You know how Frank Sinatra says if you can make it in New York, you can effectively make it anywhere? I’m paraphrasing and doing a shitty job at that, but you get the point.
Do you think the notion behind that lyric is precisely what elicits the spectacular flood of immigrants, transplants and aspiring [insert vocation here]-ists to, you know, come over and “make it”? This week, David Byrne offered a shrewd look at the City’s wavering trajectory, detailing S/He Who Makes It in New York and how that personality is changing.
An old friend of mine used to say that the single most salient feature of the City’s success lays in its ability to hand select who gets to live here. It’s the kind of city that either adopts you as its own, like a clique of Mean Girls who love each other but hate everyone else, or spits you right out, thrashing you back with little if any remorse to a suburb you probably didn’t even come from. He wasn’t from here and conceivably “made it” so I think that lends some salt to his assertion’s worth.
But Byrne argues that the City’s criteria for adopting the hopeful have shifted from grit and talent to liquid assets. Gone are the days when eager neophytes could come here penniless and not only hope to make something, but actually find that they’ve become something.
In his article, which was re-published from The Creative Time Report in The Guardian on Monday, Byrne romanticizes the opportunities inherent to living in New York. “We come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes, that possibility of serendipitous encounters – and I don’t mean in the meat market – is the principal lure.”
He continues, “New York is funky, in the original sense of the word – New York smells like sex.” But Byrne’s tone shifts when discussing the City’s accessibility, “aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types.”
The point of view is interesting, especially as told by a Scottish transplant who came with nothing, lived the glamorized life of a starving artist that many creatives idealize, then proceeded to accrue enough clout and cabbage to nourish himself. Though he’s not wrong that the ever-increasing cost of New York living hinders the city’s hospitality towards young creatives, there is still a vibrant culture of creativity and innovation.
And that’s not to discredit the effect of rising rent; the raw, bohemian spirit of the Village has lost its nucleus, decentralizing to flophouses in distant boroughs. But Byrne overlooks a critical element, one which expands New York’s cultural landscape: the Internet. I’d be hard-pressed to argue that the still favorable circumstances of “making it” here, which now exist through a digital vacuum thanks to the Internet and start-up culture, are of no value.
It’s chilling to think about what might happen if the city is in fact spitting out potential and only letting seasoned meat successfully penetrate the picturesque skyline, but we’re a town built on permutation, on quick turnovers and sesame seed bagels.
In line with that, maybe the city is just attracting a new genre of creative type, still focused on innovation, but exploring new territory. All we need is a little time to prove our worth — and to that, the conversation on whether New York will continue to maintain its charisma and status as The Best City in The World is always a good one to canvass, so, let’s get talking.
Edited by Kate Barnett