Essays On New York City


Manhattan: my muse, my love… my downfall? Yes, after two and a half long years here, I’m moving on. I’d love to be able to say, "It’s not you, it’s me,” but let’s face it: it’s you, Manhattan. When I got here, my neighborhood was so authentic. I used to get a friendly wave and a how-do-you-do every single day from the kindly old local woman down the block from me (she gives the best hugs!). But I don’t see her around much anymore what with all the changes in my neck of the woods. The neighborhood lately is overrun with artisanal candle shops and cobblers and phony taverns that can only play at lived-in authenticity. Dutch tourists arrive by the boatload to gawk at the locals, and it seems like every last one of them ends up staying and gentrifying the place further. Full disclosure: yes, I’m Dutch myself, but my neighborhood was virtually all Lenape when I moved in, and that kindly old woman I mentioned has been like a grandmother to me ever since I got here. It really feels like the only home I’ve known for the last few years is being erased. Now, it’s time for me to strike out for the territory and find a new home — and just maybe find myself while I’m at it.


I leave New York a few times a year, usually to visit my parents. Every time I board the ferry, I feel a guilty sort of elation watching the wooden jungle recede from view, as I leave behind its congestion and agitation and, yes, its smell. By the time my Conestoga wagon pulls away from the ferry terminal in New Jersey, I feel like a prisoner making his great escape. And yet — and yet, and yet, and yet — every time I come back, as I make my approach and dusk falls and the candles come on and this great, gorgeous living organism of a city unfolds before me, I fall in love with New York all over again. It’s that feeling I’ll miss most of all. Sadly, there’s just no place left for a loyalist dreamer like me anymore. The British seemed to lose so gradually that I didn’t even notice it was happening. But change has come to New York, and it’s now past time for me to make my final escape. Let’s just hope they make a decent johnnycake in Canada!


It ain’t my neighborhood. That’s as vibrant and diverse as it’s ever been; at the last rooftop party I attended, I counted among our ranks Irishmen, Mohammedans, even Portugee. It ain’t my job. Bootblacking pays the bills just as it ever did, and I’m plenty happy with my side hustle as a pamphleteer. It certainly ain’t the food. My local watering hole makes a mean boiled potato, and I can’t complain about the Delmonico’s steak I sometimes treat myself to on paydays. No, it’s the city itself. New York, you win. I lose. I can’t even say what did me in first. Was it the never-ending stream of flaky roommates? The cholera scare I had this summer? The draft riots? Or maybe it was all of it, closing in on me and finally chasing from this mean mistress, New York City. I’m not sure what comes next, but as soon as I can find someone to sublet my place through the end of my lease, I’m gone.

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Tonight, I saw my last New York sunset. The Gorbulaks from Star System Niobe-82B blew up the sun, and for me, that meant it was time to go. I’ll miss my barbershop. I’ll miss the nutrient delivery patches from the bodega around the corner. I’ll even miss my bodega’s resident pet frabnyx, even if that mean little bastard tried to scratch me with the venomous spur at the end of his fore-tentacle every time I reached for a soda. I moved to New York from Neo-Chicagoclevetroit with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope when I was an impressionable 22-year-old. I leave an older, wiser 25-year-old. As I write this, my escape shuttle is about to enter warp speed. I’ll be starting a new life in the Andromeda colonies in just a few days, but I’m bringing with me something the Gorbulaks could never take away: my memories of New York.

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20 Great Articles and Essays about New York

The best writing about New York City life

What Makes New York?

Here is New York by E. B. White

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.

My Endless New York by Tony Judt

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The Mannahatta Project by Nick Paumgarten

What did New York look like before we arrived?

New York Life

Lost and Found by Colson Whitehead

No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, "That used to be Munsey's" or "That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge."

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Sardine Life by Justin Davidson

The ins and outs (and ups and downs) of vertical living.

In the Projects by Richard Price

The rise and fall of public housing in NYC

Leaving New York

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...some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that things would never be quite the same again

My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum

How the author's Manhattan dream turned into a credit-card nightmare

New York Taxis

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Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet by Mark Jacobson

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Public Transport

Redesigning the NYC Subway Map by Julie Steele

The long and complicated path that led to Eddie Jabbour's KickMap.

The People on the Bus by Adam Gopnik

Bus-blindness is a standard New York illness; of all the regularities of life here, the bus is the least celebrated, the least inclined to tug at the heart, or be made into a symbol of our condition.

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