Quality of life in New York City

I traveled to Manhattan and Brooklyn earlier this month for a family event (see Abortion care as a wedding gift?), my first trip to NYC since June 2021. This post is for young people thinking of settling in the city.

I stayed with friends who live in NYU faculty housing just south of Washington Square Park. Their neighborhood is literally trashed. A son who was home from college said “the neighborhood is so dirty and disorderly compared to when I was in high school that I barely recognize it.” His dad blames the in-street dining shacks that restaurants have constructed for (1) encouraging rats, and (2) making it tough for city workers to clean the streets. That can’t be the full explanation, however, because trash cans are overflowing and trash bags are everywhere. Somehow, NYC lost the art of picking up trash. We also saw a street sweeper go over a section of pavement that was littered with food wrappers and similar large objects and hardly any of the trash seemed to have been swept up. They need higher tech machines. Here are some photos:

Speaking of filth, the New Yorkers who claimed to be experts on avoiding infectious disease seem to be running quite a few establishments in which (1) people eat food with their hands, and (2) there is neither a restroom for customers nor a hand-washing sink. Example:

The hipster neighborhoods of Brooklyn were just as filthy. The Upper West Side, however, seemed like its old reasonably clean self and, of course, Central Park is easily accessible. (There may be some variation among neighborhoods depending on trash collection schedule, of course, but the Village seems to be filthy all the time.) Whichever neighborhood you choose, rest assured that you’ll be staying healthy by inhaling plenty of secondhand marijuana smoke. “They’re on every block,” said my hostess regarding the marijuana retailers. Here’s one where the Followers of Science can get their chart read as well:

Wherever you choose to live, don’t plan on straying too far from that neighborhood. The road network was gridlocked the entire time that I was there, with drive times within Manhattan at least 2X what they were in 1995 when I lived there. Uber prices are 2X what they were in 2019, perhaps partly due to drive times being so much longer. Uber was going to cost at least $100 to get from the Upper West Side to LaGuardia Airport. I managed to find a cab and it was $45 plus tip ($55 total). Google Maps-quoted walk-plus-subway times were nearly always shorter than Uber/taxi (even without any waiting), but the subway is not for everyone!

As my friends get older, they demonstrate more fully the wisdom of the authors of A Pattern Language, specifically the Four Story Limit chapter, in which the authors note “The higher people live off the ground, the more likely are they to suffer mental illness” and attributes this correlation to the effort required to leave the apartment if a long elevator ride is a prerequisite. Our house in Florida is all on the ground floor from the perspective of adults. We can be in and out of it all day and probably enter/exit at least 10 times on a typical day (maybe 15-20 if you count trips to the back yard). Friends in NY on the 9th or the 19th floor, on the other hand, need a good reason to leave the apartment and often don’t get out until noon or later. They’re incurring huge costs to live in a place where there are all kinds of activities all the time, but they’re not engaging in these activities because the hurdle to leave the apartment is too high.

Maybe there should be a rule: if you spend more than 75 percent of your waking hours in your apartment you should move out of NYC. Exceptions… you want to get paid for having sex or you enjoy smoking crack:


24 thoughts on “Quality of life in New York City

  1. An interesting article in the NYT from April 14:

    Rat Horror Stories the New N.Y.C. Rat Czar Needs to Hear
    “New Yorkers have encountered rodents in toilets, on trains, in bed. And that’s not all.”


    “New York City has a new rat czar, and it is impossible to overstate the urgency of her mission. The rats are *everywhere.*”

    “One mother on the Upper West Side reports that her daughter “rolled over a mostly-dead rat with her rolling backpack on way to school.”

    Rats in the cars, from nearly a year ago: August 4, 2022
    “Finally, they found the source: a rat. It had chewed through a sensor wire. She ended up with a $700 bill.”

    I don’t know what’s worse: having a rat chew through “a sensor wire” or having to pay $700 to fix it. Does the car fly? I guess you can succumb to the rats or succumb to the heart attack when you get the bill.

