Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New York: Good for Singles, Not So Good for Nightlife?

By Gamal Hennessy

When tourists, graduates and other people choose where to visit or live, there are a lot of factors that they can take into account. Forbes, a well known financial magazine offers advice on this subject in the form of its annual list of Best Cities for Singles. The good news is that New York has risen to the top of this chart for 2009. The bad news is that our overall gains seem to come at the price of a weakened nightlife environment. Is NY nightlife really weaker than it was a year ago or does our nightlife have qualities that can’t be measured?

The Forbes Best List for Singles compares U.S. cities across seven different categories including culture, nightlife, number of singles and cost of living. Last year, NYC ranked 8th best city for singles beaten out by cities like Dallas, Seattle and Boston. The reason we barely made it into the top ten was because our cost of living is so high compared to other cities. Our nightlife was ranked number 1, even when compared to nightlife cities like Las Vegas, Miami and Atlanta because the number of venues in New York when compared to the number of singles was the highest in the country.

This year, New York is the top city for single people. Driving this determination is the fact that our cost of living, compared to the average salary for single people for New Yorkers has leveled during the recession. It is still expensive to live here, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to have your own place. The bad news is that the number of venues per capita has decreased from our 2008 numbers according to AOL City Guide.

The basic problem with the Forbes list is the same one that existed when we last covered the story. The methodology focuses on quantity as opposed to quality. It’s fine to count the number of single people or the number of bars in certain cities and rank them based on density, but it doesn’t really take quality or variety into account. Does each city have the same range of nationalities, education levels and backgrounds for singles to choose from when they go looking for a date? Is a bar in Charlotte count just as much as a bar in Vegas because they both serve beer? Is the experience the same when you can walk to fifteen bars in a five block radius instead of driving for 20 minutes just to get to one? If you think about single life by only tracking the numbers, you miss something substantial.

The Forbes study does point out a fact that New York and the nightlife industry needs to focus on. The recession,
the SLA backlog and the NIMBY push have led to a consolidation of the industry. We are losing more venues than we are gaining. That means the city as a whole is losing more jobs, more revenue, more taxes and more potential for cultural growth. Our reputation as a nightlife capital can fade away if operators and patrons stand idle.

The Forbes List is not the last word on the health of nightlife in New York City, but consider this; Milwaukee and Portland came in with higher nightlife scores than New York. If tourists and college graduates look for a city to flock to and somehow come to the conclusion that nightlife in those cities can somehow be compared to ours we are going to lose the energy and the passion that those new people bring. Lists like this are not definitive pronouncements, but they are warnings to anyone who enjoys nightlife.

Have fun.

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