While living and working in Europe over the past month, I've been asked several times why I live in New York City. "Why do you put up with that incredibly crowded, overpriced, and practically unlivable high-rise of a mouse-trap? Wouldn't the quality of life be much higher in a city like Berlin, Hong Kong, or Buenos Aires?"
My response is that the energy of New York is like no other place on the planet.
It's like being plugged into a high voltage amplifier that can catapult you to a full-blown Spinal Tap 11. I explain that it's the most diverse and interesting city on Earth, where you can ride the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan and watch Cirque du Soleil-quality acrobat-boy-clowns fly about the train car, dancing their hats off, exemplifying a new definition of art and entrepreneurship. These Spiderman-maneuvers, which can only otherwise be seen in Broadway's Pippen or in the new Planet of the Apes film- and for an optional microscopic-fraction of the cost, are just one example of what makes New York a truly special place to be.
Over the past two hundred years, citizens from around the globe haven't flocked to populate York, as in the tired, ancient Roman-turned-English-city, but New York. Nueva York. Where innovative ideas, practices, and businesses can stake their claim in the fiercely competitive "concrete jungle where dreams are made of;" the best of which are launched onto the global stage as the headliners of culture for the whole wide world. Where a man from Bangladesh leaves his family and dentistry practice to sell fruit on the corners of 69th & Lexington in hopes of becoming a walking, talking, smiling success story. New York is an anomaly, pulsating with a if you "can make it here," you "can make it anywhere" hustle that has inspired a myriad of books, films, and albums.
The other day in Hamburg, Germany, I met a young Norwegian-Persian boy hidden under an oversized flat-billed-ball-cap with the block lettering "BROOKLYN" etched across his forehead. In Berlin last week, I spoke with a man wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of the same acrobatic-hat-boys from the subway: balancing one-handed up side down on a moving train. I asked if he'd ever been to New York to see this extraordinary athleticism in person and he said, "No, but of course I'm dying to go."
New York is as well known a brand as Apple, Nike, or Google, but we, the stock holders (aka the citizen-tax-payers), do not hold the same gravity in the day-to-day decision making of our leaders. Our "board of directors" seems comfortable to let sweat-shirt makers rake in profits off the backs of young street-performers, but considers the pocket-change the performers earn to be a crime. Furthermore, I'm having a difficult time imagining that there would not be sweeping, company-wide reforms if one of these global brands found that one of its' employees choked a customer (and share holder) to death; in fact I remember Apple swiftly implementing changes when a barrage of reports came out about the harsh, if not lethal, conditions at FoxCon facilities. Why would a company react so swiftly? Because they know that if they damage their brand they put the future of their company at risk.
New York is a global brand that represents an artistic and entrepreneurial ideal that people the world over admire and respect. But with a police force that cracks down on low-level, non-violent crime in such a senseless way, that brand is at risk of deteriorating. People across Europe have seen the videos of Eric Garner saying he can't breathe, while the oxygen leaves his vessel, and they keep asking "What's going on in America? And, of all places, why in New York?" Now they're wondering the same thing in regards to why the city is intent on arresting street-artists ("arrests of performers have more than quadrupled this year, to 203 through early this month, compared with 48 over the same period last year.") who are working to carve out a living in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.
Are we really making our streets safer by enforcing broken-glass policies on low-level-law-breakers such as these young dancers (who are only exercising their talents to make an honest living)? Unless there's a large scale subway-dancing-hat-boy-juke-mafia that I'm unaware of, these kids seem to have found an artistic-entrepreneurial endeavor that "keeps them off the street," pays their bills, and for me, and millions of other tourists and locals alike, makes New York a truly magical place to be. Instead of figuring out how we can punish them for pushing the creative boundaries of business, let's find a way to work with them to further innovate and create new entrepreneurial opportunities for them and others New Yorkers alike.