    To be fair (you know I have to say that), we’ve had a problem with our cars being munched on – not by rats, but mice, out here where I live in the Deplorable Zone. But this is a semi-rural area and we don’t have street sweepers and garbage pickup is once every two weeks (we meticulously keep our dumpster closed tight.) We can’t kill all the mice in the woods. So what I’ve done is basic hygiene on both cars (NO wrappers. NO food left behind. Clean interior air filters. Vacuum the engine compartment carefully, not just the passenger area. Then I put a couple of mouse traps in mine. So far no takers and no gnawing since I introduced the protocol.

    But in a big city like that? I’d go bonkers. Modern cars are so electronically integrated and sophisticated that any kind of wiring problem like that is both dangerous and difficult to trace.

    I can vouch for the Four Story Limit. I once lived in a big high-rise and the relative isolation and trouble it takes to make the trip outside are inhibitory and confining. Great views, but there’s a psychological tariff to pay.

    • This isn’t funny, but it was funny, from the Rats in Cars piece:

      “The ‘check engine’ light came on, and I brought it to my mechanic, who popped the hood and found chicken bones, some bread and part of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich sitting there,” Ms. Carpenter-Moyes said. She paid $1,200 to repair and clean the car, but the battle to keep the rats from picnicking under its hood is now constant, she said. “I go through a lot of peppermint oil.”

      Pretty soon some enterprising author will craft a children’s book and an adult companion book about Best Practices to Shield Your Car Against Vermin. Offer them as a set in NYC and other places and it’ll make the Best Seller list.

  2. With New York traffic and construction quality, the best place to live is between 15th to 40th floor. Above the constant traffic, perhaps with some views beyond the dumpster or street drinking/smocking parties and not high up enough to feel building top swinging

  3. The garbage on the streets is an indication of failure of government since since one of the things NYC’s high taxes are supposed to fund is trash collection, along with public safety — you get the feeling that city government has just given up on both trash collection and public safety. One of the reasons Uber is so expensive is that the city tacks various charges onto Uber and has imposed various licensing requirements largely at the behest of the yellow cab industry. When Uber first entered the scene it was substantially cheaper & a lot more pleasant than a yellow cab. Now it is just more pleasant.

  4. > Their neighborhood is literally trashed.

    This is what a collapsing civilization looks like. Here’s an example from the other coast about a previously safe city: “While Santa Monica was once considered one of the safest cities in California, it was listed as one of its least safe in 2022. A surge in car thefts, home invasions, and other property crimes has driven Hollywood stars and moguls to beef up security and even arm themselves, often for the first time, with unpredictable results.”

    Another example from a western country getting poorer and more backward: “Train passengers face losing access to wifi after the government told rail companies to stop providing the service … in order to cut costs”.

    It’s going to be fascinating, in a slow-motion car crash kind of way, to see how things go over the next five to ten years. But like a fireworks display, better observed from a safe distance.

  5. Being on the 2nd floor, the lion kingdom is definitely less sane than Greenspun. The highest a lion ever lived was the 9th floor. Those were insane times. Traditionally everyone had to go outside to commute.

  6. It is difficult not to have an ambiguous relationship with NYC, but it is still a fantastic place. Ultimately, the nature of your NYC “experience” depends on personal preferences and circumstances.

    Easy to make well-documented negative commentaries about NYC. Many very educated and interesting people love to be here. The reports of NYC death are greatly exaggerated.

    I really enjoy reading many of your postings. Some have more quality than others. This was not one of the better ones.

    “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Yogi Berra

    • Arranoa: I didn’t mean to be dissing NY as a place for young 24-hour party people to live. Nor as a place for the super elite to enjoy hanging with their super elite friends at the Met Gala. The post is more about what it’s like for people who don’t have a huge amount of money (net worth of less than $30 million in today’s mini-dollars) and/or who don’t have a huge amount of energy to be out partying (maybe because they have kids or maybe they’re just middle-aged).

      (And I didn’t mean to suggest that NYC was dying in any way. There will always be a market for the excitement and culture that NYC offers. But there are a lot of people who live in NYC who attend only a handful of cultural events per year and whose excitement comes mainly from watching streaming video. For them, it is a reasonable question to ask “Wouldn’t they be better off in a pleasant suburb where they could have 4X as much space and 100X as much greenery?”)

