I’m no stranger to big cities. Over the course of my twenties and thirties, I have lived in or near three. This was after spending 4 years in the idyllic countryside of my undergraduate school. I spent three years on the outskirts of the greater Tokyo area. A city that never truly seems stops spreading. But I didn’t leave Tokyo for somewhere quieter, slower. No, I took myself to New York.
Le Corbusier says ‘A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.’ From an architects perspective, I can see just what Le Corbusier means. The city is both planned and not. The tangle of streets that is the West Village are nestled in the grid-like layout of the lower part of Manhattan. It’s more than the layout of the city. It is people pushing up against each other. It is honking horns. It is crowded bars. It is getting caught in the rain blocks from home.
There were times when all this mess would fade away into something beautiful. When I lived there, I would on occasion take cabs home after a night out. I was living in Queens at the time. I would always turn around and watch the city when we crossed the Queensboro Bridge. There is nothing like that view. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” says F. Scott Fitzgerald.
When I’ve spent time in New York since leaving the city, it has been in Brooklyn or just across the Hudson in New Jersey. These places have the same bordering on disaster feel as Manhattan. They have their majestic views and hidden treasures amidst delayed trains and rising rents. There is beauty in all that concrete. If we only look for it.
Of the places I’ve lived, I have the most ambivalent relationship with the city that never sleeps. I miss it when I haven’t visited in several months. But I remember how eager I was to leave. New York was hard. Hard like nowhere else. It is easy to see the promise and the mystery to forget the hard parts. There is a struggle in all that possibility. There are moments when all you want to do is sleep in a city that makes it near impossible.
Still, people want to go there. Still, I miss that massive difficult city. It became a part of me. A part, I carry with me whether it’s my love of black clothing or my fast walking. Most of all, I carry that possibility with me, those dreams of a world bigger than myself. I didn’t know what my dreams were back then. It didn’t matter. New York was there. New York is there. There to remind me, that my dreams are never easy but that I keep dreaming.