Liveability Is … A Personal Trainer

On the liveability trail, our intrepid scout David Nichols finds himself nestled amongst dogs, babies and bagels in the biggest smoke of all.

New York

New York is like some kind of enormous share house, with 2.3 degrees of separation and no way of getting away from other people. Step into Central Park and the elegant, arcane setting is riddled with exercisers, cyclists, infants with nannies or nanas, strollers, joggers, runners. Two women pushing baby carriages are urged by a third woman – their trainer, presumably paid for this bollocks – to stretch their arms and twirl their hands as they push their hapless toddlers down a small hill: “Take advantage!” she cries. “Take advantage!”

Joggers taking advantage of Central Park with a view to the Upper West Side, via Patrick Grubans/WikiCommons

Joggers taking advantage of Central Park with a view to the Upper West Side, via Patrick Grubans/WikiCommons

There is no privacy in New York anyway, so New Yorkers have essentially persuaded themselves that privacy is a kink, overrated and unnecessary. They have loud and involved conversations loudly on the streets with each other in person or on mobile telephone devices. “I was essential to that company, I mean, empirically!” asserts one twentysomething dude on his cell.

Middle-class Australians reared on Woody Allen films no doubt have their own picture of the city (or at least of Manhattan), perhaps not realising that (1) Allen amplifies certain elements of the place for satirical affect and (2) Allen is of a generation soon to pass and (2[a]) a rarified class. But there are some elements of the city that do undoubtedly work and have done so for a century or so. The subways are quick, although they demand a little mental exertion (particularly the assumption that you know which line you’re on at all times, so that every other possible connection will be mentioned on the overhead boards when you alight at a station, but not the one you’re connecting from). Street food is often a joy, and I hold to that despite one particular morning’s disastrous hot, stale, cardboard pretzel. Thankfully bagels are everywhere.

We are often told that New York is not really America (this is, of course, a snob’s whimsy). Anyone who tries the standard coffee will know that, of course, it’s totally America: the coffee right across the USA invariably invokes the sensation of drinking a cup of hot water from a vessel that once contained coffee. That is, unless you can find a place that does espresso, in which case, you can pay top dollar for a teaspoon’s worth of actual coffee.

As we’ve found all week, however, the dog index is the one that seems most pertinent to judging New York’s liveability. Manhattanites love their dogs, and dogs big, small, huge and tiny can be found – always accompanied by doting human – on the streets at all times. They are often pampered like dollies, or perhaps – can this be true? almost certainly! – have been sculpted by a hairdresser to give them coquettish, Disneyesque faces. Where the humans - mostly - recognise they must abide one another, the dogs will occasionally have severe responses to each other. At such times, the owners don’t acknowledge each other. They just tug their errant charges away.

I have a bad feeling that there are many (new) urbanists who look at New York’s über-built-up apartment lifestyle as the ideal way to live. There are – quite clearly and undeniably – some who relish the place. Even I was settled in within just a couple of days: I was peeved just like a local when the Wholefoods near where my wife and I were staying in Upper East Side didn’t open its automatic doors with joy when I came by at 7:40am (it opens at 8, stays open ‘til 9).

But the point about a place like New York is obviously that there’s no place like New York. Nice place to visit. Surely no-one – aside from those 8 million self-selecting antpeople who already do – could possibly live there?

David Nichols' liveability series ends Monday with a look at Baltimore.