    • Those who flee NYC due to lack of greenery, both in form of dollars and plants, and not because of its mix of draconian imperial laws and lawlessness, should stay in NYC and save two-story America for those who like it as is. They should work on self-improvement, keep growing spiritually and disregarding earthly convenience and luck of greenery, in whatever form and shape it comes.

  7. The magic of NYC is that many have arrived here to better themselves. To make more money, to learn, to be free. That vast amount of human energy has given birth to a city like no other. There are cleaner cities, safer cities, more beautiful cities. None has the feeling of New York.

    In my opinion, the main drawback of New York City currently is the very high cost of living. It is common problem in all desirable places. It makes it difficult for young people to build a life here, it is true and it is sad. The streets are reasonable clean and safe. The great cultural institutions are still standing. People of all kinds still make a living here. Some leave, others dream of being here.

    I arrived to NYC decades ago when I was in my twenties. I immediately felt right at home. I worked in NYC, I got married and raised a son in NYC, and I tell others that NYC is really the place where I grew because it is true.

    Do you know of any other place that deserves this quote of Tom Wolfe?

    “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

    • Arranoa: Beautifully expressed! But the “very high cost of living” translates to a lot of day-to-day suffering for those who aren’t super rich. Peasants in New York are assaulted by noise: (1) the screeching wheels on the subway trains that rich people never experience, (2) roommates or apartment neighbors, etc. Peasants in NY live in cramped quarters and may suffer from a lack of natural light. Peasants generally can’t afford to live close to Central Park, so they seldom see anything resembling a natural green space. The peasants waste hours every day commuting because they can’t afford apartments close to their jobs.

      If the “human energy” that you’ve talked about makes a unique career possible, then the above sacrifices might well be worth it. I’m thinking of a musician or a Wall Street trader, for example. But for every one of those individuals there are at least 20 people doing jobs that could easily be done in a place that doesn’t have the “very high cost of living”, the congestion, etc. And those 20 people are maybe hitting 10 cultural events and museums per year (my friends who live in the Village say that they attend 5-7 concerts and theatrical performances annually; i.e., about the same number as someone who goes to London for a week).

    • Arranoa, you may be new commenter here because I do not recognize your name. It seems like you have live in NYC for a very long time. There is a high probability you were raped by Donald Trump as I once was. It is not important to remember which year this happened. I am happy to corroborate your story if you corroborate mine. We must act very soon to file our 5 million dollar claims. The special window where the statute of limitations are ignored is closing soon. Just like the great Obama used to say si se puede or yes we can!

    • @Toucan Sam, I’m sorry to hear that you were raped by Trump a very long time ago, but since you remember this, I’m sure you also remember that I loaned you $2M a very long time ago. Unfortunately, I lost the only evidence that I have, the legal document that you signed, but I have my friends who will testify to this fact. It is time that you return me the $2M, if not, see you in court.

  8. Philg, I cannot disagree. However, those are problems that exists in many other places. Complex problems that are difficult to resolve. Let us hope that NYC has a great future and can offer others what has given me.

    • New York is largely financed by property tax, in particular taxes on commercial property. Publicly traded property in the form of REITs have been marked down by half to three quarters — take a look at Vornado, VNO, generally considered NYC’s premier property co now marked down by more than 2/3 of what it traded at right before the pandemic. This indicates that when property is reassessed it will generate a lot less in tax revenues. How the City will meet this shortfall is unclear. But it is not written in stone that cities survive — look at Newark, Detroit, Cleveland, St Louis, etc. Whether NYC goes the way of Newark after the riots of 1965 or revitalizes itself as it did after its bankruptcy in the mid-70s remains to be seen. Though there seem to be a lot fewer reasons today for a city like NYC than there were then when the sunbelt cities were insignificant and no one worked remotely.

  9. To folks who are expressing love for NYC, I don’t understand you.

    Over the past 40 years, I visited NYC multiple times, on average once every 5 years mainly because guests who visited my family from outside the USA want to see NYC so they can say yes, I visited NYC.

