The results of tomorrow’s primary elections will play a large role in shaping the realities of life in New York for years to come. With every job from mayor to City Council member up for grabs, these past few weeks have been a frenzy of harsh attacks and cautious hopefulness. A new era may finally be on the horizon. Signs fill the windows of our bodegas, ads dominate our commercial breaks and campaign fliers spill out of our mailboxes. We all want the same things — security, prosperity, happiness — but the question of how to achieve those goals for every citizen is more complicated than ever. In the tradition of New York politics, minute differences become larger than life as candidates fight to preach their vision for the city. Faced with such divisiveness, the majority of potential voters choose to remain oblivious rather than participate. Nobody wants to think about what it means that their fellow citizens are experiencing a different version of reality than them. That would challenge their ideas about what kind of city they live in and the way they live in it.
For the past three years, Realcity has rallied against this inclination toward ignorance at every turn. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the appeal. Since the day I moved here in June 2009, it’s always been overwhelming to think that single blocks can be home to thousands of different stories. Trying to reconcile how everyone coexists, let alone what kind of city all their ideals and aspirations amount to, is ultimately impossible. Maybe that’s why most publications have given up trying.
During my stint interning at Rolling Stone in the fall of 2009, one of our duties was to comb through the local papers every morning in search of pertinent news items and create a packet for the founder — apparently he hadn’t learned how to use the Internet yet. I was shocked to find that the New York Post and Daily News amounted to little more than tabloids, the Times and Wall Street Journal barely even knew where Brooklyn was and the rest weren’t much better. On my own time, I perused The New Yorker, New York and The Village Voice, but only found more narrow-minded viewpoints. This isn’t to say that many of these publications aren’t good at what they do. They just choose to advocate for a falsely glamorous version of reality that demands a slavish allegiance to restaurant openings, late night shows, fashion trends, art exhibits, celebrity news and whichever political candidates will keep the status quo in place. The question of what’s happening in our cities and how to live in the midst of it all gets boiled down to black and white proclamations that forgo meaning for the sake of snappy headlines and steady web traffic.
Despite eventually discovering some more respectable local news outlets, I still couldn’t find stories about the life I was leading. Where were the stories of my tenants association fighting against a behemoth management company in Queens? Where were the stories of my friends trying to secure decent employment and still afford the occasional beer? Where were the stories of my nightly journey from the gleaming offices of Esquire to my restaurant job as a delivery biker for the city’s wealthiest few and then back home for a few hours of sleep before doing it all over again? Had I met the criteria to become a real New Yorker yet? Even then, in spring of 2010, I knew that sifting through all of this in search of greater meaning would be tough. I had no clue where any of it would lead but I knew that another internship wasn’t going to get me anywhere and decided to strike out on my own.
Three years later, I certainly haven’t figured it all out but consider myself better for having tried. Running Realcity has always been a struggle. I’ve spent countless nights pacing the streets and typing through my thoughts in an effort to figure everything out. If not for Katie’s optimism and dedication to inspire me, we probably wouldn’t have made it this far. The opportunity to work with scores of people from cities all over the country that I never would’ve met otherwise has made it all worthwhile, though. It’s impossible not to see a common thread of hopefulness through the hundreds of pieces we’ve published. Every one of them has broadened the scope of my reality for the better. While the question of what it means that we choose to live together in these great urban experiments will never be fully answered, it’s still one that we should keep in mind every day we’re out on the streets.
By making the exploration of reality our focus for these past three years, Katie and I have lost touch with the city that inspired us. The last thing I want is to be another one-track publication, so it’s time to get back out there and see how we fit into the big picture. As we’ll explore over the next three weeks, this process will be far from easy. No matter who gets elected, our city will still remain divided by different ideas of what’s important — however similar they may sometimes be. We have to remember that even though our realities may not look the same, our desire to live in a city that will prosper and let us prosper in turn can be a unifying force.
All we’ve ever wanted to do at Realcity was challenge the boundaries of people’s realities. I’m proud to report that every piece in this issue will do just that. We’ll look back at how far the site has come, share parting thoughts from our favorite writers, hear stories from every city, have final installments from every section and much more. I truly believe that it’s going to be our best issue yet and can’t wait for you to read it.