As a kid who watched a lot of TV, I had a pretty distinct impression of New York City. From the perch of my La-Z-Boy in the suburbs of Houston, New York seemed bathed in bleakness. This was the late 70s, after all, and it wasn't "On the Town" we were watching, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra glorying in the city's offerings, but "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Barney Miller." And even if "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" were less bleak, no one was having as much fun as the sexy singles of "Three's Company," set in sunny Santa Monica, California.
And then I actually moved here, in the late 90s, and everything, apparently, had changed. "Friends" and "Sex in the City" defined New York, emotionally and visually. Those sexy singles had moved east, and managed to live in lavish apartments and buy nice shoes and still have time left over to goof around and exult in the theater of the city. They were, barring the inevitable, passing crisis, fairly happy.
So perhaps the latest findings of a survey conducted by the Municipal Art Society aren't entirely shocking, and merely mimic what we've been feeling, and what popular culture has reflected for a while. In short:
- 84 percent of New Yorkers are either satisfied or very satisfied living in New York City
- Nine out of 10 Manhattanites are satisfied with their neighborhood (but 3 out of 10 Bronx residents aren't)
- 58 percent of Manhattanities think the city has gotten better during their stay here, compared to just 28 percent of Bronx residents
- Shocking! 42 percent of New Yorkers earning above $75,000 a year say they're very happy, compared to 29 percent of those who earn less than that
- Staten Island is the happiest borough (95 percent) while the Bronx is the not-quite-so-happiest (86 percent)
So what's changed? Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society, says it's hard to tell, given that they didn't conduct any surveys back then, but he thinks New York was generally a more negative town back then.
"I think that's a fair drawdown," he said. "I think that when looks at New York in the 1970s, with crime rates being as high as they were, a lot of dislocation, infrastructure in extraordinarily substantial disrepair, park system that was very largely in shambles, very high unemployment, bankruptcy and corruption, one would probably assume that New Yorkers were probably less satisfied then than they are now. That there's been a sense of steady improvement, I suppose."
Perceptions of what makes for a good lifestyle have also changed, said Edwin Torres of the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the MAS survey.
"The longstanding paradigm has been the city versus nature," he said. "And we're coming to realize now that with increased population density comes far more sustainable daily lived practices, and I think that's actually doing a lot to shift the public perception of cities these days."
- 54 percent of New Yorkers favor large chain stores for groceries, with Staten Island leading the boroughs (68 percent)
- 66 percent of New Yorkers prefer to buy their clothes in chain stores
- 71 percent of white people favor parks over new housing or shopping, compared to 51 percent of Latinos and 53 percent of African-Americans
- 37 percent of city residents oppose more housing in their neighborhood
- 56 percent of Bronx residents rate the variety of restaurants in their area poor or fair