whole family was born and raised in NYC for generations and I worked in NYC from ’75 to 90′.
I got out in 90′ because the large ad agencies merged and the entire landscape changed in the creative field.
Suddenly my 15 years of graphic and industrial design experience was being handed off to young amateurs because they demanded no pay whatsoever.
So I left…both NYC AND the field.
Never looked back.
I ran, I ran so far away … after 17 years of what was a beautiful, balanced city. Enough blaming, they won. You can lay the wreath of shame at Giuliani’s feet, and the shackles of tourism on the grave of Ed Koch.
And the “creative industries” that decided to stop paying, and start outsourcing. Things aren’t ‘Made in Manhattan’ anymore, they’re brokered. And the rub of it all? WHEN all the sparkle turns to tarnish, and these insufferable yuppies decide, like they did in the 50s & 60s, to rush to the suburbs in droves citing “unlivable conditions” they’ll look back to the creatives & entrepreneurs to save the day. I’m not buying it.
It’s like William Gibson says: “The cities are cooked”. Overdone, overbaked. All for some “perverted sense of belonging”. No thanks. The Apple is over. Just looked how it voted the last primary election…boring, dull, unoriginal, sterile, horrid. Keep moving, nothing to see here…
You might win funniest comment. Great stuff. Thank you!
Please think about Kansas City too! It’s up and coming and you could make a big mark there. And live very comfortably.
Born in Manhattan in 1954 and raised there until I moved to San Francisco in 1975 for college. I will always be a proud native of Manhattan and I’m happy I experienced it during its Golden Age. Sadly the Manhattan of my youth is no more, and my adopted city of San Francisco has become Manhattan 2.0 with its outrageous rents and tech invasion that has displaced the creative class. I’m ready to leave the country with my meager savings and create a new reality. I hold my head up high that I lived in the two greatest cities in America, but it’s time for a change.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My husband and I bought a beautiful house in Delaware 11 years ago. Of course my in laws, father, siblings, and many friends are still in NYC. I just spent the weekend there. After 11 years, it’s hard not to compare to Delaware . So many things I miss, but so many things I dont! The old neighborhood in Brooklyn just looks run down and filthy. Getting somewhere is an investment in time, and people just seem worn out. It’s a shame really.I have 6 nieces and nephews living there, and I believe they will never know the true NY.
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Nice one George. I left Manhattan after a decade, spent a year on the road and landed in Victor, Idaho (population 2088). Loving it. NYC will always be gorgeous, but when it’s time, it’s time.
I am a born and bred New yorker and also a creative. A few years ago I started buying cheap property in Philly hearing that its up and coming. I was born in Tribeca and my parents moved to Williamsburg when I was about 3 to accommodate their growing brood. I fled home at 18 to the big sparkly city ( ok, not so sparkly then East Village) It was only 2 stops away on the L train but to me, I was worlds away.
Yes things have changed. Most of my friends have left and I most likely will too one day. I am good here in NYC for now. I am saving what I can for the future.
Retirement was nowhere to be seen until a few artist friends were making the move to Philly- I place I had never been before! I bought 2 properties that I am paying off with rentals and air bnbing and subletting rooms to students. Both properties were under 60k each. Eventually I will move there. There are still good deals there, a thriving art scene,cheap rents, a gayborhood and great restaurants! And only a 2 hour, 20 dollar bus ride away from our beloved city. All the best to you where ever you go and feel free to hit me up for Philly info.
Once ur out of there, u won’t miss it, except for the sushi and macrobiotic food depending on where u go next. Felt forced out / bounced out in 2009, but looking back, so grateful to be out of there… Even though was born there and always felt it as ‘my home.’ Actually it’s not anymore- it’s totally different now. NYC of the 70s/80s and 90s is my home. What it is now has nothing to do with home.
It served its purpose, had a great time, survived, didn’t save any money, which is an unfortunate side effect of living there.
I remember thinking, where else could I possibly go after living in New York? For as open minded and progressive as we’re supposed to be, that has to be about the dumbest question I’ve ever posed to myself. Wish I’d left in August 2001.
