Monday, March 30, 2020

The Decline and Fall of New York City

It’s a local sport, though it has recently lost its comedic edge. Will New York City survive? Joel Kotkin has asked the question in a searing column on the Big Apple, and we feel obliged, writing from our aerie, to address it. (via Maggie’s Farm)

On one side, New York City has become the epicenter of America’s fight against the coronavirus. Surely, it did not help that New York’s Mayor de Blasio recommended that city dwellers go on with their lives as though nothing were. On another front, he and New York’s governor have been emptying prisons… the better to save the lives of murderers and rapists… but also to put the rest of the city at risk.

New York’s amateur auxiliary police force, the Guardian Angels, had been out and around, and their leader Curtis Sliwa reports on some of what he has seen. Lisa Schiffren quotes Sliwa on her Facebook page:

The Guardian Angels have had to lockdown Penn Station. There are no police. Anarchy prevails. At the top of the escalators at 32nd and 7th Ave. 8 big guys , fresh outta of Rikers, are starting fights and shaking people down. 4 transgendered prostitutes, fresh outta Rikers, are doing tricks for a dollar in the men's room. The illegals who were not here last week have arrived. They don't have the money for their weekly rent for a room, and without work, they are out in the streets. They are from Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. They are armed with knives to protect themselves from the others. Then there are the EDP's, the drug addicts and alcoholics. Finally the elderly. Women and Men in their late 70's. It reminds me of what's it's like in Jail. And I know because I've been locked up. It's Bad and it's getting worse. There are no homeless outreach workers from the city. And there are no THRIVE men or women doing interventions for the mentally ill. It is ANARCHY.

So, policy counts. The leftist trend toward releasing prisoners, the better to lower the crime rate, seems to have accelerated during the pandemic, the better to increase the crime rate

But, there’s more. Since New York, Kotkin points out, is densely populated, it is a perfect breeding ground for the virus:

Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities, where people live cheek by jowl and are regularly exposed to people from other regions and countries. Like COVID-19, the bubonic plague came to Europe on ships from the Orient, where the disease originated. As historian William McNeill noted, the plague devastated the cosmopolitan centers of Renaissance Italy far more than the backward reaches of Poland or other parts of central Europe.

Being away from people, driving around in your own car, and having neighbors you know, all have clear advantages when it comes to avoiding and surviving contagion. Even the urban cognoscenti have figured this out. Like their Renaissance predecessors during typhus and bubonic plague outbreaks, contemporary wealthy New Yorkers are retreating to their country homes where they struggle with the local townies over occasional short supplies of essentials.

The salient question is, will they want to come back to New York City after the virus has passed?

Besides, Kotkin notes, New York was experiencing difficulties before the virus arrived. Given that it is led by a radical leftist moron named Bill de Blasio, has a school system directed by an idiot of a chancellor named Richard Carranza, and has seen one of its districts represented in Congress by a notably ignorant bartendress named Alexandria, Ocasio-Cortez, it should come as no surprise. After all, electing AOC cost Queens its Amazon hub. Surely, this signalled that New York was in decline. 

In the long run, the extraordinary concentration of COVID-19 cases in New York threatens an economy and a social fabric that were already unraveling before the outbreak began. The city’s job growth rate has slowed and was slated to decline further, noted the New York City Independent Budget Office. Critically, New York’s performance in such high wage fields as business services, finance, and tech was weakening compared to other American metros. Half of all the city’s condos built since 2015 lie unsold as oligarchs, drug lords, celebrities, and others lose interest in luxury real estate now that cash, much of it from China, is drying up.

Importantly, Kotkin notes that average people have been fleeing America’s great cosmopolitan metropolises, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco:

Even before the virus hit, large urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were losing population; over 90% of all population growth since 2010 had taken place in the suburbs or exurbs. Even millennials, as demonstrated in a Heartland Forward report, are moving away from the supposed “magnets” of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to the sprawling cities and towns in the middle of the country. Renowned demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution indicates that the greatest net migration losses in recent years has occurred in New York. The growth in the migration of such prized workers is now two to three times faster in Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Grand Rapids than in regions around New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C.

For young people, New York City is basically unaffordable. Evidently, young people seek out cities where they can mingle with their peers. The more their peers abandon the Big Apple, the less attractive it will appear to be. Besides, telecommuting has now become more and more normal, so why would you pay New York rents when you can pay Nashville rents and still do your New York job. Then again, now long will it be before New York banks relocate many of their operations to more tax friendly states:

 New technologies make it increasingly easy for companies to work far from the dense megacities and will get a further boost from the coronavirus—which underlines the dangers of crowded urban spaces to workers and companies alike, while further normalizing the virtual office. The experience of a quarantined telecommuting workforce will likely give added momentum to a process that one British writer has described as “counter-urbanization.” For firms connected by the internet, it increasingly makes sense to locate in suburban regions and smaller towns that are generally safer, cleaner, and less expensive than big cities.

Perhaps more importantly, New York City suffers from an extreme of inequality. As I have noted, 1% of the population pays 40% of the taxes. In no world is that sustainable: mainly because the hyperrich will eventually get tired of seeing their tax dollars misused.

Surely, New York’s failing educational system, the one that makes it impossible to send children to public schools, thus forcing parents to choose expensive private schools or to move out of the city, contributes mightily to the loss of a middle class:

In the vision of the late Jane Jacobs, New York served as a place of opportunity for the middle and working classes. But this role has diminished markedly over the last 30 years. In the 1980s and ’90s, deregulation helped expand the city’s financial industry, attracting a massive influx of capital and talent. Yet as e-finance and business services burgeoned, the economic diversity once provided by older industries, notably manufacturing and local retail, slowly evaporated.

