While cruising up the Hudson River from NYC on a rarely-punctual Amtrak last Monday, I was able to reflect on the positives of the city, an unusual moment for someone who generally squints angrily when people go on extended raves about the place.
I’m a rabid Hudson Valley fan, and there is little room left in my heart for the city. But the weekend had been fantastic, a cacophonous whirlwind of variety and riotous energy.
At 2 a.m. one night a few weeks after moving to the City of Hudson, I became hungry, and not knowing the area, was forced to rely on the wisdom of Yelp. I searched for the closest open eatery, and my stomach rumbled in dismay when I found that it:
- Was 40 minutes away
- Was a goddamned McDonald’s
- Wasn’t even a good McDonald’s, but one of those shitty Thruway rest stop ones where they price gouge you.
As comparison, if you search Yelp for eateries open at 2 a.m. within a 40-minute walk of Penn Station in Manhattan – we’re not even taking into consideration public transportation here – you find there are not one, but 851 open eateries. Even if you were excited by the aforementioned McDonald’s you’re in luck, because there are 46 of them.
New York City is a concentration of humanity. About 8.6 million people are packed within NYC’s 306 square miles, or 27,000 people per square mile, whereas the seven-county area making up the Hudson Valley (my definition) has 223 people per square mile.
With this concentration of humanity comes a concentration of human stuff. Since a city resident lives within walking distance of hundreds of thousands of people, they are also able to access the production of hundreds of thousands of people, whether its restaurants or shops specializing in wigs (of which the city has more than 800).
While in the city, my girlfriend Jody and I used Lyft. Up in Hudson, getting a ride-share involves so much planning the only time it makes sense to request one is when everyone’s epically drunk. There often aren’t ANY drivers online, so you need to know someone who has an driver’s number, call them, call the driver, and set something up a good hour in advance. The concentration of drivers is low.
But the concentration of drivers is so high in the city, we waited only a couple minutes before the dude tooted up to the curve (y’know, like how it’s supposed to work).
But the attributes of living in a concentration of humans and their stuff do not end there. Not only do you get more options, but you get better ones. When there’s a multitude of options within walking distance, a customer is going to patronize the best one, which will do well, leaving inferior options in the dust. Concentrations allow capitalistic competition to play out more robustly, crappy wig stores close, and city residents are left with the best options.
Some places need a high concentration of humans to even exist. Places like Madison Square Garden and the Guggenheim couldn’t survive in the Hudson Valley because there aren’t enough patrons within striking distance.
Now, before you start irately typing a response to this article involving the word cidiot, I must reinforce that I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley for most of my adult life, and this was a conscious choice. I’ve heard a couple city fanatics opine that NYC is so definitively superior people who live outside its borders simply must not be of the same caliber – they didn’t have what it takes to hack it in the five boroughs.
This assumes everyone WANTS to live in NYC and ignores the negatives of living in a concentration of humans and their production. Because a lot of things humans produce suck.
A lot of these less-desirable productions can be classed as pollution. The city has air pollution, leading to asthma rates three times higher than the rest of the country. There’s noise pollution, which can be exciting during the day, but sleep depriving during the night. There’s light pollution, turning the depths of the starry night sky into what looks like dirty mop water.
There’s also no nature in the city. The city has parks, where you can see exotic creatures such as squirrels and worms, but these manicured attempts fall short of, say, the Catskill Mountains.
That last one is big for me.
NYC is so concentrated every piece of available land (or, in city terms, ‘real estate’) has a very specific purpose, leaving no room for nature.
The hyper-specialization of land also leaves no room for other things. If, for example, I lived in the city and wanted to go outside and sunbathe, I would have a bit of trouble. I couldn’t do it on the street – that’s for driving. I couldn’t do it on the sidewalk – that’s for walking. If I DID lay down with a blanket on a sidewalk (or even sat), everyone would assume I was homeless, because the homeless are the only ones anarchic enough to pull THAT faux pas.
I would, in many cases, have to board some form of public transport to a public park, actually TRAVELING somewhere for the privilege of laying down outside.
The paucity of land in the city also makes rent extremely expensive, and therefore everything else, as businesses pass their high rent prices along to the consumer.
There’s other bad stuff. People renting in the city tend to move a lot, so there’s little connection to a community. This is one of the arguments as to why cities are generally more violent than rural areas, and, for all the raving about NYC’s low crime rate relative to other cities (including some in the Hudson Valley, like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie), it’s actually far more murderous than the Hudson Valley as a whole.
So, it’s really a trade-off. The lack of human concentration in the Hudson Valley allows for beautiful nature, clean air, starry nights, more affordability, low crime and a better sense of community. You’re not going to be able to walk to the Guggenheim or anything, but, on the other hand, you could always get there in a couple hours.
That’s why the Hudson Valley needs NYC, just as NYC needs the Hudson Valley. If the Hudson Valley was nowhere near the city, it would still be beautiful, but it would be very backwoods. We couldn’t access the city’s culture, and cultural institutions in the Hudson Valley (we DO have museums) would probably not exist.
If the city existed without the Hudson Valley, not only would they have no drinking water, but they wouldn’t have access to our skiing, hiking, boating, hunting and all the other attributes listed above.
It’s a symbiotic relationship.
I’m going to stay in the Hudson Valley, because I prefer nature to concentrations of humanity, but the city will always be right there, a train ride away. I really ought to check it out more often.