Living Slowly in the World’s Fastest City

One couple’s quest to live slowly and mindfully in Manhattan begins by moving into a tiny 12 x 12 apartment.

| January 2015

New Slow City (New World Library, 2014), by William Powers, is a memoir of a year of living slowly in a New York minute and an adventure into smart-city trends ranging from Slow Food and Slow Travel to technology fasting, urban sanctuaries, bodysurfing the Rockaways and rooftop farming. The following excerpt from Chapter 1, “Victory Garden,” describes Powers’ and his wife’s challenging transition into a micro-apartment and new neighborhood in Manhattan.

Our moving van dashes over the Williamsburg Bridge as we hurtle into Manhattan to start our Slow Year. My head is partway out the passenger window. Wind massages my scalp, the East River sparkles below, and the New York skyline swells against a metallic blue sky. The Empire State Building towers haughtily over everything until it’s hidden by a cluster of approaching Alphabet City high-rises. I’m flush with excitement — Manhattan! Our new life! — as Jack, our overweight, chain-smoking van driver, floors it.

“Bill?” my wife, Melissa, shouts as I hoot out the window. “What happened to...slow?”

I reluctantly pull my head back in. Who doesn’t love a bit of speed? Jack accelerates even more, and I revel. My instinctual trepidation over Manhattan — the Gordon Gecko greed, the paucity of green, the incisor-like skyscrapers — is swallowed up in the roller-coaster rush of arrival as we fly over the water. The multitasking crack of 24/7 connectedness gives me a similar rush. I’m the first to admit that twenty-first-century life triggers pleasant chemistry.

Suddenly, the Williamsburg slam-dunks us into Lower East Side gridlock. Jack slams on the brakes. “Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick,” he mutters, taking a drag on his cigarette. Garbage bags are piled high on pedestrian-choked Canal Street sidewalks. Taxi exhaust blends with the tobacco smoke. My buzz dies as anxiety balls in my stomach.

I’m an outer-borough boy. My Irish grandparents landed at Ellis Island and raised my father and his two siblings in Queens. I grew up on Long Island. Hence, I’ve got a bit of Saturday Night Fever angst around moving to a Greenwich Village apartment, breaking caste and moving-on-up from a working-class Queens row house. I don’t belong in Manhattan.