This week is my 20th anniversary as a resident of New York City. I moved here in September 1989 at the tender age of 18, excited to begin studying art at Cooper Union but largely ignorant of how much New York itself would teach me for the next two decades.
What I love most about New York is that it keeps surprising me. New York today is simply not the same place it was ten or twenty years ago. Things keep changing, disappearing and emerging (for better and for worse) and in more dramatic and exaggerated ways than I’d ever imagined.
By “things”, I mean everything: The skyline, the demographics, the mood, the culture. The rules of the road for cyclists, the accents and music on the streets in the summers, the gossip and the conventional wisdom, the businesses and industries. Every few years, it’s like a whole new city with all new people doing totally different things.
And yet so much seems to endure as well. Not just because Coney Island is doggedly resisting the onslaught of misbegotten development, and not just because Brooklyn’s warehouses are just as good to have an illegal dance party in as Manhattan’s were 20 years ago. It’s because New York is, functionally, the same place it has been for almost century. New York City is an interestingness machine. It’s precisely the churn of new people, cultures, attitudes, and ideas that makes NYC what it is.
I’ve traveled a bit and know that of course New York isn’t the only place in the world with a vibrant and surprising culture and history. In fact, I have in recent years thought a lot about picking up stakes and living somewhere else. But it would be at best a sabbatical, an experiment: even if I left for a decade, I’d still think of New York City, and indeed Brooklyn, as my home.