Sunday, January 17, 2021

Everyday Life in New York City

Reading Jason Curtis Anderson’s New York Post screed about life in New York City I started to think that I, a New Yorker, am living in another country. As it happens, my own neighborhood is not overrun by the homeless and is not crime ridden. I do not take the subway and do not travel around the city very much. The pandemic has caused us all to hunker down, and that means that many of us are missing the action. Those of us who are more elderly are not hanging out at all hours on the streets.

Anyway, Anderson is leaving New York. He is certainly not the first and will not be the last. He has written about his experience living in New York City, thus providing some color, as it is called, to the rounds of statistics that unfailingly demonstrate how bad New York City has become. 

So, we will ignore the shrinking tax base and the budgetary calamity that is looming. We will examine Anderson’s scenes from everyday life in New York City.

It has been nearly one year since the virus arrived in New York City. Here is what happened at first:

As COVID-19 settled into its new home in NYC, my local coffee shop closed, my gym shuttered, I lost my job at SUNY, and everything I loved was temporarily put “on pause.” A term that nine months later now feels like a cruel joke. None of us knew what we were facing back in March, or how long it would last. The streets became quiet, the city became still. All the sounds, the familiar faces, the busy restaurants, the daily rituals, the very pace of our existence slowed to a full stop. The silence was deafening.

Fair enough, city life did grind to a halt during the lockdown of early last year. The streets were empty. Traffic had stopped. As office towers closed, those who could leave town did leave town.

In my neighborhood, filled as it is with foreign consulates and heavy security, not much else changed. There was precious little traffic, the restaurants shut down, dry cleaners closed and the gyms were either closed or empty.

In Chelsea and the West Village another story was unfolding. It was a story of crime and lawlessness:

The homeless and mentally ill flourished in my Chelsea neighborhood overnight. Many residents fled our beloved city to safer suburbs and second homes. After a night in the West Village where I saw men looting cars, and a gunpoint robbery happen by the West 4th train station, I no longer felt comfortable here. I decided that I couldn’t abide the lawlessness and my first pandemic at the same time, so I spent the first wave of the pandemic upstate in a guest room at my family’s house, where at least I didn’t have to worry about the crime.

When Anderson returned to town he expected that the summer would bring a better time. He was wrong. The summer brought the Black Lives Matter riots. Local officials responded by shutting down the police anti-crime unit, emptying jails and letting the homeless run amok:

I imagined my summer would be filled with long walks, bike rides on the West Side Highway, and small gatherings on rooftops. I imagined we’d get over COVID and that the energy of the city would come back slowly over the next six months. I was optimistic, loved my city and loved my life here with all my heart. I hopefully assumed most New Yorkers had the same feelings I did. And then the riots happened.

Crime has taken over New York City.

The dark tone of daily life here now seems permanent. For months after the riots, stores in my area were still being burglarized. The helicopters were so close they would shake my top-floor apartment all night. In peak summer there were always two or three homeless people on both sides of every street in my area. Every aspect of my life became about avoiding them and staying far enough away from anyone who might attack me. Someone broke into my building one night but fled when they accidentally set off the alarm on the roof. The whole summer felt like living in a war zone.

Anderson sees the city entering a new normal. The fabric of everyday life has been destroyed, first by the riots and second by the government response to the riots.

Unfortunately, the worst parts of 2020 now all seem to be the new normal: homeless people wandering the streets, businesses closed, rampant crime, protests, riots, random acts of violence, dangerous subways. The day I moved out of my Chelsea apartment, I was packing the last of my belongings when a homeless man cut someone’s throat in a parking garage less than one block away.

And also:

This is not normal, and we should not be downplaying the drastic changes in public safety we are all experiencing. People getting shot in Grand Central Station is not normal. Walking by a store in Flatiron as it gets robbed at 4 p.m. on a Monday is not normal. A 1-year-old baby being shot and killed in a stroller is not normal. Our safest neighborhoods now becoming dangerous for the first time in 30 years is not normal.

I want you to know, however, that, by the dim lights of our political class, it’s all the fault of Donald Trump. I mention it just in case you missed the point.

Anderson continues to describe life in New York City:

What I found was New Yorkers of all backgrounds, desperately crying for help regarding quality-of-life issues. It seems many of us agree that the streets are no longer safe, and that the homeless-hotel deals bring crime to what were once safe neighborhoods. Random acts of violence happen daily, commuters are pushed in front of subways regularly, and no matter how loud we yell about our new societal problems, our elected leaders don’t seem to hear us.