Any friends who have managed to stay just seem clueless to the fact that it’s just not worth it. It’s such an illusion that somehow New York offers the best of everything. Maybe it offers the best material existence, although no matter how much cash you’ve got, sky is the limit for how much you need. It surely doesn’t offer the best quality of life, truly it’s one of the lamest. But that’s hard to see while ur still in it, and perhaps for a few years after U leave while ur detoxing from it.
Unbelievably happy to leave it behind, yet somehow also resentful that I wasted half of my life there, and also irritated when people exclaim how cool it is that I’m from there.
Go and add another dimension to ur life. U have the opportunity to expand ur experience it. This is not a reduction but an expansion. Why waste ur whole existence in one place? Take on the adventure and go as far as u have the courage to go. Why not learn a new language and a whole new culture? It’s amazing and by the way there are gay men and culture (now) all over the world. U don’t need New York for that anymore… And also by the way, gay culture outside of New York, depending on where u end up I guess, can be way more chill.
100% no regrets. Good luck and thanks for the article!!
Chin up George!
This post really struck a chord as so many can relate to it, regardless of where you live and what you do.
Me, I live in Sydney and real estate has gone through the roof while wages haven’t really moved. I also spent a couple of years in London where the same thing happened.
So many jobs can be outsourced / off-shored that there is tremendous downward pressure on wages. Face to face interactions count for a lot in business – understanding requirements, developing relationships etc – but it can be hard to persuade the bean counters that the extra expense is justified when budgets these days are so tight.
I’m sure there are plenty of ‘creatives’ in your line of work that send their ‘concept’ offshore for someone else to implement.
Anyway, regardless of where you move to, I hope you keep the site going as your posts are always thought provoking and entertaining.
Thank you, Matt. The site will keep going!
Reading this, there’s a lot of snobbery in it. There’s certainly truth in it. But it’s clear, the author, George, doesn’t want to compromise. I live up near Dyckman. It’s a great place. Sure it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Hells Kitchen does. But It’s affordable, and it’s a 20-30 minute subway ride to HK.
So, he has standards that he doesn’t want to have to compromise to continue the life he wants. Which means, he’s basically asking the city to stop changing because he doesn’t want to change. Sounds kind of privileged to me.
Also, I’m not exactly sure what George does, other then, everything. I’m sure he’s good at what he does, he’s managed to make it this far. But being good, and excelling at something are not the same. In NY, being good works, but there’s literally thousands of people who are also just as good as you.
Graphic Design and Copywriting aren’t the same. When do you develop the level of expertise in something that makes you invaluable? It’s hard to do that when you are basically scattered across overlapping, but ultimately different fields.
He’s right. Companies want more for the same or less. It’s a struggle. Places like Huffpost and Buzzfeed don’t even want to pay for their content. It’s the same every where. You make money today by paying as little as possible. Big billion dollar companies will act like they are going bankrupt if you ask for 10,000, instead of the 5,000 they offer. It’s not even a percentage of a drop in the bucket to them.
But with being a freelancer, and being a creative professional, a long term career that doesn’t fizzle out after 10-15 years, is about being responsive to the current trends, good or bad. It’s about learning where you can make sacrifices so you can keep doing what you love.
To me, I get the feeling that George is more in love with living in HK and other over priced Manhattan neighborhoods then he is with all the various things he does for a living. It’s he works just to support his habit of life. If his habit is that important, then find a way to afford it.
Hey George- loved the article, hate that there is no easy solution. I too moved here in 1994 and have experienced all the same feelings you have. Especially those of feeling like your work doesn’t really matter. Of course it does, but the shitty income/cost of living ratio is a constant reminder of how poorly I’m doing. DA, has been of some help, but I’m still surviving. My best friend finally moved to SF – after moving away twice before and returning both times, looks like she might stay there. Every time I think about moving I’m struck with the dilemma of what will the new city offer me? Does it have seasons? Will I now live out of my car? What will the people be like? I have yet to find a place that I could love.
I often wonder if I would be a HUGE success in a smaller place- would my New York ways be so exotic and stimulating that everyone would flock to me? Would my NYC hard-knock life afford me so much experience that I would reign in a lesser-than metropolis? If I moved, could I then CASH in? God only knows. I for sure do not have the balls to leave. I have a 3 year old son and feel like I would be cheating him if we left. Instead, as of now, we live in Stuytown. I’m surrounded by trees and peace. Maybe now that I’m well into my 40’s I actually don’t want NYC for all the reason I used to. But I also do not want to leave it for a whole bunch of other reasons. I’ll leave you with this- New York City is the HARDEST city to live in and the HARDEST city to leave.
