7 Things About New York City That Make Phoenix Look Like a Cultural Wasteland
Coney Island Mermaid Parade 2013
CS Muncy / Village Voice
Editor's note: We had so much fun over on Chow Bella, pitting New Yorker-turned-Phoenician Nina Gruber against Phoenician-turned-New Yorker Dominique Chatterjee against each other on the topic of food that we decided to do it again -- and this time, we're talking about culture. Today we share Chatterjee's view of things that make NYC tops. Check out Gruber's post about Phoenix props from earlier this week.
It takes an active community to make vibrant culture. With 8.25 million people -- over twice the size of L.A. (and five times that of Phoenix) -- it's no wonder that NYC is the cosmopolitan mega-capital of the country. As the sixth-biggest metro area in the United States, our fair Phoenix obviously also has a lot to offer, but given the vast quantity of stuff to do in the Big Apple, this Arizonan metropolis looks like a small village by comparison -- and we definitely don't mean Greenwich.
Name an interest or obscure part of your identity, and there's almost certainly a group of people meeting in NYC to talk about or celebrate it. Everyone knows about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but there's also the Veggie Pride Parade, Village Halloween Parade, and Coney Island Mermaid Parade (with Drunken Mermaid Gala after-party). The city is also home to the annual World Science Festival, which includes fun-filled outdoor demonstrations, and regularly holds creative festivals like FIGMENT, which turns Governors Island into a "a ginormous playground of participatory art" for one weekend every year and has now expanded to Boston, Chicago, and other cities.
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Metro Phoenix has a few local bookstores, primarily Changing Hands and Lawn Gnome, but small bookstores in NYC are a dime a dozen. City dwellers still order through Amazon (who doesn't?), but bibliophiles can also browse unique used collections to find the books they never knew were written as if exclusively for them. There are also street vendors who hock used books, absurd and popular titles alike, for as little as $1, meaning you don't even have to set foot in a store to find your next subway read. There are also lending libraries and shops where you can barter books for coffee.
The subway and bus systems in NYC tend to get a lot of negative attention. And it's true that they can run late, make riders share space with shady characters, and involve waiting in underground stations that reek of piss. But a lot of good comes from the largest city transit network in the country. First, New Yorkers don't have to participate in car culture, including the painfully high gas prices. On top of that, a lot of great moments occur on the subway. There's the Williamsburg "fashion show" on the L train, high-quality musicians entertaining crowds on the platforms (including a girl playing "Gangsta's Paradise" on the accordion), and hip-hop dancers flipping around and making everyone on the train laugh, cheer, or -- depending on the level of talent -- awkwardly watch together.
Far from a daily occurrence in Phoenix, performance art is so prevalent in NYC that people hardly even talk about it. When SMoCA has a handful of cool circus performers in town for an event, it's a big deal. But there are crazy shows -- in venues and in the streets -- to see throughout the big city every day of the week. Sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right time. There are also regular performances by aerial acrobats and off-the-wall (literally) movement artists like STREB. And don't forget the holiday festivities including Unsilent Night, the "boombox parade" where people join together to march through the streets blasting four songs on portable music devices at the same time.
James Turrell's work will be on exhibition in NYC through September.
Museums & Galleries
This one's kind of a no-brainer. New York is in many ways the ultimate art town. It would take weeks or even months to get the most out of the big museums, and that's only including behemoths like the Met, MoMA, Guggenheim, Whitney, and Frick. Then there are also newer collections like the Museum of the Moving Image, New Museum, and Dia:Beacon, which is located an hour and a half north of NYC. In addition to museums, there are endless galleries to explore throughout the city, with hotspots in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, 57th Street, and Williamsburg.
The number one thing that makes NYC's nightlife better than all the other big U.S. cities is that last call is at 4 a.m. -- later than every other state in the country (except Alaska). That means bars in New York only close for two hours a day. Know the feeling when you're having a great time with friends, eating, chatting, dancing and you realize it's past 1 a.m.? Suddenly the crowd starts to lose steam, and the last round of drinks is quickly polished off. That same feeling doesn't come on until 3 o'clock in NYC, keeping the party going well into the early morning. And, yes, the subway runs that late too, so you can safely get home without fear of a DUI.
Fitness for Everyone
A lot of New Yorkers aren't satisfied with walking a mile or two daily and climbing three flights of stairs just to catch the train or get to their apartment. When there's still fuel in the tank, there are numerous ways to expend that extra energy and stay in shape. NYC has studios dedicated to practicing every type of yoga, dance, and fitness craze. Outdoor junkies can run marathons, join cycling clubs, and play in countless casual sports leagues. Want to go for a leisurely walk? There's always Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, or the uniquely urban High Line. While some of the city's activities get pretty pricy, there are also free classes held six days a week as part of the Shape Up NYC program.
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