Steph Yee: New York City

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Steph is a Development Assistant at Columbia University in the City of New York.

What’s your historical Los Angeles and New York connection?
I’m a third generation native New Yorker. Both of my grandfathers immigrated to the United States from China around the 1930s/40s and served in World War II, on the American side. After the war, my grandparents settled in Manhattan; my dad grew up in the West Village and my mom grew up on the East Side of Union Square. My dad’s youngest brother still lives in the rent control West Village apartment where the Yee family grew up on Barrow Street. The Yee family laundry is now an Italian restaurant called “Extra Virgin.” My paternal grandparents closed the laundry service once they bought the family home in Queens in the late 1970s.

I grew up in Queens but spent a good portion of my leisure time in Manhattan, going to museums or Broadway shows with my mom. I was fortunate enough to go to high school in the city, behind Lincoln Center. I was a fine arts major at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the “Fame” high school, as the movie and television series are based on my high school. Just some of it’s illustrious alumni include Adrien Brody, Adrian Grenier and Jennifer Aniston.

I ventured west to the best coast after high school where I went to a university in downtown Los Angeles. Although I lived in LA for only four short years, I consider it to be my second home. I boomeranged back to New York after graduation, where I currently live and work. However, I am (im)patiently waiting to return and to claim California as my home. I am frequently in California whether to see dear friends in LA or to see extended family in San Jose and San Francisco.

Describe your experience in LA and your experience in NYC.
In LA, you always know a great sunset is awaiting you, even whilst stuck in traffic on the 405. Los Angeles certainly appeared more glamorous, because of it’s wide avenues accommodating fancy automobiles or it’s iconic non-native imported palm trees that punctuate the sky and the mountains. I should probably preface that I have never driven in Los Angeles.

As a Native New Yorker, I did not get my driver’s license until just last December. I think this helps me experience both cities in its own kind of purity, whether as a passenger in the front seat of a friend or family member’s car, using mass transit or traversing around in New York or Los Angeles on my own reliable two feet.

Personally I reveled in the freedom a car affords in LA to go on adventures in between the beach and the mountains, whether it was to go to concerts, to go on hikes or to indulge in “donut time.” Fun fact: Los Angeles is the donut capital of the world, and my friends and I thought it was wise to go to a try a number of them consecutively one fateful Saturday morning. #donuttimesuccess

In New York, there’s people and pigeons everywhere. In Los Angeles, it might be safe to say there are more cars than people milling about. The feeling of change as reflected by the seasons, is different in either city. You can spot a New Yorker a mile away from their brazen attempts to stand in the crosswalk while waiting for a changing traffic light, in comparison to the Angelenos safely and calmly waiting on the sidewalk.

Personally once you get past the suspicious New Yorker’s exterior, he/she is a nice, kind and friendly person, willing to give you the right directions on the subway to get you to your destination. Angelenos are just as friendly and helpful, and will offer their own personal shortcuts in LA freeway speak to help save you half an hour of getting stuck in traffic.

To me, New York is home. It’s what’s currently very familiar and where I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in my short lifetime. It’s where I don’t have to plan what I want to do and how to do it because of its instant accessibility by subway or walking. It’s where I know which storefronts have the best public restrooms and the best places to shop in to kill time whilst waiting to meet up with close friends and family.

But, Los Angeles is also my home. The older I get the more I see my friends making the criss cross of the bicoastal life either in NY or LA, and vic versa. It’s a great thing to have these ties to these cities, as I inevitably hope to permanently return to Los Angeles. I have a growing community of people and friends in LA that I cannot wait to engage with as an Angeleno when the timing is right again.

What was the biggest challenge of moving from NYC to LA or vice versa, or in splitting time?
New York City and Los Angeles are cities that have common factors which make them appear similar: diverse immigrant communities, veritable industries where one can grow very successfully professionally, a very distinct “city” culture/pride, and proximity to the beach and mountains. It’s easy to see why these commonalities are apparent draws to the choice bicoastal few, but New York and Los Angeles are two very different places. Comparisons are comparisons until we hold them with a certain level of pride, bragging rights, and disdain. If one can seamlessly transition between the two, then one can fully take advantage of all that either New York or Los Angeles has to offer.

