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  • John Walker

Reflections on New York City After Living Here for 18 Months

It’s been 18 months since I moved to Manhattan from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here are some observations from my time living here and working as a marketing consultant.

Everything is Big

It goes without saying, right? Well, I’m going to say it.

The population is big- over 8 million; the subway system is big- 472 stations channeling 2.4 million riders a day onto trains; rent is big- $239/square foot to open a store; fees are big- lawyers charge more than $900/hour for their time; buildings are big- the Freedom Tower is 1,776’ tall… Ok, you already knew New York City is big. Here are some other observations.

There’s Remarkable Diversity

Every day I’m struck by the diversity here. Last week I overheard three men on the street arguing about whether Bulgarian food is better than Greek food. These weren’t foodies either, they were just homesick gents talking about their favorite cooking.

When I visit my gym in Washington Heights, there is little English spoken. It's Spanish spoken by Dominicans. And on the subway, well, very few people look like me. And these are observations by someone who has a fairly small orbit in upper Manhattan. Head to Queens and I’m going to hear a lot of Chinese or visit my wife’s fifth-grade classroom in the Bronx and I can hear 10 different languages spoken in the homes of just 26 of her students.

The old ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy are vastly different than they were two generations ago, but New York is still morphing vibrantly as immigrants come and create their own new pockets of food, music, and culture.

Electric Bikes Keep Everyone Fed

Everywhere you look, food delivery people zip silently along streets and sidewalks delivering food for DoorDash and Grubhub. They’ve become a fixture of the streetscape and they keep everyone fed with takeout orders which were more than a luxury during COVID since it kept countless restaurants from going out of business.

Many of these workers are immigrants from Colombia or Mexico and they work outside for low pay in all weather. Just last fall, they won workplace protections that now enable them to do things like go to the bathroom at the restaurants whose food they deliver.

The story of immigrants coming here and doing work others don’t want to do is old. So is the story of each immigrant wave finding some way to climb up the economic ladder to a better life. I wish them well.

So Many Colleges and Universities!

You already know that New York City has huge industries in real estate, finance, and healthcare. But did you know that New York has at least 97 colleges and universities- yes, I just counted! I started becoming aware of this when I walked my dog and kept meeting university professors so I had to look into it.

There’s Columbia University, NYU, Julliard, and Fordham- maybe you’ve heard of these. But there’s also Manhattan College, New York Academy of Art, Pratt Institute, Yeshiva University, a bunch of state university campuses, a long list of community colleges, medical schools, law schools, and the list goes on and on.

What this means is that parts of the city swarm with students. Walking around the Village near NYU or in Morningside Heights around Columbia, I feel the electric charge these students bring with their energy and ambition.

New York is No Longer the Capital of Advertising

I have memories of working in advertising in New York in the 90’s and the proximity of so many media and marketing businesses made the place hum. The headquarters of big ad firms became focal points for planning, buying, and producing a ton of advertising. There were meetings with TV networks, lunches with magazine ad reps, shoots at photography studios in Soho, and TV commercials produced at sound stages in Queens. Everyone was here and business got done in person.

That’s long gone and not just because of COVID. Internet firms starting with AOL started moving the locus of the ad business elsewhere and that accelerated with Google and Facebook. Then COVID finished it off by enabling industry people to work anywhere. Additionally, traditional “advertising” has been so weakened by the talent shift to digital media that the industry is a shadow of what it used to be. There are still a gazillion dollars of ads placed each year, but the power that ad agencies used to have in managing and controlling that flow is largely gone.

Of course, New York still runs on the work of teachers, cops, nurses, cooks, and bus drivers who actually “go to work” every day like they always have. But people like me who do Zoom calls for a living can do that just as well from the home office and I do. I have to say, though, I miss what it felt like to be here when the advertising business was so vibrant and business happened at The Oyster Bar in Grand Central, at Ranger games, and on Metro-North trains headed to Connecticut on Friday afternoons.

This post was written by John Walker, Principal at J. Walker Marketing, a marketing consultancy. Contact John directly to discuss your marketing challenges.

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