Op-Ed: New York is a livable place -- who knew?
“The old New York-Los Angeles rivalry is changing, at least on the East Coast side of the equation. No longer do in-the-know New Yorkers reflexively parrot sneers like the old Woody Allen line, that the only cultural advantage of Los Angeles is the right turn on red.... Bearded young New Yorkers can snap up brioche tarts at Proof Bakery in Atwater Village, visit gallery shows at Shepard Fairey’s Subliminal Projects in Echo Park, or settle in over barrel-aged rye cocktails at Bar Stella in Silver Lake, and scarcely realize they are more than a stroll away from McCarren Park, except for the 70-degree sunshine tickling their cheeks in February.”
— The New York Times
After months of fruitless job-hunting in Los Angeles, Kerensa Cadenas landed her dream job. There was just one catch: It was in New York, that East Coast city often stereotyped as a taco-less wasteland without height restrictions. “I’m excited for my new job,” says Cadenas, a writer who is moving across the country this month after spending the past several years in L.A. She’s nervous about the lifestyle change, but, she says, “If I can find a gourmet grocery store where attractive strangers hang out at 2 p.m. on a weekday, that might help.” She landed an apartment in Brooklyn, which she’s heard is similar to the Eastside of Los Angeles.
Unlikely though it may seem, Cadenas is part of a trend: Angelenos have always loved visiting New York, but lately they have embraced the city as a place to live. According to Census data, between 2008 and 2012 almost as many Angelenos moved to New York as New Yorkers moved to Los Angeles.
Southern Californians are overcoming their fears of subway germs, and reversing the American directive to go west. They’re finding that New York is more than a capitalist prison that runs on the fumes of the finance industry and nostalgia for CBGB. It now offers many of the lifestyle amenities that their hometown has boasted for decades.
Not too long ago, Angelenos thought of New York as a veritable food desert; as recently as the 1990s, poppy-seed bagels were considered the lone culinary standout. These days, however, New Yorkers can sidle up to the juice bar 3 Roots in Greenpoint for liquid kale and wheatgrass, or stop by Sun in Bloom in Park Slope for a raw-food lunch.
Nikka Graff Lanzarone, an Angeleno who moved to New York after college, has even discovered an In-N-Out Burger replacement called Shake Shack. She notes that it’s a close, if more expensive, second to her childhood favorite.
Perhaps most shocking to Californians who haven’t traveled east in a while: America’s largest metropolis has finally acquired some Mexican restaurants. It’s possible to book a table at Cosme, a trendy establishment whose head chef relocated from Mexico City, just a few weeks in advance.
The freezing winters are an adjustment, of course. But transplants are finding that, with so many takeout options, they don’t actually have to brave the outdoors at all; they can just stay in their apartments from December to February.
And once the weather warms up, they can live almost as they did back home in Los Angeles: Their stoops and fire escapes are perfect for getting that summer glow. For the wilderness-minded former Angeleno who misses hiking through the sage-dusted hills of Griffith Park, Central Park and Prospect Park are flatter alternatives.
During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, it even became possible to stroll along a “greenway” hugging the Hudson River, which many say compares favorably to the Los Angeles River.
One thing that hasn’t changed about New York is the stench. “It didn’t take long for it to become second nature to identify odor hazards ahead and preemptively hold my breath,” says Emily Milder, an Orange County native who lived in Manhattan and then in Brooklyn for several years, “but before I became a grizzled New Yorker immune to the smell of decay, I was a bit overwhelmed.”
Even New York’s unique smells, however, couldn’t dampen Milder’s enthusiasm for the city. “I remember loving everything pretty much right away,” she says.
For self-identified “creatives,” New York offers unparalleled networking opportunities. Whereas Angelenos once decried New York’s sky-high real-estate prices, which make it a hostile environment for working artists, they’re starting to acknowledge that copywriters and marketers are culturally important, too.
The drought is one factor convincing Angelenos to give New York a try. The city’s abundant fresh water means its residents are free to indulge in little luxuries like leaving the water running while they brush their teeth — something transplants have trouble getting used to.
“I’ve been here for 10 years but running faucets still makes my heart race,” says Anaïs Borja, whose grandmother in Pasadena would be horrified by her dishwasher use. “I think this drought state of mind makes me this weirdly neurotic Angeleno, a special breed in this city.”
Cadenas hopes her Brooklyn apartment will afford her the best of both coasts: She’s considering buying an indoor palm tree, and she’s already begun paring down her possessions so they’ll fit in her new space. “Getting rid of stuff is kinda great, actually,” she says.
Ann Friedman is a writer in Los Angeles who is not moving to Brooklyn.
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