What is this New York "electricity" everyone keeps talking about?

I’ve been living in New York City a little over four months now, and I’m not exactly loving it (to put it mildly). New York has for a while been low on my list of favorite cities, and living here hasn’t changed that. (I don’t really want to get into my reasons for disliking the city, as I’ve learned that New Yorkers are exceedingly proud of the place and not too receptive to criticisms. Also, to spare anyone the bother of having to say it, yes, I know that if I don’t like the place I am free to leave it any time. I may do so, though I have compelling career reasons to stay. We’ll see.)

Anyways, since it looks like I’ll be here for a while yet, I’m trying to improve my relations with the place, and who knows, maybe learn to love it a little. One thing I keep running across in reading about people’s feelings about New York is the supposed “electricity” of the place. Example:

You hear this kind of thing all the time – call it what you want: a vibe, an electricity, a “feeling” – people seem to get this charge from the city that somehow makes all its hassles worthwhile; they sense something that makes them love this city and think it the “greatest city in the world!!!”

I have yet to feel that electricity, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that is the underlying problem with my dislike of the place. Hopefully it’s not one of those things that, like jazz, “if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know,” because if so, I might have to pack my bags. So I turn to you, Dopers who’ve felt that special New York thrill, and ask: what is it? What about this city revvs you up and makes it all worthwhile? What are the moments when you especially feel that electricity in the air? Did you feel it automatically when you first came here, or was it gradual? Any advice on how someone who just doesn’t get it might tune into that special vibe?

It’s just that feeling like somewhere, something truly amazing is happening. Really, every second of the every day, within a few miles of you, something unbelievably great is happening. I couldn’t shake that feeling while in NYC.

Still, I didn’t like it. Not a fan of it, but that was the feel I got from the city.

Interesting that you got the feeling but you still didn’t like the city. Was it that the things you disliked about the city outweighed the feeling, or that somehow that feeling that great things were going on somehow didn’t appeal to you?

There was no way to get away from the people. At all. I see why they call it the city that never sleeps. Well, I like to sleep, and I like my cities to have real nights, where things slow down, businesses close shop and the streets are mostly empty.

By contrast, I absolutely loved Washington D.C. A big city with a small town attitude. Great place to visit, and I hope to live there some day, at least for a little while.

To the OP - what big cities *do *you like, and why?

Like Influential Panda says, there’s always something happening, probably too many to ever get a handle on. There’s also a sense of limitless possibilities, although lack of funds can certainly put a damper on this. May I ask if you’re getting out and doing stuff? It’s not a requirement, but it can make living in the city more fun.

Most people wouldn’t want to live in New York full-time. There are a lot of hassles to living in the city, from grocery shopping to parking to never being out of earshot from another human being. If the cons don’t outweigh the pros, you should move somewhere that you’ll enjoy more.

This blows me away. I only lived in the DC area for three years but I can’t say that I ever got that vibe. If anything, I’d say it’s a small town with big city attitude (or, if I’m feeling less nice, pretensions). YMMV.

I’ve only been in New York on a trip with my band to play at Carnegie, so it may have been more of a tourist vibe, but I certainly felt what you were explaining (and I’ve never heard about it before this thread). It’s hard to explain, but the vibe was almost like, there are so many different people of different races, creeds, socioeconomic statuses, etc. But it almost felt as if everything was working in unison, yeah, I saw the business people utterly ignoring the homeless guy in need, but it still felt almost like a clock, with all the small parts working together. A weird feeling of harmony through dissonance or unity through diversity. I just don’t get that feeling in Tucson, or in Phoenix/Tempe for that matter.

Sure there is. You just ignore them.

Koch said Chicago might be the cleanest city in the world? Bizarre.

Anyhow, while I could never imagine myself living in New York City, I do enjoy visiting it, and I certainly feel the “electricity” of the place. The first time I visited there about 15 years ago, “electricity” just about sums up my first impression. Even though I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life up until that point, I felt like a country bumpkin in Manhattan. The New York world was just way too fast for me. It’s perhaps the most energetic, manic city I’ve ever visited (though I haven’t been to any Asian megalopolises yet), and I simply can’t keep up with the energy levels for an extended period of time. Love to visit, would hate to live there. New York impels me to become a high-strung, Type A personality–I feel if I’m not, I’ll get walked all over or run over by a taxi.

