We live in a time when to be positive, in this case, COVID positive, is negative- something to be feared, something to be careful about.
We also live in a time when being negative, in this case negative about the future of New York City, seems to have quite a large bandwagon.
Recently the NY Post published a piece written by a hedge fund manager, describing why he thinks that NYC is dead. Given that it was forwarded to me from so many random places- many of them friends and clients outside of New York City, I feel that it needs to be addressed, straight on and right away.
I want to put the sweet veneer on my opinions but I think I just need to tell you how I really feel, first. My reaction- Are you kidding me? Jerry Seinfeld had a lot of other thoughts which he put so well, they are worth reading here as well (and the Post had a follow-up, too, here)
I hope that people go back to read his other writings. How much he has published financial articles to “talk his book” (that is, pump up stocks he owns) to gullible investors. His credibility is, well, somewhat lacking. And frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some ulterior motive, like buying an apartment cheaply.
That said, let’s just look at what is true right now:
- No one likes our mayor. There are a million bad decisions being made in his administration, actions not being taken, and New Yorkers are furious. Right or wrong, poor communication around schools, around housing homeless men and women- each surprise adds to the uncertainty that New Yorkers feel, at a time when we’ve enough surprises.
- We are happy that infections have put us in the enviable position of now getting to look better than most places regarding infections, but we also have suffered the arbitrariness of which communities the Mayor chooses to shame, which businesses he chooses to make suffer, which inspections he chooses to ignore.
- This time has accelerated decision making for many people who were going to leave NYC anyway.
- The institutions that are the bedrock of our city are going to suffer for a while. Non-profits will suffer, libraries, theater companies, Broadway, the list is nearly all-encompassing.
- It’s also true that many artists had been driven away by the cost of living here for many years. This had nothing to do with COVID.
- Commercial Real Estate will be impacted by the acceleration of partial Work From Home.
- People don’t love working from home all the time. Things take longer, things are simply less efficient. People like having offices. And-
- People like people. Plain and simple. People like to be around other people. People like parties. People like what’s popular.
- And boy, are cities popular. It’s where ideas come to life. It’s where businesses are created. It’s where energies are shared and grown. Cities are the hubs of our modern culture.
So I go back and ask – Is it positive to be so sure of the death of New York City? It sure is popular, that’s for sure. The author of this long-form piece argues, using many different angles, that this time is different, that NYC can’t come back, whether it’s the death of the office, the death of culture, the changes in tech that spell doom for any other pieces, the death of retail, on and on down the line.
Let’s try this on for a moment. If New York City is going to die, is every city going to die? Is Paris going to die? What about Tokyo? What about Hong Kong? Are there articles being written about every other city in the United States that will somehow never recover? What is so catastrophic that a city full of eight million humans won’t find a way to a new normal?
- Ask those restauranteurs who are creating a new sidewalk culture here.
- Ask those cycling advocates who are delighting in fresh air and praying for the death of cars, rather than the death of cities.
- Ask those running aficionados at New York Road Runners who are encouraging its members to run virtual marathons through the streets of NYC.
- Ask those artists who might able to move back from Philadelphia to NYC and live 20-30% more cheaply again in NYC.
Let’s go on.
- Let’s ask the Historians who are diving deep into the Dutch roots of Manhattan in books like The Island in the Center of the World that discover that the beginnings of Manhattan were just as dynamic and messy as the New York we know today. That New York has ALWAYS been diverse, always been a place where identities mix, ideas mix, and culture is created.
- Let’s look at other times. After 9/11 I’m sure we can dig and find many articles about the death of NYC. We are so far from the nadir of life here in the 1970’s, when policy created perverse incentives for landlords and coop owners to walk away from their properties. SO FAR. Are people really walking from their assets today? What team at Blackstone isn’t licking their chops waiting for distressed assets to come to market?
In all, don’t tell me that New York City won’t come back. It will come back. This place is endlessly interesting, and the biggest stage in the world on which to appear, figuratively and literally. Right now we are seeing excesses laid bare, the underbelly of our neglect exposed, the character we have or don’t have brought to light. But will we run? Will we stay and fight? Millions of people don’t even have a choice. They will stand their ground because this is the only place they have. They don’t have a second home. They have their friends, their families, their neighborhoods. They will stay because they must.
The rest of us who are New Yorkers by choice, will make that choice. For most of us, we love New York because it isn’t easy. Because we want to be confronted with ideas that are uncomfortable. Because we choose to live vertically and don’t have to worry about yards, workshops, man caves, you name the suburban comfort.
New York will be uncomfortable, even more so in uncomfortable times. It will challenge us to be our best selves. Let’s do that. In New York.