    Every time I take them to NYC, I’m disgusted by the filth and the low-life humans on the streets. Rats and mice are everywhere, more so on subways and streets during the day and night. You will see them in shops too if you look close enough, even in restaurants! And I’m not talking about low-end, no-name restaurants.

    Walking on the street is a nightmare. People will rub you and intentionally brush into you and inappreciably touch you and sware at you when you question them. Of course, not only are you trying to avoid running into people, but you also have to avoid the trash on the sidewalks and the never-ending constructions. And did I mention the terrible smell on the streets? Not even an N95 mask will help you!

    If you are lost, good luck asking for directions. No one seems to know or want to give you one. You would think those street vendors and street hustlers who are in your face trying to sell you a ticket would be of help, good luck with that!

    What about the cost? Everything is expensive. When I take guests to NYC, we stay in a hotel in NJ. If we drive to NYC, parking is a nightmare, assuming you can drive in time and safely into NYC. And have you driven on main streets and highways? Your car won’t last much due to potholes (are they not collecting enough $$$ from tolls that are on every single bridge?) What about those abandoned cars, tires, furniture, and trash on the side of the highway and streets? Some are there for ages, you can tell from how old the cars are. And of course, get ready to pay top $$$ to park your car for the day. You are better off taking public transportation to get to NYC from NJ, but even then, the smell of the subway is unbearable. And good luck if you need directions, even subway officials don’t bother to be helpful.

    Sure, visiting some landmarks in NYC is a sight to see, and eating at some restaurants (not high class, just your average one that has established a name for itself) is an experience to have, but man, get ready to spend top $$$. Even street vendor food is expensive.

    NYC is a place to experience. I cannot see how anyone can live in NYC even if you have the money. To me, NYC is a playground for the super-rich who wants to show off and declare that they have a home in the City, not a place to grow in.

    And please don’t get me started on neighborhoods around NYC. Yes, I visited them too.

    • George: I actually love New York! I love art museums, theater, opera (maybe I am gay?), and the lively streets. I am amazed by the talent on every stage. The cost is shocking. I remember seeing a sign for the toll into Manhattan from Newark as costing $17. As I get older, the idea of living there becomes less appealing. Let’s assume a fantasy world in which Covidcrats hadn’t imposed lockdowns, mask orders, and vaccine coercion on the meek and compliant population of NYC. In that fantasy world if I could have an apartment of at least 2,000 square feet within two blocks of Central Park and a weekend escape house then I think I could be happy living in New York. (That would cost $20 million for the purchase price and 25 years of taxes, fees, and upkeep?)

      (In the actual world, I wouldn’t want to live in New York at any price because there wouldn’t be any guarantee regarding future lockdowns.)

    • @Philip, when you are at one of your Penthouses in NYC (notice the plural in “Penthouse”), remember me and maybe invite me over? I would love to accompany you.

      One more thing I forgot to mention. A none scientific method I use to help me find out if a restaurant is safe to eat at or not is this. Anytime I visit a restaurant, especially one for the first time, I always check their restroom right after being seated. Why? A dirty restroom translates to a dirty kitchen which translates to bad and dirty food. If so, I will politely tell the servant something came up and we have to leave. The few times I have been to NYC to eat at a restaurant, I had to leave the restaurant because of this.

  10. Many NYC restaurants have exactly 19 seats because having 20 seats requires restroom provision.

  11. Toucan Sam.

    Sorry for the somehow late response. I think from your comments you assume that I identify as female (or perhaps you think Trump is an equal opportunity rapist and does not distinguish among the many genders).

    “Arranoa” means “eagle” (a quick Google image search will show you beautiful examples). I don’t need to remind you that eagles can have many sexual identities. I identify as male, the same gender that was assigned to me by my grandfather at birth because no doctor was present (I was born in the mountains during an April snow storm).

    My operating system was installed long ago in a distant land, and although I have updated as much as possible I find that most new applications don’t run well in my mind. Perhaps because of that, I enjoy many of the postings on this blog that I have been following for a long time.

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