Keep us posted- especially if you find a great place to live!
If you can’t even fathom moving out of Manhattan for the love of God do not leave NYC. I arrived in the city in ’96 and finally surrendered last year that I couldn’t do it anymore so I left. It was grave mistake. Guess what else is expensive? EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE. At least in NYC you can still eke out a living being a creative weirdo. Trust me, I was doing fine- GREAT!- comparatively to what I am able to earn out of the city.
Even at it’s worst NYC is still the greatest place on Earth. I can’t begin to tell you the crushing depression that you will be wallowing in if you dare leave. I too knew as a young child that I absolutely had to live in NYC. When I left I felt like all my dreams were dead and that I was a complete failure. I am more financially strapped than I ever was in the city. And holy Mother of God they make you pay for heat and hot water in the rentals out here. Hug your 30 year old microwave and hold her tight. Then bite your tongue for ever writing this. Don’t ever give up on New York. But maybe seriously consider another borough or a roommate? It’s worth it.
I found this so fitting. So much so I linked to it in my Goodbye-NYC newsletter: https://madmimi.com/s/85e848
I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I can’t stay here…
Best of luck to you.
Interesting read but it just sounds like you’re facing high-earning gentrification. This happens every day to low-income earners and no one seems to care about it.
Wake up and start examining the world around you before it’s too late.
Great piece! Nobody tells you that NYC is going to ruin you for most every other place in the country. It isn’t so much the city, or even the cultural benefits, but the life you get to build with a bunch of likeminded, smart and interesting people. The sheer numbers of your “tribe” here, whichever tribe or may be, really can spoil you for a downshifted life most anyplace else.
I’ve never been able to live in Manhattan and have just recently needed to get a roommate in Brooklyn. With your current rent, you could certainly find a place in another borough. Frankly, I’m really happy to have a city life and a home life that are separated by some distance. It allows me to turn off each evening and recharge for the next day. That said, I’ve always been really jealous of people that don’t have to carry their entire day with then at all times and can duck into their midtown apartments for a change of clothes or a quick bite to eat.
Why can’t we get a group of likeminded folks together and find a NEW New York? Someplace where the cost of living is cheap, and pink hair still turns a few heads? We just need to get the word out the Manhattan is so over!
We can do that because everyone would follow us there–and it would no longer be cheap! Lather, rinse, repeat!
Thanks for writing about this. It was particularly helpful to hear you say “The fact that this island is no longer a place for single middle-class creatives is neither my fault nor my failure.” I think you could swap “creatives” for many other careers that don’t include, as you put it “people who do money for a living” and still have it be true. I know that’s how I feel. I’ve been grappling with this same thing myself. I think the answer is NOT in finding another city, its in leaving cities entirely. But that’s another discussion for another day…
Having lived in Manhattan from 1976-2006, I watched everything that made it a city become manufactured into a model/development of an ‘urban’, not urbane environment. And I spent my last decade in Inwood! It is lovely. But NYC is no more! No such urban environment exists anymore for anyone. And what does is “trumpified” in a glittery facade of pretentious arrogance that excludes us all! I’ve returned to the Adirondacks!
One word. AUSTIN!! ❤️
I just left New York and moved to Chicago for this very reason and honestly, I am so much happier. In fact, I just decided to buy a condo because that is something normal people can actually afford to do here. It doesn’t have the same high-paced, frenetic energy that New York does but it does have heart. It is also arguably the center of the ad world. My favorite part is that all the little boutiques and mom & pops in NYC closed but Chicago still has tons of them. There is so much culture to be had and NY just isn’t what it used to me.
p.s. I lived all over Manhattan, including Inwood, which is very much a part of Manhattan. It isn’t Hells Kitchen but it’s Manhattan and is cool so don’t count it out.
I talk about this all the time with friends. I’ve been living in this city since 1993, have been working in offices for 20+ years, have a degree from NYU, and still don’t have a real “career” despite all of this. I can’t stand my job and I feel like my brain is being underutilized on the daily. But I’ve always thought that if I left it would be a form of failure – that I didn’t “make it” here.
