On my way out, I ran into Mari Spirito, a longtime director at 303 Gallery in New York. Spirito had just moved to Turkey to set up a nonprofit called Protocinema. Above our heads, Arabic script was etched into the marble: “He who earns money is God’s beloved servant.”
“In New York it feels like the best years are behind us,” she said. “In Istanbul it feels like the best years are yet to come.”
Like London, there's no more frontier left in New York. Punk is dead. The city's own success squeezed the life out of it. Jonathan Raban, author of "Soft City", provides the best epitaph for New York while lamenting what became of wild London:
The inevitable consequence is that diversity is being driven from the central city to its remote peripheries – a trend that is reflected in metropolitan areas around the world. Here in Seattle, for instance, to find good Indian, Chinese or Korean restaurants one now has to make a 20-mile drive into the suburbs, which is where immigrants, along with artists, students, freelance writers and other natural denizens of the soft city are increasingly moving because they can’t afford the alpine rents of downtown. The densely populated inner-urban honeycomb – what Henry James, writing of London, once called “the most complete compendium in the world” – has become so expensively reconstructed, so tarted-up, that only people with a merchant banker’s income will soon be able to live there, outside of the steadily diminishing supply of low-rent public housing.
Either you move to the suburbs or head to Istanbul. If you aren't up for playing expat and would like the soft city experience in an actual city, there are domestic options. For the Left Coast, Portland beckons. For the East, it's Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh more so than Portland, the best years are yet to come. In the Midwest, Chicago's best years are behind it. The urban frontier is now in Detroit. The South? That's easy. Big Easy. Atlanta peaked about a decade ago. And as you know, Miami is dying.
But if you want to experience what New York was like in the 1970s, then you must go to Istanbul or another emerging cosmopolitan center. You have to find an "Instant City" that suits you. For Americans, life is elsewhere. Time to emigrate.