One of the nastiest aspects of NIMBYism in New York City is the scapegoating of people who moved here from somewhere else. For years I've heard complaints about "people from Ohio" or "from the suburbs," and a veneration of "native New Yorkers." I can sometimes escape these complaints because I was born here, but if they say "lifelong New Yorkers" I don't qualify because my family yanked me out of here when I was a toddler, and apparently it doesn't matter if I came back as soon as I could. My father, who moved here when he was in his twenties and never owned a car, would not have qualified either.
Even Jeremiah Moss, who rages against the "suburbanization" of the city, acknowledged that he comes from the suburbs, and got a "dose of my own vitriol" in 2008 when Danny Hoch raged "Go home!" at non-natives. Moss gives a list of non-lifelong New Yorkers who have made the city great (to which I would also add Billy Joel, Donald Fagen and Jane Jacobs), and ends with a great quote by E.B. White about "three New Yorks," with the greatest being that of the non-natives: "the settlers give it passion."
In typical No True Scotsman fashion, Moss's commenters leap to draw a distinction between White's "person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something," and the "moneyed masses" that they were yearning to hate. Some people call them "hipsters," Moss previously called them "yunnies" for "young urban narcissists."
I think the difference is mostly exaggerated. Moss asks, "while there were probably always normal tensions between natives and newcomers, today it feels like a war, soaked in hate. as a long-timer, i look at newcomers with, at the very least, suspicion. so what happened between e.b. white's days and today?" I'll tell you what happened, Moss: now you're on the "long-timer" side of the war. The hate runs mostly from the long-timers to the newcomers, and at worst the newcomers regard the long-timers with contempt. Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg weren't narcissists? Gimme a fucking break.
And yet there is a kernel of truth there. While my dad, and Patti Smith, and Lou Reed, came to New York because it was the center of the world and they wanted to be there, a lot of people who are here now would be happy in other places. But they are here in New York because there are no other places for them.
A lot of the people I know would be just as happy in Saint Louis or Schenectady or Syosset or Saugerties. They wouldn't mind living in another big city, or a medium-size city, or a suburb, or a small town. But despite the breathless articles about suburbanites driving in Manhattan, most of them want to live someplace where they don't have to drive everywhere, or at all.
Here's what life is like for most people outside of the city, especially parents: drive the kid to school, drive to work. Drive to pick the kid up and bring them to soccer. Drive to shopping. Drive to the doctor's office. Drive to dinner. Drive to visit friends. Drive home. Drive drive drive. This is life for both parents, and for the kids (if they don't kill themselves driving drunk), and for the grandparents (if they don't kill themselves driving while disabled).
All this driving is killing us, and it's killing the planet. We want people to stop driving. We want them to live in walkable neighborhoods. But my wife and I tried living in walkable neighborhoods in two other cities, and we still felt the constant pressure to drive. Even if we could walk to work and to some restaurants, the stores and offices and friends were still far away and not well served by transit. So we moved back to the city, along with thousands of others.
This is the thing that pisses me off the most about the vicious scapegoating from Moss and his friends: these people are doing what we want them to do! They walk to shopping, and to visit friends. They walk the kids to school. They take the train to work. They take the bus to the doctor's office. So what do we do? In San Francisco people throw rocks at their buses. In New York we call them dirty hipsters and tell them to go back to Ohio.
They can't go back to Ohio. As Chrissie Hynde pointed out, their cities are gone. Even if they manage to find a reasonably safe place where they can walk to work and their kids can walk to school, there are hardly any jobs, and those jobs are an hour's drive out in the suburbs.
If we really want to keep the people who come to New York because it's New York and get the rest to go away, bringing rents down, we need to give them what they want elsewhere. That means bringing jobs back to the downtowns of Saint Louis, Schenectady, Syosset and Saugerties. It means tearing down their bypasses, reconfiguring their one-way pairs, reforming their zoning and undoing all the other changes that have turned their centers into parking craters. It means reconnecting them to the rest of the country with trains and buses that go downtown.
It means solving the underlying problem instead of wasting a bunch of people's time in a counterproductive attempt to stop the symptom. It means looking at these "hipsters" and "yunnies" as people making more or less rational decisions, instead of as faceless monsters. Are you up to the challenge, Jeremiah Moss?