At this point in my life I’ve come to realize that less anxiety and better quality of life are more important than anything else. I’m finally ready to let go of the city. That said, the only way I could actually handle the move would be to head to a city with as much going for it as this one used to. To me, this means leaving the country.
As cheesy as it sounds, I’m attempting to live by these few ideas:
This is your only shot at this life – use it wisely.
Nothing is permanent – if something doesn’t work, you can always make a change.
Don’t regret anything. Live intentionally.
Care about things beyond yourself.
Here’s the thing. I’m in my 40s, and I’ve seen a lot of people leave NYC because the expense was incompatible with the creative life they were trying to carve out for themselves. They land in another place that they deem to be the next acceptable hotbed of creativity, only to wind up in a similar financial bind. But this time the complaint is ‘there’s not enough work’ instead of ‘the rent is too high’. I have totally been one of those people.
The fact is, there are professionals in both NYC and Cleveland (where you’ve mentioned going) who have far less talent, intellect, and experience than you but who are getting paid handsomely to do the sort of thing that your freelance clients nickel and dime you for.
It’s never too late to learn some new tricks. As other commenters have suggested, this may entail learning to sell, eating some shit, or giving up on certain dreams of freelance independence that have persisted since your 20s or 30s (or all of these!). But I’m willing to bet you have what it takes to make a lot more money, should you a) make that a goal and b) learn to move the right levers.
You are amazing man, but maybe something got to give, take a break, travel… Maybe the batteries don’t have enough juice… If you can’t make it no one can 🙂
Hello George – fantastic read and my sincerest hope is that the city brings to you the opportunities that allow you to remain … I just stumbled upon your work and am duly inspired by your writing, I have to believe that for someone with your creative talents, the doors will likely open at just the right moment for you to stay in your venerable city.
Otherwise, I am clearly biased but would recommend a short visit to LA before making any final decisions. 😉 You may receive a few more sideways looks for being so well dressed than you would in NYC, but trust me there are several communities with incredible character that can be beautifully navigated on foot or two wheels (Santa Monica, Venice, downtown).
Wishing you nothing but great successes during this time of potential transition.
Hi George. Great read. Don’t give up…NYC will return those struggles with opportunities. Born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for nearly 33 years and then moving to Miami, FL for 2 years and then moving outside of Raleigh, NC for 10 years….NY is calling me. I want to return. North Carolina is great…but I miss the hustle…the culture…the melting pot. Yeah…the big house in the ‘sac, and 2 car garage sounds great…but you will become lazy…a robot. NYC gives you the option to roam. Hang in there…you will have a fellow NY joining in the near future.
Some tort lawyers *ahem* are hilarious, colorful, and interesting…
Hello George! Just wondering if you are still in NY, made a career shift or what you have done to enjoy the life you’ve made here. I bookmarked your writing last July as it really expressed – actually STILL expresses – everything I’m feeling, seeing, and experiencing. And I’m a creative professional living in manhattan since 1992. I live way uptown past Dyckman street since 2006 and love it – lots of parks, greenery, some mom & pop stores and a wonderful creative community. But sadly, gentrification and a higher cost of living is moving here too.
I feel like it’s time to move on.
It’s a hard decision. I actually ripped off the bandaid and moved to Cleveland in November. Sometimes I miss living in NYC (certainly parts of it) until I see reports about the cost of living, the disappearance of diners and other mom & pops and the subway situation. I do love this town (it is my hometown) and I’m still designing my life here. I call it “The Cleveland Experiment.” It’s not perfect (no city is), but it’s working for now.
I never expected you to reply so quickly, thank you. You are such an articulate writer, and your blog/website is wonderful and thought provoking. Your post from July 2016 mirrored so much of my experience living here, as if you had read my thoughts. Cities grow and change and reinvent themselves – just as people do – and I dont like what I see happening. Despite my extensive work experience, it’s become increasingly difficult to afford living here. I know my years here are drawing to a close – especially when a large apt. on 204th street sells for 50K over asking price. It’s just scary. I think it’s just a matter of months for me.
I wish you all the very best in your new city, and in your new adventure. Cheers!
Thank you so much, Nancy! You will find your way. I could never shut the door on New York. She’s like no other, and she’ll always be there if I’m able to and interested in coming back.
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