The infinite city, cont’d: “A miracle of coexistence”

Another meditation on this beautiful, ugly, flawed, fascinating city. Suketu Mehta writes:

The writer E.B. White famously defined, in 1948, the three kinds of New Yorkers: the native, the commuter, and the person from elsewhere who comes in quest of something.

Today there are three different kinds of New Yorkers: the people who act as if they were born here, who have a sense of entitlement about the city even if they arrived here after college; the people who are here and wish to be elsewhere, so toxic has it become for them; and the collection of virtual New Yorkers all over the world, in cities from Sarajevo to Santiago, who wish they were living in New York. These are the three New York states of mind, and what they have in common are longing and a quantity of delusion. It’s a city of dreamers and insomniacs.

And:

What New York demonstrates, the lesson it has for its fellow rich cities such as Amsterdam or Paris or Tokyo, is this: immigration works. […] Each immigrant is an epic in the making. Enticed here by the founding myth of the city, he is seeking to escape from history, personal and political. For him, New York is the city of the second chance.

In the video above, as in the article, Mehta focuses on New York’s incredible diversity of immigrants, who have somehow been able to lay aside (if not to bury) their ancient hatreds; I wonder if they feel themselves (as I do) more a part of the city, of this new civic community — the new tribe of New York — than of their original communities. Perhaps the very myth that Mehta speaks about, the city as a space for escape and reinvention, is what defuses tension and hatred. Not perfectly, of course — I”m sure any Muslim New Yorker can set me straight on that — but the fact remains that the day-to-day life of the city is not spent on asserting divisive tribal identities but on getting along well enough with everyone around you in order to get things done: make money, raise the family, feed a million improbable ambitions. Somehow the city takes difference and forges something… common, something shared, out of it. I’m not sure I can describe what. But for all its faults and inequities, I share Mehta’s sentiments about the place: “It makes me feel optimistic about the human race. It makes me think that the world isn’t such a fractured place. […] It is a vision of the possible.”

(via The Dish)

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