When I was young and untethered to reality, I’d see older adults walking around New York and wonder why or how they lived here. I’d see them with their walkers, canes, and bored-looking aides and think about how sad it seemed to live in a city full of life while seemingly slouching toward death.
Like many New Yorkers, I hold my “New Yorkness” close. And although I’m not technically a native and even left here for a 7-year stint in Miami, I bleed the Big Apple, and everyone who knows me knows that. I lived here through 9/11. I strolled downtown next to Philip Seymour Hoffman when the lights went out in 2003. I moved back from Miami only to say hello to Hurricane Sandy. And I stayed in my beloved Brooklyn neighborhood throughout the entirety of the pandemic when New York quickly became the epicenter of COVID-19 in America.
I stayed because this is my home, my spiritual home, and the only place I ever wanted to call home unquestionably.
And through all the catastrophic events and hardships and tiny apartments and stress, New York is still the best city in the world, with the very best people. Go ahead and try to tell me otherwise.
New York is still the best city in the world, with the very best people
But as I turn 52 this year, the thought of aging here is becoming a thought. And much like New York itself, it’s complicated.
First up, safety.
The latest news of a young Asian woman getting murdered in her Lower East Side apartment building was tragic and terrifying. Indeed, I’m no longer coming home at 4 am, but Lord knows there was a time that that was beyond ordinary. And though it’s been a while since I’ve taken the subway (even pre-pandemic, my love for the iron lady was lost), it feels unsafe. I wouldn’t say I like feeling scared in New York, and I honestly never have, but lately, it feels different. I know some people enjoy a side of danger with their urban experience, but I don’t.
Next up, is it necessary to even be here if we can work anywhere?
During the pandemic, I watched a lot of pals peace out. A single friend of mine did not like the vibe in her Manhattan neighborhood and decided to give LA a spin for more space and more sunshine. A few friends gave up their city apartments to live in their upstate homes full time. And those with young children hitched their Audi wagons to Montclair, NJ, or a place called Connecticut.
Leaving New York didn’t even cross my mind
But leaving New York didn’t even cross my mind. First, we have a pup and no human children. Next, the city continues to challenge and inspire me; I can’t wait to enjoy the inevitable rebound of this thing formerly known as life. Many people come to New York for work and work only, and once they could work from anywhere, New York became irrelevant to them. But alas, not for me.
Because New York is so much more than a place to make a solid living. I, for one, imagine a future where I’m enjoying New York even more so when I’m no longer working. One of the most frustrating things about this city is the maddening pace. But imagine if I didn’t have to be at work at 9. Or get to a meeting across town by noon. The whole damn world opens up. And if I play my cards right, I may be able to enjoy New York at my pace. And stroll through the Met on a Tuesday morning. Or shop for a new coat on a Thursday. Or lunch with friends or take a class whenever I want. Can you imagine? I sure can because New York keeps you young.
And there are still occasions I find myself still so in love with living here. Like the Lunar New Year dinner with friends where there was too much Sancerre and so many laughs with people who are more family than friends. Or the preview at my favorite local boutique Meg, where I can peek at their spring collection and quicken my pulse over a one-shouldered jumpsuit. Or the fact that I never have to drive or cook if I don’t feel like it. These are fabulous perks. And even though those 55+ commercials advertising utopian communities filled with activities and golf cart safaris and buffet brunches have a cast that is starting to look a lot more like The Brat Pack than The Golden Girls, I can’t even imagine a life like that. Plus, Florida.
I need culture. Stimulation. Kindred spirits. Patinas. I need street style. Diversity. And taste.
I also need more space, but I am willing to sacrifice a Costco run to live in a place with museums, fantastic shopping, and excellent sushi. And according to a 2019 survey, I’m not alone. New York’s biggest cities have seen an increase in residents over 65. And I sense that as my generation ages, we’ll continue to want to experience life as we know it, with some modifications. Take Jane Brody, the Health columnist for the New York Times who turned 80 in 2021 and gave up ice skating, strenuous gardening, and coloring her hair because “sooner or later, we must recognize what is no longer possible and find alternatives.”
I’ve been thinking of growing older on the Upper East Side
Point taken. So how do I grow old in New York and not outgrow it?