But along with constant pulse of people, sounds, and traffic, there is an overwhelming creative energy I feel and feed off of visiting New York, and that is why I love going there.

This is one of those funny things. One of my favorite parts about NYC is that you can be so anonymous exactly because it is so crowded. It is in small towns where I feel I can’t get away from people.

This is also why I feel NYC is electric (although let’s all make a note that I would never use such a wonky way to express that, I mean really – “electric” makes me think I should be doing jazz hands when I describe it). It’s like a big swarm of people, and you have a lot of control about how and when you emerge from it as an individual, and when you sink back into it and coast along. Either way, there’s a lot of movement, even if you personally are at rest at any particular moment. I can see how some people wouldn’t find that relaxing, but I love it, it’s like you can sit back and let the current carry you for a while.

Electricity is a pretty good analogy. It’s like a power socket. There’s enormous potential energy just waiting for you to bridge the gap, close the circuit and plug in to do almost anything, find almost anything.

In New York, freedom looks like too many choices
In New York I found a friend to drown out the other voices
Voices on the cell phone, voices from home
Voices of the hard sell, voices down the stairwell
In New York – I just got a place in New York

Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics,
Religious nuts, political fanatics in the stew
Living happily not like me and you


That said, it’s a vibe for the young and the restless. The majority of New Yorkers spend the majority of their days much like any other person: in a get-up, go-to-work, come-home, eat-dinner, watch-TV, go-to-bed cycle for the most part. If you think in those terms, if that really is 80+% of your life and the other part is typically some kind of traveling vacation anyway, and you do your shopping and eat food in ways that are readily available pretty much anywhere in the country, what’s the big attraction to doing that in a very expensive and crowded city? There isn’t one.

But even in a work-a-day routine, there are random moments of “only in New York”. Which isn’t really true, it’s more accurately moments of “only in a dense, major cosmopolitan crossroads of the world with people physically thrown together”. In the US, New York City is the prime example of a place like this. LA is very global, but everyone goes around in enclosed metal boxes each to their own destinations. In New York, everyone, rich and poor, immigrant and tourist, hits the streets.

I work in Midtown Manhattan and eat lunch at my desk 90+% of the time. And yet even in the few minutes I’m out there on the street getting my lunch I can “feel the electricity” if I pay attention. Like on a recent Friday, I walked one block down Park Ave. in midtown at lunchtime, and stood behind a Jamaican man with a Rasta tri-color knit cap covering his dreadlocks buying food at Halal food cart, in front of a Lubavitcher Jew with earlocks and fedora pressing Shabbat-Across-America leaflets to anyone he thinks looks like a Jewish male, while two guys in business suits walked by talking in German past a pair of Chinese tourists with a map and taking pictures of the buildings.

That’s because this food stand is in front of one of the seminal buildings in 20th Century architectural design, the Lever House, the first “glass-and-steel” office building ever built, and is across the street from another famous modernist building, the Seagram building. Another block or two down is a Ferrari showroom, while another block in the other direction in St. Bart’s Cathedral, which has a crowd of ragged looking people in line for their food service for the homeless. Even as on the other side of the church, there’s a trendy and somewhat pricey cafe (Cafe St. Bart’s) featuring live music in the summer.

Then there’s the street artist, usually a musician. Taking the subway home, I’ve seen some amazing musicians, both amazingly good and amazingly, memorably terrible. I’ve even seen two of them get together and jam, a Chinese guy playing a chromatic harmonica and an Albanian playing a violin. Before it ever aired on TV, I used to see a guy with an accordion on a subway platform who looked more than a little like “The Sea Captain” on the Simpsons, singing Sea Chanteys and selling tapes. And most surreal of all, one time I saw a girl playing the flute in an Irish folk music ensemble who was the sister of a high school friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in 15 years, though the last I’d heard she’d moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Don’t feel bad. I lived there for ten years and never got it. The “electricity” was just another bizarre experience that might turn into something scary or embarrassing at any minute. I’d take a stroll down S. Main Street in Providence over the bustle of 5th avenue any day. And, yes, the New Yorkers in my world take great offense at that.

