The Big Myth Behind the ‘Real New Yorker’ – The New York Times

This past week was not an ideal moment to be moving to New York from the Midwest, particularly if you were coming from Des Moines or Cleveland.

Delivering a speech in Harlem on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president seeking to become mayor in 2021, railed against the crisis of displacement that gentrification has produced around the city.

To his mind, the face of the destructive interloper in Upper Manhattan or Crown Heights belongs not to the guy in digital marketing born in Scarsdale who can’t afford the West Village yet, but rather to the person who has landed in New York from what is so often derisively known as flyover country.

To these people, kept by fate from the privilege of an East Coast childhood, Mr. Adams had a message: “Go back to Iowa. You go back to Ohio. New York City belongs to the people that was here and made New York City what it is. And I know. I’m a New Yorker.”

His comments were criticized roundly and immediately — for divisiveness, for hypocrisy, for their refusal to acknowledge the essential role of the transplant to the city’s identity, for misplaced blame.

Two years ago, Mr. Adams said that “gentrification’’ was a term used to “demonize’’ Brooklyn’s evolution, a remark that suggested a lack of proper antipathy for the real-estate industry voraciously at the heart of the city’s housing emergencies. Mr. Adams has, in fact, taken contributions both from developers in New York and ordinary people around the country, including Ohio.

Although the outrage eventually prompted him to scale his comments back, the spirit in which they were rendered speaks to the broader problem of the invasion narrative in American politics and social thought — the horror of the outsider at the gate with a wrecking ball aimed at all that is pure and authentic in a place that belongs only to those who already occupy it.

On the right this plays out in the fear that immigrants are arriving to upend a stability among the working class that hasn’t existed for decades. On the left it often takes the shape of distaste or flat-out disgust — with the many natives living in all those places west of New York and east of Los Angeles who are always showing up to ruin things, voting against their own economic interests and handing the country to President Trump, clogging the streets of Midtown Manhattan to see “Jersey Boys” and eat at Red Lobster.

One of the few who came to Mr. Adams’s defense was the writer Jeremiah Moss, New York City’s career elegist, who embraced the suggestion that the wrong people ought to leave. Mr. Moss, whose ongoing chronicle of the city’s vanishing retail landscape has been an essential and poignant contribution to urban history, had just published an essay in the literary journal n+1, running under the headline “Open House.” It had a subtitle familiar to anyone who has passed by a T-shirt booth in Times Square: “Welcome to New York; Now Go Home.”

In the piece, he writes about the desecration of his East Village apartment building, once home to outcasts and freaks, in his view the only rightful heirs to a downtown life. It was now the address of Kaylas and Hayleys and Ashleys with their generic habits and empty minds, their AirPods and blank stares and Amazon addictions. One of his neighbors, he tells us, is from Wisconsin.

“These new people are completists,’’ he writes. “If they don’t have professional furnishers, they order entire apartments through the mail in their first week.” He mourns the loss of a time when people appointed apartments with the discarded lamps and night stands they found on the street, even as a freegan movement thrives in New York despite whatever preferences his own neighbors have for the bland efficiency of West Elm.

In my 30-odd years of living in New York — I, too, am a transplant — I have met three people from Ohio, two of whom moved back, one an accountant who complained about the city’s high taxes. The idea that the city is being colonized by Midwesterners or others from elsewhere in the country is itself not supported by statistics. In fact, the opposite is true.

Two years ago, a study from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College looked at data from the census and the Internal Revenue Service to determine migration patterns in and out of New York. What researchers found is that while the city’s population grew by 362,000 residents between 2010 and 2016, net domestic migration was down by approximately 525,000 people, meaning that more people moved out of the city than moved in.

New York dispersed more people to surrounding suburban counties and a number of large urban counties around the country than it received.

Presumably some portion of the population moving to New York, one of the most expensive cities in the world, from other parts of the country, are compelled by job opportunities that have dried up in Indianapolis or Columbus or somewhere else. At the same time, foreign immigration to communities beyond the Northeast means that you can eat decent Mongolian food in Sioux City. The sophistications of New York — the diversity, the bohemianism, creativity and acceptance which made it unlike anywhere else — have been in the process of a slow, successful export.

When Andy Warhol and Patti Smith, the patron saints of downtown cool, arrived in New York, they were misfits from somewhere else, and they brought with them an outsize ambition both for success and to live freely, as they were. Would they come now? Maybe they wouldn’t bother. And maybe that doesn’t bear the weight of tragedy we give it.

Five years ago a school district near Kansas City, Mo., gained wide attention when a transgender student was crowned homecoming queen. Three years after that, two elementary schools in the district installed gender-neutral bathrooms.

If you are welcome where you are, maybe you don’t have to leave.