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Thread: Eight Reasons New York Is Better

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    Default Eight Reasons New York Is Better


    Eight Reasons New York Is Better


    Have some time to kill? You can see Vermeer's "Study of a Young Woman" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    A COUPLE of summers ago, I dragged myself into a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant at 6 a.m. and was immediately informed by a belligerent waiter that there were 130 things to do in Pittsburgh and that I would be ill-advised not to do all of them.

    As my teenage son and I gamely tried to eat our meal in peace, Randy the Waiter and Part-Time Artiste hectored us about the Andy Warhol Museum. He also insisted that we visit funky, bohemian Squirrel Hill, spend some time at the Carnegie Mellon Museum and ride Pittsburgh's demure, safe, clean subway system.

    Finally, he demanded to know if our travels would take us to the Pittsburgh Pirates' fabulous new stadium in this resilient, thoroughly livable, immensely charming, unjustifiably neglected western Pennsylvania municipality.

    Told that we were from New York, where a certain measure of Andy Warhol fatigue had set in decades ago, Randy snapped: "Oh. Well, you're the Big Apple, and we're the Little Apple. But there's nothing you have in New York that we don't have in Pittsburgh."

    "Yes, there is," I replied. "We have eight Vermeers. There are only 34 Vermeers in the entire world. We have eight of them, and you don't have any. Now, could we have some more coffee?"

    I mention this incident not because I enjoy pulling rank on provincial wait staff, but because in recent times, New York has come in for a good deal of pummeling from the misguided Podunkian classes. And now that the latest facts and figures are in, the news is even worse than we had suspected.

    Recently, I read a story about a dubious "creativity index" reporting that New York is now the ninth-most-creative city in the United States, trailing not only fussy, self-involved San Francisco and Seattle, but such ghastly localities as Houston and Raleigh-Durham. Indeed, in terms of the percentage of inhabitants paid to think for a living, New York is only one slot ahead of Dallas, a city which, incidentally, has no Vermeers. The creativity index was devised by Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon is based in Vermeerless Pittsburgh.

    Declining creativity isn't the only problem Gotham faces. Last year, The New York Times reported that New Yorkers suffer some of the worst commutes in the entire country, actually spending more time getting to work than people in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the fifth annual Forbes rankings of Best Places for Business and Careers this year ranked New York a dismal 94th, trailing Oklahoma City by 76 slots, and also ceding pride of place to Hamilton, Ohio (38) and Allentown, Pa. (66). None of these places have any Vermeers, either.

    Several years ago, GQ magazine capriciously required me to visit Money magazine's most livable American city and see how it compared with New York. The winner that year was faceless, amorphous Raleigh-Durham, a series of interlocking suburbs masquerading as a city. The perfect example of the soulless abstractions described by James Howard Kunstler in his book "The Geography of Nowhere," Raleigh-Durham had no focal point, no civic epicenter, no cultural fulcrum. And it certainly didn't have any Vermeers.

    When statisticians, academics, economists, city fathers and waiters set out to prove why Odessa, Tex., is a better place to work than New York, they invariably focus on readily quantifiable data like jobs, hospital beds, teacher-student ratios, homicides. What they always leave out is the Vermeer Quotient: the unquantifiable and ineffable psychological euphoria derived from living in a city that has eight more Vermeers than Bakersfield, Calif. And that's without even going into the Rembrandts.
    YES, it is true that residents of the New York area wake up every morning and turn on their radios to find out if the bridges to Manhattan are still standing. This is certainly no treat. But at least they do so knowing that if the bridges are still standing they can go across them and look at the Vermeers. Or the van Goghs. Or the Yankees. In Raleigh, if the bridges are still standing, the only thing you can do is go across them to Durham.

    While researching that GQ article, I noticed that Money magazine gave both Stamford, Conn., and New York a grade of 100 in the arts and culture category: New York because it had all the great art and Stamford because people could jump on the train into the city to see it. This seemed a bit like giving New York and Stamford an equal ranking in the golf course category, since people from the South Bronx and Stamford were both within easy striking distance of the lush fairways in Greenwich.
    Studying the persuasively inane rankings, compiled by New York-based journalists who would tear out their eyes rather than move to Raleigh-Durham, it also occurred to me that if Sioux Falls, S.D., could somehow persuade just one more entrepreneur to open up an art gallery specializing in Inuit artifacts, it might be able to compete with such traditional Money-sanctified municipalities as Rochester, Minn., and Provo, Utah, and perhaps even wrest away the top ranking from Raleigh-Durham.

    In short, all of these surveys and studies and charts and statistics are cunning mechanisms to prove something that nobody really believes: that San Diego and Houston have a larger class of creative people than New York, or that Albany is a better place to work than Gotham. Incidentally, San Diego and Albany have no Vermeers, though they may have a few LeRoy Neimans.

    About two years ago, my daughter and I had a 45-minute wait between "Chicago" and catching our train to Tarrytown, so we stopped by the Museum of Modern Art to see Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon," the painting that gave birth to, or at the very least midwifed, modern art. This was one of those unexpectedly exhilarating moments that reminded me why I had come from Philadelphia to New York in the first place: because you could look at the single most revolutionary painting of the 20th century while you were killing time. You cannot do that in Salem, Ore., or Anchorage, Alaska. With all due respect.

    In the end, this brings us back to all those dodgy statistics and cunning charts and seemingly irrefutable studies providing unassailable evidence that New York is less livable, less cerebral and less prosperous than San Diego or Appleton, Wis. Yes, the numbers look good. And the logic seems sound. But just because you can prove something doesn't mean it's true.

    Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of "True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans.''

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    Thanks Christian. Queenan's one of my favs. Great article, if you could find his article on James Taylor, you'll piss yourself laughing.

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