A recent episode of The Riff, a podcast I've been enjoying recently, centered around a conversation about New York City's cultural influence. In it, Andy Weissman (a lifetime New Yorker whose perspectives I've grown to enjoy on Twitter) proposes the following:
My theory is that right now New York is at a peak and is on the downside of its political, economic, cultural, and social import.
This makes me concerned both as a New Yorker and as someone who likes when old things maintain their relevance. Interested people should check out the full conversation; both David Tisch and Pam Wasserstein makes some good points about New York's cultural diversity, and the whole episode is both challenging and fun. I also have a (possibly hopeful) feeling that Andy is just trying to stir up shit & get other people excited about doing great work in NYC, but that's beside the point. The question, to me, is this:
Assuming Andy's theory is correct, what do we as New Yorkers do about it?
- Work on stuff that has existential import. My main beef with Andy's argument is that he repeatedly uses Snap (née Snapchat) as the prime example for why LA is beating NYC right now. And while I will readily admit that media distribution & communications is a great business to be in if you want people to care about you, I can't help but think that in the next century, the global cultural impacts of Tesla and SpaceX will be both more powerful and more inspirational. NYC used to take on projects of this scale, but our output of late has been more focused on things like... wearables. If we can lead in exporting technologies that address existential problems, I think the whole world will be better off.
- Embrace our own populism. To most of the world, NYC's image has a great balance of populism (it's still a *huge* magnet for immigration) and aspiration (everyone knows that wealthy people live here). But I worry that to rural American audiences, NYC seems cold, elitist, and out of touch - when to me, NYC is the warmest and most inclusive place on earth. Obviously this has political consequences, but my main concern is that NYC remains a magnet for the most talented people in the US - and it's hard to do that if people think you don't like them.
- I believe that successful cities depend on high functioning infrastructure, and we badly need to find new ways to upgrade ours at lower cost. David Tisch makes this point in the podcast, and it's something that I've thought about more and more recently. We may have the best public transit in the country (I certainly think we do) but we're far behind other cities in the world. Unless we come up with new ways to get new subways built and old ones upgraded, it feels like we'll have a hard time competing on a global scale.
In a nutshell: NYC needs to work on meaningful stuff, maintain an approachable image, and figure out how to improve its basic urban operations.
If this is something you're working on, let's talk.