This tension of bidding one’s time in either city is not easy, but I can personally attest to how living in between either gets better and better with time, once one takes in all that either New York or Los Angeles has to offer. Seeing the best of both worlds was a huge personal revelation for me. I have many friends who can personally attest to how horrified and dissatisfied I was with Los Angeles when I first move. But I learned to soak all of LA in, and I cannot wait until I can permanently call it my home again.

How can NYC and LA best engage with each other?

New York and Los Angeles are cities in the United States that are leaders in arts and entertainment and urban policy. What happens in New York or Los Angeles makes waves across the other cities in the country and the world.

In my opinion, New York City is fortunate that it can visibly see its history, because of its historic monuments, buildings and aging infrastructure. However in Los Angeles, it’s a bit trickier. It’s always acting as a stand-in for other cities because it’s perpetually a film set. Therefore, it’s history is there, it’s only a bit more hidden than overt like New York’s.

Intrinsically, NY and LA are historically highly desirable places to live. One way in with both cities can engage one another to meet this challenge is to learn from one another in their approaches to public/affordable housing. Both cities ought to take a cue from affordable housing easements, in which neighborhoods are accessible regardless of socioeconomic class. An accessible city is an important element of engagement, in which both NY and LA are respectively addressing mass transit concerns.  Both NY and LA have become better bike friendly cities as well. Lastly, one possible looming thought for engagement between the cities is how either will respond to the threat of an imminent natural disaster. Both could learn from an exchange in disaster preparedness to prevent the implications of a future repeat of Hurricane Sandy in NYC or the “big earthquake” that is predicted to inevitably shake LA.

Perhaps the greatest common denominator about both cities is their lively and vibrant ethnic communities. To me it symbolizes that their residents are passionate individuals who care a great deal about their city. I am optimistic about the future ahead for either of these cities and how the similarities and comparisons between the two can build an even better New York and Los Angeles.

Favorite LA secret spot.
The Heritage Square Museum in Montecito Heights. My conservation heritage professor dubbed an “architectural petting zoo” as it’s a site showcasing the Victorian homes that use to dot the landscape in Downtown Los Angeles instead of Frank Gehry’s current day Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Favorite NYC secret spot.
One of my “secret spot(s)” are the spaces hidden along the Westside Highway. I am so glad they decided to redevelop that part of the city to have fully functioning piers with outdoor cafes, grassy fields and spots for movie screenings and concerts.

If you were not at Columbia, what would you be doing?
If I were not at Columbia University, I would probably be doing something a tiny bit more creative. Inevitably I hope to re-engage my artsy side professionally as maybe an art/architecture/design/music critic/consultant with a budding side retail business venture. Or I would devote myself to side projects that have crossed my mind: such as writing a dissertation on the “#selfie”, as I largely believe it’s only leading to undiagnosed narcissism; or building walls and doors in open offices to solve the open office trap. All of which would hopefully fold nicely into being a “momtrepreneur.” I am not married and I do not have a husband or kids yet, but I have faith all of these things will work out somehow.

Inflight Entertainment: tell us what song/album, TV show, podcast, or web videos you’ve been watching lately.
I (un)fortunately go to a lot of live concerts and I finally went to SXSW and some of these heavy hitters I have on repeat are a result of said music excursion: Future Islands’ latest album, “Singles”, Bipolar Sunshine’s “Drowning Butterflies” EP, Small Black’s “Real People” EP, Sam Smith’s “Nirvana” EP, Wildcat! Wildcat!’s self-titled EP and Chromeo’s “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” single. Television show wise, I am really behind on my favorite show “Suits”, but I am entirely caught up on my favorite show “Once Upon A Time.”

From the 2462 Miles newsletter: connecting NEW YORK CITY + LOS ANGELES

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