And then there were the politicians. Under Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg New York seemed to be making a comeback. And yet, Bloomberg’s luxury city policy ultimately aggravated the wealth differentials.

Under Rudy Giuliani, the city overcame the violence and disorder that made it seem utterly ungovernable in the 1970s. By being willing to take on public employees, advocacy groups, and the media, Giuliani helped make the city a safer and somewhat more efficient place; a net positive to most New Yorkers.

Michael Bloomberg, Giuliani’s mayoral successor, built on these achievements, but with a distinctly more elitist focus: Bloomberg’s vision was of a “luxury city” concentrated in Manhattan and fashionable parts of Brownstone Brooklyn—a city for billionaires like himself.

This approach may have worked well for New York’s elites, but that can’t be said for a large portion of the city. Today the top 1% in New York are taking in over 40% of the city’s income—about double the top 1-percenter income share nationally in the United States—while much of the city’s population find themselves left behind. Even the epicenter of gentrification, Brooklyn, actually got poorer in the first decade of the new millennium.

Of course, the wild wealth disparities in New York contribute to the rising crime rate. People on the bottom rungs of the income ladder cannot reasonably believe that they can attain to what the 1% has. They cannot reasonably remain in New York and live a productive middle class life. So they resort to crime, to taking what others have. Or else, they vote for politicians who promise to impose punitive taxation on the rich.

This reflected in large part a precipitous fall in middle income jobs—those that pay between 80% and 200% of the median income. Over the past 20 years, such jobs barely grew in New York, while such employment soared 10 times as quickly in Texas cities and throughout much of the South and Intermountain West. Of the estimated 175,000 net new private sector jobs created in the city since 2017, fewer than 20% are paying middle-class salaries. Amid enormous wealth, some 40% of working families now basically live at or near the poverty line. For most New Yorkers, the “luxury city” was not glamorous, but more resembled a version of Detroit—a place largely without hope. In the process, the primarily middle-class New York I knew as a young man has slowly evaporated. Since the 1970s, the middle orders’ share of the city population declined from more than 60% to 48%. Economic research shows this decline to be among the fastest in the country. While Bloomberg’s “luxury” city thrived, poverty became more entrenched and evident. As The Atlantic recently noted, Manhattan now suffers conditions where “the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.”

And now, New York City is suffering under Bill de Blasio. I quote Kotkin’s analysis at length… not least because he is, as I understand it, a Democrat:

Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, who ran against the notion of “two New Yorks,” ultimately managed to only accelerate the city’s social unraveling. De Blasio’s policies on policing, notably bail reform, have engendered a noticeable rise in crime, including on the subways. If the virus doesn’t get you on your evening commute, it’s possible that a mugger will.

The spread of contagions in a starkly divided city, lacking the glue of its formerly tenacious and now greatly embattled middle class, will be accelerated by the growth of the homeless population on New York’s streets. These populations—exposed to the elements and living in often crowded, unhygienic conditions—can be breeding grounds for rats and all sorts of diseases, some of them distinctly medieval, such as typhus, and many of which will arguably be far more dangerous than coronavirus.

As working parents fear sickness and crime, the prospects for their children have been further eroded by de Blasio’s systematic, ideologically driven assault on the city’s education system. Charter schools, critical to retaining middle- and working-class families, are getting steamrolled by teachers unions and city administrators. The biggest losers here are usually innercity poor children, of which nearly 70% are black and Hispanic. At the same time, the mayor, along with New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, have been working assiduously—in the name of racial justice—to undermine the merit-based schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, which remain magnets for primarily working-class Asian children. Equally critical is the fact that the city’s once thriving Catholic schools, long a bastion of working-class upward mobility, face rapidly declining enrollments. The assault on the city’s schools by the mayor makes it far less attractive both to middle-class residents and to businesses.

Put it all together, and it is difficult to see how New York City survives in its current form. Pandemic or not, the conditions for New York’s decline and fall have been developing for quite some time now. It’s less a question of whether than of when… New York ceases to become the world class city it once was.

1 comment:

UbuMaccabee said...

I have the love for NYC that Dawn Powell had; it is the great city of infinite possibilities. I could listen to guys like Pete Hamill tells stories for days and never tire of them. I'm a life-long advocate. Just thinking about NYC gets my blood pumping.

But one cannot lie about what it has become; the city has become a provincial bore. It's just not populated with interesting people anymore because the oddballs cannot afford to live there; the inhabitants are too often templates of one another--and not in a good way. As a result, NYC is no longer informed or important or surprising. And it's clearly not safe--and it's going to get a lot less safe.

The only way NYC will reclaim its central importance is for talented people to abandon it for better opportunities. You no longer go to NYC to make it, you get invited after you have made it someplace else. And I suggest declining the invite if you get one. You have to go down to go up.

The elected officials do reflect the contemptible state of the city's inhabitants. The worst lot of fools in the history of the place. I'll take a guy like Jimmy Walker over the lot of them. Even John Lindsay looks appealing beside de Blasio. A corpse looks better than de Blasio--and does less harm.

I used to hear millennials go on about how they would die to live in NYC. I guess they will get their chance.

Gotto go, the sun is out and I want to listen to Appalachian Spring while I kayak in splendid isolation on the lake. Drop anchor in a nice cove and read about the ancient Roman kings.