Why do people move to a new city? If we ask transplant city dwellers, the three most common answers are: job, family and education. What makes New York unique is that we find another answer from transplant New Yorkers – culture. I am one of those people.
In the last 8 months, a lot of transplants left the city either temporarily or permanently. If the reason for which they set their feet in New York is no more, it is easier to live in a place where the rent is lower. Due to the pandemic, many lost their jobs. A majority of people who have the luxury of working from home moved to upstate or a nearby city like Philly. Transplants who’s spouses or older parents lived in the city, decided to move as well. Finally, many universities and colleges are encouraging to take all or most of the classes online. This decision made many responsible students to move back with their family, leaving the city with the hope that one day they all can come back.
But, no matter what happens, it is almost impossible to alter the “culture” of New York City. By the word, “culture”, I’m not talking about literary, visual or performance art. There are very few literary meets, book launch parties and book clubs that survived the jump from in-person to the virtual setup. Art galleries and museums are open and they follow all the health-related safety measures. But, many visitors cannot go through the entire process of setting up limited appointments. The unofficial gatherings of writers and artists in the bars below Washington Square park are not happening anymore. The most painful news of them all is that Broadway will not open until late 2021. So what is this immortal “culture”?
For me, it’s the love of people for this city. When someone loves the place where they live unconditionally, it creates a “culture” of kindness, sustainability and community.
During the months of protests for ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the city went through a lot of violent nights with smashed windows, burnt dumpsters, looting and a lot of tension between the police and people who don’t like the police. But, every morning, the people would help the city workers to clean up their streets, to mollify the damages made the night before.
The morning Joe Biden was called to be the president elect 2020 by the major news and media entities, the city broke into a spontaneous celebration! I was taking my morning stroll through West Village when suddenly people started screaming and jumping! Poor, rich, young, old, white, black, yellow, brown, healthcare workers, lawyers, artists, writers, scientists, delivery guys, construction workers, men, women, children – everyone! Huskies started singing with their owners from the windows and on the street. A pop up celebration by child theatre actors happened on the street in front of Cherry Lane theatre on Commerce and Bedford street. A man was screaming in front of the Beth Israel hospital “I just had a son! We named him Joe!” Some of the churches started ringing their bells even though there were no weddings or prayers going on! Of course, with the spontaneous celebration of unity of this level often leaves a lot of garbage and trash in the parks. I was extremely pleased to see that local people including NYU students and professors were volunteering to clean up the fountain in Washington Square park the next morning.
Perhaps the above two examples can give a hint of what I’m trying to explain as the “culture” of New York City. Such random acts of kindness, intrinsic sense of sustainability and spontaneous behavior of community are very difficult to change as they connect with the very nature of being human. Perhaps for the same reason such “culture” is a very powerful fuel for hope even during this COVID-19 pandemic.
I celebrate that positive feeling of hope every morning. No matter what I have planned or not planned to go through the entire day, every morning I spend at least one hour on my couch by the window. As the East Village sky gets brighter and some of the reflected sunlight percolates through my window, I read essays of New Yorkers about their New York experiences. I sip a mug of coffee from local breweries and I read. This is my Ed Koch moment – “I wake up every morning and say to myself, well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God!”