I saw a Facebook post the other day of a story originally posted on LinkedIn entitled “NYC IS DEAD FOREVER. HERE’S WHY.”
The article went viral and was republished in the New York Post. There was some credibility to the statement, because the pandemic and the resulting economic dislocation has been catastrophic for New York. Besides the economic disaster, the widespread death and social disruption has taken a deep toll the costs of which over the coming years can never be calculated.
There is almost no way to overstate the severity of the calamity that has beset New York. It’s similar to what the rest of the world has gone through, but because New York is the ultimate, uber city, everything is more concentrated there. You can’t criticize the article for presenting a far-out presumption. Unfortunately, it is only too plausible.
Where It All Starts
With its huge, diverse, world-traveling population, New York got broadsided with COVID first and hardest in the US. And as with so many other things, New York became the testing ground for everything new, including the worst global pandemic ever seen.
Under the superb leadership of Andrew Cuomo, New York made history and showed America how to survive an unprecedented disaster with poise and dignity. God bless New Yorkers!
New York is where it happens first and biggest, whatever it is. There is no comparison and never can be.
I’ve lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, since I moved out of Manhattan in the mid ‘80s. Even from that close proximity – across the river where I can look over and see people in the West Village – the contrast when you come up out of the subway in New York is palpable. Before you even see anything, the feeling in the air is intense!
Virtually everyone who has been to New York has experienced that feeling and knows what I am talking about, even if we can’t really describe it.
When the pandemic came crashing down in March, nearly everything closed up. The once-teeming streets were practically bare, with the spooky, alien silence occasionally pierced by the siren of an ambulance. Another one down.
So, the assertion that New York is dead and will never return to life has some ring of credence. And the prospect is chilling. Because just like nearly everything, what happens in New York happens later in the rest of the country. If the COVID pandemic could take down New York, what can we expect to survive it?
Looking around at the dead streets of New York during the shutdown it was easy to extrapolate that image continuing in perpetuity, and to imagine a dead ruin like the Lost City of Machu Picchu. But that would be to ignore the history of the unique phenomenon that is New York.
What New York has does not die. Its unique geological gifts, the natural harbor, the location, the Hudson River, and the Erie Canal connecting it to the Great Lakes and Chicago, set the stage for the phenomenal rise of New York, and continue to make it the indispensable city.
People may die. People may leave the city. But New York will always be replenished by the next season of economic life. It’s just not possible for New York to die as long as there is civilized human life on the planet. And about that, I make no prophecies. It may turn out like The Hunger Games, but we’ll worry about that on another day.
For all who may doubt this point, as well as all who dearly love New York as I do, I recommend the delicious film documentary series New York by Ric Burns, brother and sometimes collaborator with his brother Ken Burns.
You cannot watch that rich historical film series and believe that New York will be defeated by COVID, any more than it was defeated by every other impossible thing the city has dealt with since its beginning as a Dutch colony in 1624.
The list of what New York has survived would take volumes. Just managing the massive numbers of people living there, immigrating or visiting is a greater challenge than would seem possible. And yet, the city endures.
I’ve always thought that New York is far too complex to ever work on paper. And yet, in the real world it exists. And for that existence there’s a price to pay. There are casualties. There is as much dysfunction as exists in any large human institution. And yet New York always rises. And as “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” New York continues to increase in magnitude and strength.
No, New York is not going down. If and when the whole country is reduced to a cinder, New York will be the last piece to glow.
Death and Rebirth in Tribeca
I experienced the ongoing death and life of the Great City myself when I first arrived in 1977. The city had gone broke in the mid-70s and all kinds of problems converged on it.
When President Ford spurned pleas for economic assistance, New York went into desperate measures to try to connect the dots fiscally. The efforts were disastrous. The raising of taxes led to a mass exit of businesses from Manhattan to New Jersey and elsewhere. When I moved to New York what I encountered was massive dysfunction of practically everything.
There was practically no money for city services, even basic maintenance. Even law enforcement was severely compromised. Mental patients had been let out on the streets because of budget cuts, people who should not have been on the streets.
There were many homeless people, many seriously deteriorating mentally and physically, walking the streets often talking to themselves. Many of them were angry, probably because of the circumstances that had left them on the street. And, of course, there was crime.
There was a time around 1979 when I noticed that there was never a day when I didn’t see some kind of violence on the streets. People sometimes referred to it as a war zone. The social order itself was pushed the cracking point.
When the businesses cleared out of Lower Manhattan, it became a kind of ghost town. Rows of buildings with warehouse spaces became vacant. Many of the businesses on the streets that had catered to street traffic from the departed businesses also went under.
But then, the open loft space became attractive to artists who could create living and working spaces and sustain themselves for very little cost. As more artists and others moved into the area that became known as the Triangle Below Canal, or Tribeca, it started to become a viable community again. It became a neighborhood that could support local businesses again.
I was one of the people for whom the crashing of the economy in downtown New York became an opportunity to move into the city and become a part of it without having to be rich in the first place.
I watched Tribeca grow and evolve into a thriving community. Today you would never imagine it had been such a ghost town in 1977. Surely it is suffering now from COVID, though not as badly as the Times Square and Broadway tourist area.
But nature abhors a vacuum. As people leave New York, others will come. It’s like breathing. Not so many years ago, people said the Detroit was dead and would never come back. But of course, the collapse creates opportunity; and like basic physics, the equal and opposite reaction will send the pendulum in the other direction.
Now having been the first part of the country to get its COVID numbers under control, the city has already begun its new cycle of rebuilding.
New York will always come back.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.