Anyone who has friends in New York knows of their peculiar habit of complaining about everything in the city, before declaring that, of course, they could never live anywhere else. It's usually implied that they are somehow better than you simply by virtue of the fact they suffer through life in New York and you don't.
Adam Sternberg captures this character trait in a New York Magazine piece about New Yorkers who decide to swallow their pride and move to Buffalo. It offers some lessons on the psychology involved in drawing people to struggling Midwestern locales like Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland and Flint. And let's face facts and admit that Flint may be the toughest sell of all the cities just mentioned.
Of course, you can't blame New Yorkers for their angst and condescending attitude. Unless you're incredibly young, amazingly rich, or still believe your acting/writing/painting/singing/fashion design career is finally about to take off, New York is a pretty crappy place to live. If you're going to stick it out there, you need to shield yourself from any self doubt. You need to rationalize why you stay when so many people have such better lives elsewhere.
"Living in New York may be more expensive than ever, but let’s face it, it’s always been hard," Sternberg writes. "That, oddly, is part of its appeal. You test yourself against the stresses of the city. If it’s not the expense, it’s the overcrowding. If not the overcrowding, then the crime. If not the crime, then the tension, or the roaches, or the smells, or the guy screaming obscenities at you for no reason on the stifling subway platform while you wait for a train that’s jam-packed and twenty minutes late."
So when New Yorkers are finally ready to throw in the towel, it's not as easy as moving from Lansing to Grand Rapids. Like everything else in New York, the decision must be a monumental struggle.
"...the problem is, you can’t simply leave New York—you have to quit New York. You have to admit to yourself and the world that you’re packing it in, calling it a day, turning out the lights. You have to walk away from, as Joan Didion put it, “the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” (It should be noted she wrote that in an essay about her decision to leave New York.)"
I've listened to numerous friends as they talked through this very decision. For me, the outsider, the answer was always obvious: yes, you should give up your horrible job, your tiny $2,400/month apartment, and your miserable New York existence and move.
Ultimately, Sternberg makes the point that places like Buffalo should not keep trying to prove they are mini versions of bigger, more prosperous cities. They should position themselves as uniquely modern versions of the Wild West, places to live when you long to start life anew.
"...New York, for all its mythology, is no longer a frontier. Buffalo is a frontier. And when you think of the actual frontier, you’ll recall that no one ever packed up and moved West to a gold-rush town because they heard it had really good local theater. They moved looking for opportunities. They moved for the chance to build a new life for themselves.
"This, ironically, has always been the siren song of New York City: the chance to turn yourself into someone new, to live the life you’ve always imagined. But what a city like Buffalo offers is a very different promise of what could be. It offers the chance to live on the cheap and start a nonprofit organization, or rent an abandoned church for $1,000 a month, or finish your album without having to hold down two temp jobs at the same time, or simply have more space and a better view and enough money left over each month to buy yourself a painting once in awhile. A city like Buffalo reminds you that, beyond New York, there are still frontiers."