June 4, 2015
Before I start this, let me acknowledge that yes, this is another entry tossed into the “Where You Should Live” thinkpiece pit of sorrow, even though it purports to be antithetical in such matters. However, let’s just state this up top so my thesis is as clear as can be: No one gives a crap where you live.
I bring this up is because, as is the case every 12 to 18 months, there was yet another flurry in the “New York vs. Los Angeles vs. Rest of the USA” intellectual tug-o-war, with the opening volley being a piece in the New York Times talking about how young New Yorkers are decamping for Los Angeles and its “booming creative class”.
This, of course, was followed by the inevitable “Why I’ll Never Leave New York” and “Why I’ll Never Move to New York or Los Angeles and am staying in Smalltown USA” rebuttals (sister pieces in the same publication no less!). While the initial Times piece was anecdotal and heuristic, it wasn’t exactly a thinkpiece — it was more a commentary on the things that everyone already knows to be true: New York is expensive and squeezes out the creatives (who paradoxically make up its romantic appeal and for ages haven’t been able to afford to do so). Then there are the rebuttals, and the counter-rebuttals, and on and on. One need look no further than the sentiment that Jay Z and Beyonce moving to Los Angeles “proves how boring they are” to confirm how well-trod this geographic egotism can be.
Because, once again, no one cares where you live. Yes, New York is a grand romantic valhalla for the new beats and artists and Wall Streeters alike. It’s the most diverse city on the planet, where you have access to anything you want, at any hour, and are surrounded by educated, creative, ambitious, like-minded people who also have a propensity for dressing in black and extolling the virtues of its amazing public transit. It is also one of the most expensive cities in the world where the median price for a one-bedroom in Brooklyn is $3,000 per month. But I don’t need to say that, because everyone knows that. You either love it, or you hate it. You can make it work, or tire under its weight. Simple.
Likewise, everything they say about L.A. is true. It’s full of vapid people and awful traffic. It also has some of the best food on the planet and is a laid-back, sun-kissed paradise. You may be able to overlook the former for the latter, or maybe not. I lived in Los Angeles, and adore it, but I can also tell you that to describe the creative class as “booming” would be incorrect, if not outright laughable. There are plenty of $500-a-week jobs as assistants in the film industry that are being competed for by people from Ivy Leagues and with law degrees. Is that worth moving to L.A. for? Fashion and tech are likewise “booming,” but jobs for intelligent twentysomethings are no easier to come by than in New York or Seattle or the Bay Area.
Also, L.A. has gotten really expensive as well, with a the average rent for a one-bedroom in the hip bohemia of Echo Park/Los Feliz/Silverlake, where every day feels a little bit like a groggy Coachella flashback, is over $1,800 per month. Not New York-expensive but compared to the $700 mortgage a friend is paying for a 1,900-square-foot house in my hometown of Des Moines, the asking price might as well be blood diamonds.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown. I see more and more of my friends matriculating back to Iowa to raise families, and I think it’s a great idea. It’s safe, cheap, has great schools, and is close to family. But it’s also not where I want to live. The reasons for that are personal and for the most part, tough for even me to put a finger on at times. Minneapolis is a beautiful outdoor paradise, with amazing food and a vibrant cultural scene, with The Atlantic even calling it a “miracle.” However, it’s also extremely, dispiritingly white and also one of the most segregated cities in the US, putting African-Americans at an incredible disadvantage.
So for every pro, there’s also a con. But your pro is simultaneously someone else’s con. This should be obvious to the point of rendering these think pieces categorically moot, but apparently it’s not. The fact is that where you want to live — and your reasons for wanting to live there — are yours and yours alone. The fact that some place is affordable to live if you can’t pursue the things that make you happy, or it’s thousands of miles away from your friends and loved ones, or whatever else is personally important to you. No one person lives in one place and, despite what people may think, the idea of a “New Yorker,” “Brooklynite,” “Angeleno,” or “Midwesterner” is pure fiction. You can be whomever you want, from wherever you want.
So find the things that make you happy and go the place that has the most of them. If that’s Los Angeles, great. If it’s your hometown, population 1,000, that’s great too. And this doesn’t just apply to aimless twentysomethings. Because one day you might be in your thirties or forties and grow tired of the place you live. Maybe you’ve clung onto the wrong thing for too long or maybe, inevitably, you’re a different person than you were when you were just out of college and you want to live somewhere else. So maybe you move away from New York, or to New York. Either is fine. You have no allegiance to anything but your own happiness.
So live where you want, just don’t feel the need to write about it. Because no one cares.