I’ve been thinking of growing older on the Upper East Side. Because if there’s a place to age in style with small dogs and a strong gin martini at noon sans judgment, it is there. When I moved here all those years ago, my first apartment was at 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue, in the heart of the Upper East Side, and I have loved its old New York, civilized vibe ever since. I adore Central Park. I love the small shops that sell peculiarities like Belgian ballet flats and quilted peignoir sets. And shopping for hair accessories at Zitomer is a delight, as is a toasted sesame bagel with lox from Pick-a-Bagel. Or a decadent lunch at Sistina just because. That’s my idea of aging gracefully, though it’s a term that I have come to loathe. CAVEAT ALERT. New York is expensive. But, for me, it’s worth the price of admission. (And I’m not retiring anytime soon.)
The truth is, growing old will be challenging and exhilarating and sacred wherever I am. But being somewhere I love that has always given me so much in terms of heart and home is essential. And I was dismayed to find my favorite fictional contemporaries in “And Just Like That” treat New York like it was, well, just anywhere. Besides the terrible writing and the sense that their friendship was not what it used to be, New York was no longer a central character like it was in “Sex and the City.” And oh, how I missed it.
Perhaps life will have something else in store, but I like the idea of aging in place. In my place. And if you see me walking down Madison Avenue in a leopard coat and a cane and several small dogs groomed to perfection in matching cashmere sweaters one day in the distance, do say hello. I probably won’t be in a rush and will happily have time to chat.
So glad you mentioned the terrible writing of “And Just Like That.” Now I like you even more! I will say and stick by it to my death that my best years were living in NYC. Every day was an adventure. Men, cheap theater tixs, bikig, running around the resevoir, museums and a fun job within walking distance. Beware of retirment as one doesn’t always spend the days in musuems or coffee shops but in dismay and missing work. You are a fun writer and that will never get old with along with you.
Thank you Gail!!
I couldn’t agree more, living in an environment that inspires, stimulates, surprises and challenges is important at any age. Intentionality is always the key, and for me it’s always NYC.
Love this, Julia thank you.
I absolutely love this!
Age in Place.
It is a dream to stroll the NYC streets slowly, stopping at galleries on weekdays and sharing a long chat when I run into you near Central Park! What a beautiful vision for a couple days off from work or more leisurely days as we age.
Yes! New York at your own pace. Perfection.
God I miss the city. It became so expensive and work diluted. So I moved to Cape Town, with its expansive beauty, wine farms 45 minutes away sans toll booth highways, two oceans, both the Indian and. the Atlantic, mountains that drop down to white sandy beaches, wild animal life etc etc.
And I feel I’m dying here. How do I get back to a city I adored and lived in for 46 years without having to use crowd funding?
Sheri is correct. People age much faster outside of NYC. Maybe it’s because New York doesn’t really give you the opportunity to age as there is always something to do. And being single, no matter what age, is easy there. Here I’m surrounded by people who are married with kids and grand children. Something I chose not to do.
So many people told me they wouldn’t want to age in the city when I fact I think it is actually set up for that. I saw my mum tethered to an old age home in Seattle, depending on everything and everyone in her environment.
At least in NYC you can step out of your building and have a life in a few block radius.
I miss my little studio at 103 and Riverside Drive with an unrestricted view of the Hudson.
If there is anyone out there that can help, please email me at email@example.com
Come on home we’ll welcome you with open arms!!
As always your writing is so on. I think where one chooses to live must inspire, have opportunities to continue to grow, culture, diversity, perspective and makes one feel safe.
Even though you mentioned that FL is not your thing, and for me those 55+ communities is not my thing either, it reminds of where my 95 yo grandma lives and loving it. So for each is own..
I live in St. Petersburg, I have no fur babies, but my son is graduating from college and is off on his life. What now?
I jumped into my painting and am pursuing a strong side gig doing fine art shows and commissions. St Pete, is highly diverse, great restaurants, art and culture a bound, open space, fresh air, and the ocean. So this is my place to age well.
I am turning 53 this year and like my grandma said, Kelly- you have 40+ years to do a whole new thing. Cheers to the cities we love and life we want!
XOXO thank you what a beautiful note!
100% with you on New York. Retirement, not so much. Working & New York are Rogers & Astaire, can’t imagine life here without it! Great essay!
@Christine I so agree with you!