The city where I'll never sleep
Like many Penn students, I've always dreamed of moving to New York City, but now I'm not so sure
August 20, 2013, 7:30 pm · Updated August 21, 2013, 5:45 pm·
Rachel del Valle
I always wanted to move to New York City. Growing up in Newark, N.J., just 30 minutes away from Manhattan, I felt like I was being constantly taunted.
So close, but so far away. Very trite; very New Jersey.
But what I didn’t realize is how different my quality of life would have been if my parents had picked up the family and tried to settle in the city. Ironically, now that I’m at the age where moving to New York on my own is a possibility, I’m coming up with more cons than pros. Maybe it’s one of those childhood dreams that you’re supposed to outgrow, like wanting to be a ballerina.
Living in New York is expensive in a way that you don’t realize until you start buying your own meals and reloading your own MetroCard. And for me the glamour of “roughing it” doesn’t have the allure that it once did.
This past June, I visited a friend who goes to Barnard. She’s a resident advisor who helps out with summer training. For the summer, she nabbed herself a five bedroom suite just off Riverside Drive, courtesy of Columbia University housing. As soon as I walked in, I traced my eyes over the crown molding, the hardwood floors, the high, bright bay windows. For the next three months, she and her girlfriend would have the whole apartment to themselves.
Framed photos leaned against tables; a lone magnet stuck on the refrigerator. The space was filled with pretty, temporary things. “This is probably the nicest apartment I’ll ever live in,” she told me, “so I’m trying to make the most of it.” That struck me as a strange, bittersweet realization for a 20-year-old. But it’s probably true.
I don’t consider myself a materialistic person, but I think there’s something to be said for a reasonable cost of living. The relative privilege of my upbringing has meant that for most of my life, the phrase “the cost of living,” was more a vague economic term than a reality. As I get older and more independent, that’s no longer the case.
Thirty-dollar brunches, like the one I had with my friend at a Harlem cafe a couple weeks ago, are not sustainable. They’re just embarrassing. I can get french toast and coffee at Sabrina’s for 15 dollars. I can get the same thing at a suburban diner for less than 10.
Recently, scholars and critics have noted a disconcerting trend in major American cities. Apparently, metropolitan areas are becoming increasingly polarized along socioeconomic lines, with the very wealthy at one end of the spectrum and the very poor at the other.
Meanwhile, people between those polar opposites are being squeezed out.
Benefits like subsidized housing and public transportation keep those who are struggling financially in the city. High rent keeps everyone else — besides those very few who can afford it — out.
I’m not in either of those categories, and I likely never will be. So where does that leave young professionals like myself?
Maybe I’ll move to Manhattan sometime later, when I’ve reached a point in my career that leaves me enough extra income to actually enjoy the city I’d be living in. But when will that be? And who’s to say I’ll ever get to that point of wealth?
Even if I could afford it, would I want to move there? A New York City without any middle class doesn’t appeal to me.
Why “make do” in New York when I can make my money go further in a place like Memphis or Houston or St. Louis? I have a hobby interest in historical architecture — do I really want to spend the next 10 years of my life paying $1100/month for a tiny beige studio?
So I’ve given up on the idea of New York, at least for now. And it’s actually really, really liberating. There are so many parts of the country, of the world, I had never considered living in because I’d been so set on the Tri-State Area. Maps don’t seem so decorative anymore. Now, with New York off the table, I feel like I can make it anywhere.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Email her at email@example.com or follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” will appear every Tuesday.