Moving to NYC is to be in a relentless state of attack, to have your credentials questioned at every turn, both literally and existentially, and to constantly be slapped with the question: Do you belong here? You could spend your whole life in New York City defending yourself against territorial natives, who, to be fair, have plenty of cause for concern that every day a new 23-year-old from somewhere else hatches in Chelsea or Bushwick, ready to overwrite the source code of the city. One of the most common tropes is that Ohioans and other midwesterners are the culprits — they borne of the land of SUVs and McMansions, chain stores and chicken fingers and whiteness, who flee to the city in search of something interesting without bringing anything to the table themselves.
Well, according to this chart culled from census data, that perception is all wrong: It’s those lousy New Jerseyans who are coming to Brooklyn and NYC more than anyone else, according to this map from wonderful data viz blog Very Small Array.
It’s not exactly news that Ohioans are not the actual biggest faction moving to the city, nor is it news that popular stereotypes about people and places are usually wrong. Curbed and Brooklyn Magazine wrote about the top cities people move to NYC from in 2014, with Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles topping the list. But this map lays some of the census data down by neighborhood so you can see where your neighbors are coming from (it doesn’t count NY natives in the stats, obviously).
The layout of the map should not be a huge surprise. Jersey kids growing up and moving to the big city were once the scourge of locals, before transplants from farther away and more fly-overy states became the trendy bête noire. That hate got so bad there was once even a support group for Ohioans dealing with their stigma in NYC. For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming from Ohio, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming from anywhere: it’s how you act when you get here that you’re judged on.
Is being from NJ less terrible than being from elsewhere in the country and moving to NYC? I’m not sure, but there seems to be an aura of truce or tolerance extended to New Jersey natives in the city these days, possibly because of regionalism or maybe because New Jersey feels genetically closer to New York than suburban Ohio or coastal California. I say this from experience, having run into plenty of natives with claws out, ready to pounce when they ask me where I’m from, only to retract and confide their fears when I reveal I was born and raised in NJ (before fleeing it like it was a volcano spewing bed bugs upon reaching college age, I should note).
“Oh, so you get it,” one old timer said to me (what “it” was I was supposed to get, I’m still not sure). Another, a security guard I talked to at the courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn while serving jury duty, assumed I was from California; when I corrected him, he said “that’s basically the same thing” as being from New York. Ocean County, NJ and Brooklyn are very much not the same thing, nor is it a part of New Jersey that seems to produce a lot of people who move to NYC (North Jersey seems to chuck them across the water in droves): I know maybe one person from my high school in the whole city.
Being from NJ comes with its own stigma in other parts of the country, and I don’t identify strongly enough with my home state to care much to defend it. But suffice it to say that New Jersey is indeed a terrible place, full of mean, petty people, where things like car insurance, tolls and property taxes are too expensive and you have to pay to get on the beaches, which you’d expect to be more clean for all that money.
Without even much concept of the world, or the country at large, I told my high school guidance counselor that my main criteria for colleges were: 1) a good journalism program and 2) not being located on NJ, though the first part was negotiable. The state’s No. 1 hero pens anthems about racing out of your hometown and how hard it is to reach escape velocity from the tar-pit muck of New Jersey that refuses to let you go. There are too many people in New Jersey, which is why your college was probably full of them. Its governorship is a mess — its governorship is always a mess.
But we had corner pizza parlors and trash problems, public transit issues and Italian delis where the guy knows your family’s order. We rooted for the Yankees or the Mets, the Giants or the Jets (though if you were slightly more west, you were infected by affinity for Philly teams, and you’re on your own there). For every New Yorker who hated bridge and tunnel crowds coming into the city on the weekends, we shared and equal if not greater bonfire of rage for the bennies who took over our beaches each summer (you even had the gall to make a show about it, you monsters).
I asked some NYC native friends what they thought. One told me NJers moving to NYC was expected and she didn’t think it was a big deal.
Another felt there was a certain same-boatness to NYC and NJ: “I feel more connected to people from Jersey,” he said. “I feel like the situation in NY is so dire that I find myself bringing Jersey and LI people into the fold.”
And one told me it’s not where you’re from, but what you come with: “I don’t think the NJ vs CA distinction makes as much of a difference as the fact that transplants are almost always wealthier than the average New Yorker,” she said.
You will find plenty of New Yorkers who write off anyone who wasn’t born in the five boroughs. But the NYC/New Jersey rivalry may have faded in recent years as gentrification rears its heads in much more dramatic forms, with people from farther away and abroad buying condos and replacing businesses. Maybe we’re all just afraid of rich people, wherever they’re from. But just know no matter your feelings for the state, you can’t escape New Jersey: It’s around you all the time, everywhere.
Follow Tim as he rides out tonight to case the promised land: @timdonnelly.
What’s your feelings on New Jersey people in NYC? Tell us in the comments!
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