The City Council and the mayor are all-in with the homeless doing whatever they want. People are harassed and assaulted on the street. They are in danger on the subways. Government officials do not care:

Just the other day, I asked City Council member Stephen Levin what he thought about naked homeless people wandering our streets, including some photos of homeless people having sex in public. To which he responded, “As far as I can see, these people aren’t doing anything to be undeserving of my kindness or yours,” and “How do you know they are homeless?”

As for the subways, here is a picture:

Carjackings are back; street prostitutes are back. Last week, I took the subway for the first time since March and it was filled with heroin addicts screaming at each other. It’s been almost a year and I don’t know a single person who’s comfortable walking home after 9 p.m. That’s where we’re at.

Apparently, decriminalizing crime has not worked. Nor has bail reform and blaming the police for black crime:

If life somehow manages to get back to “normal” within a reasonable amount of years, it’s not going to be because of bail reform and prosecutors who think charging criminals is racist. Being lenient on the homeless people who have taken over our streets and subways is not going to bring our beloved city back, no matter how many likes and retweets your noble aspirations receive.

Progress on these issues is only going to come when our leaders actually prioritize the city’s most important problems. A new park does the city no good if it’s not safe to take the train there, or walk home from at night. I understand that being a public servant is often a thankless job. I just worry that our current elected leaders are not actually the right people for this job — as they have already proven by ignoring these problems for an entire year.


whitney said...

"Just the other day, I asked City Council member Stephen Levin what he thought about naked homeless people wandering our streets, including some photos of homeless people having sex in public. To which he responded, “As far as I can see, these people aren’t doing anything to be undeserving of my kindness or yours,” and “How do you know they are homeless?”"

that is an absolutely shocking response

Stu said...

My wife has a business (costly) and friend relationship with a sales associate at Saks. This woman, a New York native, lives in the low 70's and has always in the past walked from home to work at Saks. She now reports to my wife that she has had to change her dress to look more like a bag lady and wear no makeup as she traverses her daily trip to work and back, so as to not attract attention from the derelicts and potential thieves she encounters along the way. I am old enough to remember how unsafe I felt in New York after dark during the 70's, but never had the experiences she describes during the day. I guess I won't visit the city anytime soon.

whitney said...

Wow. That is reminiscent of every zombie movie ever made. You know, the scene where the
normals have to pretend they're zombies to get from point A to point B

Sam L. said...

"I want you to know, however, that, by the dim lights of our political class, it’s all the fault of Donald Trump. I mention it just in case you missed the point."

Because, SURELY, it CANNOT be laid at the feet of deBlasio and Cuomo...

Snake Plissken said...

The problem is the electorate is totally on board with all of this. WE elected DeBlasio, AOC, Biden(?), Warnock & Ossoff, and all those Soros prosecutors.

Can you imagine Rudy Giuliani getting elected in NY today? Or Frank Rizzo in Philly?

I grew up in NY and got out long time ago. Now time to get out of our upstate home as well.

Vitus said...

I spent a lot of time in NYC during my 1980ish undergraduate years and last visited for an extended period in 2003. The change was remarkable, there was finally some order in the City's public spaces that enhanced its cultural and commercial vitality. Regarding NYC's current crisis, the abdication of leadership is disheartening and at some point the electorate will install new actors. I fear if it does not happen in the next couple of election cycles, the City's quality of life issues will be beyond repair.

Sam L. said...

Vitus, it's all about what Dems DO, and what they DON'T do...

Snake Plissken said...


As I said above: don't count on it.

Jeff said...

You can't blame the politicians if the people who elect them value the magic "D" after their politicians' names over the quality of life of the city and state they live in. Has there ever been a more bizarre phenomenon than watching the people of cities like Detroit and Baltimore voting to keep the party that runs and ruins their lives in power forever?

HMS Defiant said...

I lived 21 miles from NYC in the late 1970’s, and while I used to go to NYC moxpst weekends,I thought that city sucked. I never went back after my family left New Jersey and it sounds now like the city I knew back then. It won’t get better in my life time but I don’t care. I lived in the City back when it was still Baghdad by the Bay and there were still flickers of the city Maupin wrote about but I moved down to San Diego a couple years before iSan Fran turned to crap. That basically happened when Borders in Union Square closed up and the derelicts took over. The County/City gov has been truly awful since the Loma Prieta quake.