I admit I shed a few crocodile tears when I read New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin’s column about New York City’s impending doom.
He’s half right, of course.
The city has taken some stiff body blows from the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown that followed. Scores of businesses have shuttered and rich New Yorkers have fled the city in droves.
It signature tourist attractions like Broadway and New York’s many stellar museums have been off limits for more than a year.
The city’s housing boom has gone bust, and landlords are decrying the fact that they have had to (gasp!) reduce rents to attract tenants.
Now, those hapless Democrats in Albany and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are applying the coup de grâce that will seal the city’s fate. They are proposing (another gasp!) $4 billion of new tax hikes, cementing New York as a “high tax” state.
He even applies the ridiculously discredited Republican “trickle down” economic theory to taxes.
“Naturally, they say only corporations and the really rich will be hit, but don’t believe them. Tax hikes trickle down in that they tend to reduce the economic activity of those who pay them, a decline that eventually hits everyone,” he laments.
“Tax hikes will kill more businesses and cause others to look for more hospitable turf,” he continues.
He may be right about that , too, but, really, he’s totally wrong about New York City.
The sprawling metropolitan area has gone through boom and bust cycles before, and this one–although different–is very much the same. The city has always managed to spring back and will again.
It may not be the same, pre-COVID-19, city, but that could be a good thing.
I don’t know Goodwin or his connection to New York City, but I do know his hard-right politics and he’s fronting for the corporate class when he laments the city’s demise.
I grew up on Long Island in the ’60s and often took the train into the city on Saturday’s just to hang out with friends.
You want to talk about a different place? New York City back then was other worldly compared to today. The city’s industrial base was melting away. There were scores of vacant storefronts and buildings.
The city was seedy. Times Square, with its sex shops and adult theaters, was the epicenter of low-rent New York.
But low-rent neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village at the time, allowed artists and musicians to congregate, spawning a vibrant arts scene filled with restaurants, bars, music clubs and coffee houses.
The same economic dynamics also played out on Paris’s Left Bank, a bustling scene of artists, writers and philosophers a generation or two earlier. And, guess what, the much heralded Rive Gauche was also a slum at the time.
Aside from artists, those sketchy neighborhoods were also filled with students who went on to graduate and mostly stayed put, feeding into the city’s renaissance.
Goodwin makes an issue out of the spurt in crime and public disorder, which is understandably rising under the stress of the pandemic lockdown.
But, hey, crime is nothing compared to the ’60s through the mid ’90s when the city really was crime ridden.
The city had about the same number of murders (558) in 2019 as it did in 1968, with double the population today, according to the city’s vital records.
Sure, New York City was dicey back then. My mother always warned me to keep some money in my shoe, just in case. But, man, the city was a happening place, and I couldn’t wait to get there.
In fact, if you are looking for the real culprit that set the city up for a fall it can be summed up in one word– gentrification. Wait, make that two words– gentrification and greed.
Greenwich Village became trendy. Blame it on Vanity Fair or those other slick monthlies that touted its vibrant arts scene. What ever the case, the Village began drawing–you guessed it– rich people… and celebrities.
Once, while I was living in the city, New York magazine listed one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants in a feature about unheralded city eateries.
It was a block from my apartment, frequented mostly by locals. Afterward, you couldn’t get in the place. I swear I even saw Colin Farrell there one night. I never went back.
Celebrities and the rich bid up rents, renovated housing and drove out the young people and artists who made Village what it was. Then came the developers, who started building luxury high rises.
The Village I knew in the ’60s was gone. It became a nice place to visit, but who could afford to live there?
It was the same all over the city. When the Village gentrified, the art scene moved to the Lower East Side. Gentrification followed. Now Ludlow Street looks like every other tourist trap.
One by one, low-rent neighborhoods where artists and students could afford to live were wiped out.
Below Canal Street became “Tribeca,” and was redeveloped, thanks to a well-meaning Robert De Niro.
He gave it its trendy name and opened the famous celebrity watering hole, The Tribeca Grill, to promote redevelopment.
Gentrification spread to Hell’s Kitchen, the Meat Packing District, Harlem, Park Slope in Brooklyn and even Brooklyn’s notorious Bedford Stuyvesant.
The only problem was you had to be an investment banker or a white shoe lawyer to afford to live there. Now, these are the very people who are fleeing the city to Westchester, or, god forbid, New Jersey.
The city compounded the problem by allowed the over development of luxury high rise buildings. After all, only so many people can afford $2 million for an 1,100 square-foot apartment, or $4,500 a month in rent.
Too much money was chasing too few goods and services.
Now many of those real estate investors and hedge funds are feeling the pain and more than one is certain to go bankrupt, leaving a trail of vacant buildings in their wake.
In economics, that’s called a “shakeout,” and it can be a good thing. The city will eventually get back on its feet.
Hopefully, the glam factor that drew rich people from all over the world will be gone, or at least tempered.
New York City could once again be a modest place to live, which should help restore its economic and cultural diversity.
Until the next boom cycle begins, again.