At New York magazine, Jennifer Senior debunks the ancient myth of New York as a city of lonely, alienated strangers. On the contrary, a social scientist tells her, “There’s a new sense of community in cities, an increase in social capital, an increase in trust.” Another notes that single people, who predominate in cities, go out and mix with strangers more, and that urban life’s various “weak ties” — casual rather than binding connections — actually encourage us to develop broader social networks. Plus, we’re less apt than people living in cowtowns to kill ourselves — or each other (“Think about the sociopathic kids who shot other kids in Red Lake, Minnesota; at Northern Illinois University; at Virginia Tech — what do they have in common?”).
It’s a refreshing idea, and makes us feel even more superior than before to those suburban doofs who have to drive thirty miles to pick up a quart of milk. But its main drawback is that it deprives us of one of our traditional emotional redoubts — the consolation that, if we feel lonesome in the city, it’s an inescapable part of romantic urban neuroticism, like compulsive haggling, ostentatious cynicism, or loud public swearing. If we lose this excuse, we may be forced to admit we’re lonely not because we’re urban but because we’re a pain in the ass whom no one likes. And here we thought New York had left us with no illusions to shatter! Tell us, are we still suppose to run to a shrink with something like this, or was that all bullshit too?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 24, 2008