You’re not alone. You couldn’t pay me enough to live in New York City. Ugh. I’ve been there and hated it. I am NOT a big city person.

New York isn’t for everyone. I live there and pretty much every single day when I step outside of my apartment building or my office and into the throngs of people I am overcome by waves of joy. I love that I can get around the city without a car, and better yet for less than $100 a month, on the subway. I love that if I am bored today and I want to go do something there is never, ever, ever a shortage of stuff to do, and much of it is free or by donation. I love that I live in such an ethnically diverse neighborhood and when I walk to the subway in the morning the odds are good I will hear at least one language I don’t understand. I love that I get to experience all 4 seasons.

These kind of things don’t appeal to everyone. My parents live in Texas and they can’t imagine living anywhere else. They love that they have a 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom house for less than $150,000. They love that they can have 3 cars between the two of them. They love being able to pack up the dogs and the fishing poles and heading out camping for a weekend should they choose. They love not having to deal with snow. They would hate living in NYC. I hated living in Dallas. Everyone has what is important to them and that makes a tremendous difference in whether or not you feel truly content where you live.

Have you considered living in Westchester county or Staten Island or something and commuting into the city?

I think part of the excitement of New York is the sense that so much is possible. It’s kind of like twisting the old New York New York line around - If you can’t make it anywhere else, maybe you can make it there. There are so many opportunities in so many aspects of life - romance, career, artistic pursuits, whatever.

This too. While I’m fairly shy and not terribly outgoing, at the same time I like being around all the different people and in NYC it’s different every day.

Of course, you have to have compatible interests to be happy anywhere. For example, if you enjoy playing jazz, as I do, you should understand that awareness of, and support for, jazz drops drastically outside New York. So you had better get used to being crowded in with type A personalities, or else not play much jazz.

There’s an improv group I like to check up on from time to time called Improv Everywhere that’s based in New York, and they love to cause random, brilliant scenes to add some surreality into people’s lives. I can’t imagine being able to suddenly encounter a mock U2 band playing on a rooftop or walking through Grand Central Station when half the people suddenly freeze in place for five minutes.

Obviously, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day, but it’s representative of what you say, that New York gets its vibe from having so many people out on the street and able to interact with each other. Phoenix is like LA; you drive everywhere. Everything is so spread out that you pretty much have to. You don’t encounter other people except at your destinations, even if you wanted to, so the potential for spontaneity is pretty much non-existent.

I’ve only ever visited New York once, and that was with a group whose organizers did their best to keep us secluded from the city at large so we could make our meeting appointments and such. Even then, sometimes I feel an overwhelming desire to live there and be a part of it all, even though realistically I know it would be one of the toughest places to move to.

The 1966 book The Epic of New York City by Edward Robb Ellis opens with a brief description of the city that says that the city air “has a quality like champagne” that makes the inhabitants “crackle with energy”. I always thought that passage hilarious, because, to me, Manhattan’s air has a quality like smog that gives me a headache, and the brown of the polluted air is frequently visible. Champagne it ain’t.


But I always understood “crackle with Energy” and “electricity” to be m4etaphors for the new stuff that seems to surface first in NYC, and for the eternal hustling of the crowds that makes them blase even to this newness. There was a picture in Life magazinbe of a naked guy walking down a New York street sometime in the 1960s – no one seemed to even notice him. Improv Everywhere has its work cut out for it if they want to impress this crowd.

The electricity of New York is not the same as it was back before Giuliani. It is much diminished since then. It’s still here, but I mostly notice it when I am not in New York. Because for New York I move at a kind of slow pace. When I go somewhere else I am racing by comparison.

I’ve never been to New York, but like a lot of people, almost feel like I have because it’s at the center of so many books, movies, etc. To me it seems like a place where any kind of story can play out and you can meet a hundred different personality types in a given day. Exciting for any kind of creative art; don’t know if it might end up just being a constant headache to live in, though.