Writing in 1939, Fiorello La Guardia identified and discussed ten somewhat prevalent beliefs about New York City that he thought to be incorrect (La Guardia). Though La Guardia was certainly well-informed about his city, some of the claims about New York that he defends are not backed-up with anything like non-anecdotal evidence. This paper will discuss three of his claims in particular, discuss his defenses of them, and look at the contemporary situation with respect to each claim.
The first claim to be examined here is that New Yorkers are an impolite people. In response to this charge, La Guardia maintains that New Yorkers are very considerate people. He also notes that the city moves fast, with its even then somewhat vast network of subways and other rail-transport. La Guardia holds that only a people with good humor and without temper could remain calm and live in such conditions. He also claims that the City’s employees are, and are trained to be, kind, considerate, and polite.
The pace of life that La Guardia referred to has only increased with time. So, if his defense worked back then, it arguably still works today. But of course it is an exaggeration to say, with La Guardia, that unless New Yorkers were quite patient and polite the rush-hour crowd would turn into a disorderly mob. There is room in between for a moderate sort of impatience and annoyance, especially with New York’s many tourists. One contemporary commentator who resides in New York City says that he has consistently heard, form people all over the country, that its people are rude (Skylar). He argues that it is based upon a misunderstanding of the sort of place New York City is. First of all, the city is massive, and filled with people who have high-pressure jobs; these people must therefore be cautious with their time. Second, New Yorkers move about mostly by walking and using public transport. In each case a certain amount of haste, which might be mistaken for rudeness, is necessary. Finally, Skylar argues that people from other parts of the country are often tourists in New York City, and like other cities with a lot of tourists (Paris, for example), it is impossible for New Yorkers not to occasionally get fed up with them. But it does not follow that the people in the City are rude (Skylar).
Another charge that La Guardia considers is that New York City is a very expensive place to live. He acknowledges that it is expensive comparatively. However, when one takes into account the high wages of jobs in the city, as well as all the other advantages it offers, the trade-off in expense is more than worth it. He points out, for example, that New York is one of the world’s great centers of art and culture.
How does the cost of living in contemporary New York stack up against that of other cities? Manhattan and Brooklyn are the two most expensive cities in America, taking into account not just average rent paid but also the price of certain commodities (CBS). Worldwide, however, New York’s housing market is not even in the top ten most expensive. And considering just the housing market, there are American cities that are more expensive than New York, all of them in California—San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (Springer).
A final charge considered by La Guardia is that New Yorkers lack patriotism and are unconcerned with the welfare of the country as a whole. La Guardia answers that the city’s response to national emergency is as good as that of any other city, and indeed with any state that one might care to name.
To whatever extent this charge used to be true, the tragic events of 9/11 were more than enough to change the City’s level of patriotism. New York City is now a very clear center of patriotism and patriotic activity. A recent study measured levels of patriotism in the different states of the U.S. (Blake). As the commentator describing the study notes, patriotism is a very difficult concept to quantify and measure. It is arguable, indeed, that it does not have one fixed meaning, but means different things to different people. Nevertheless, the study (conducted by the organization WalletHub) made an attempt using rankings on 12 different measures obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Defense Department, and voter-turnout data, among other sources. The two primary phenomena measured were military engagement, for example how many people enlist for military service, and civic engagement—encompassing volunteering for national causes, voting, and so forth.
The study concluded that Virginia is the most patriotic state in the country, while New Jersey is the least patriotic. New York state did not make the list of the top ten most patriotic states, but this is unsurprising, on one hand, and also an unreliable indicator about New York City, on the other. It is unsurprising because New York City is a very liberal city politically. And political liberalism correlates negative with many markers of patriotism. It is unreliable about the city because there is a world of difference between (for example) up-state New York, and Manhattan. Interestingly, the study also noted that red states (Republican states) tended to score higher on the issue of military engagement, while blue states (Democrat states) did slightly better with civic engagement.
- Blake, Aaron. “Here are the most—and least—patriotic states in America (according to one study).” The Washington Post, 28 June (2016).
- CBS. “10 most expensive cities in America.” CBS Moneywatch, (2017). www.cbsnews.com/pictures/10-most-expensive-cities-in-america/3/.
- La Guardia, Fiorello H. “Ten Misconceptions of New York.” The New York Times, April 30 (1939).
- Skylar, John. “New Yorkers aren’t Rude. You are.” The Huffington Post, 9 May (2013). www.huffingtonpost.com/john-skylar/new-yorkers-rude_b_3870699.html.
- Springer, Kate. “The least affordable places to live in 2017.” CNN, 24 January (2017). www.cnn.com/2017/01/23/architecture/2017-most-expensive-cities-hong-kong/.