“Grew up in a town that is famous as a place of movie scenes / Noise is always loud, there are sirens all around and the streets are mean / If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere, that’s what they say / Seeing my face in lights or my name in marquees found down on Broadway.” Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind (Part II)” is an ode to New York, yet the 2010 hit doesn’t show the New York of 2020. In fact, some say that during the coronavirus pandemic, the New York where dreams come true is dead. Others, like comedian Jerry Seinfeld, strongly believe New York will prove itself resilient. As a native New Yorker, I believe New York will bounce back.
Right now, in the United States, the unemployment rate is at an all-time high. Millions of people have had to put their lives on hold. The current situation goes beyond simply not going to work or taking online classes, as people struggle to cope with the loss of loved ones or eviction. Times Square, usually a bustling tourist attraction, is hauntingly empty, with months-old billboards and closed stores.
For these reasons, some believe New York will never be the economic hub it once was. Museums, aquariums, zoos, movie theaters, beaches and even New York’s iconic Broadway shows were all forced to close, all places responsible for generating a huge amount of tourism revenue. The fee for MTA buses was waived so that essential workers could do their work without an extra financial burden. As the list of negatives for New York grows, some fear that “the city that never sleeps” won’t wake up this time.
The pandemic is not a death sentence for New York. There’s life in it, seen in the Black Lives Matter protests. From the Brooklyn Bridge to right in front of Trump Tower, New Yorkers are fighting for equality and the rights of others. Even while facing attacks from the government both verbally and physically, they continue to hold vigils and organize protests, refusing to relent in their fight against police brutality. This is no different than the New York I grew up in.
I remember watching NY1 News back in 2012 and seeing New Yorkers come out to Zuccotti Park in droves to protest unfair wealth distribution during the March on Wall Street — people with a look of determination in their eyes chanted, “The people united, will never be defeated! The people united, will never be defeated!” Now during a pandemic, New Yorkers swell the streets and protest once more. That look of passion I saw eight years ago is the same one I see today. This just shows that the spirit of New York, its people, has not been crushed. New York is not dead.
Now, when people talk about New York, they usually mean Manhattan. During the pandemic, many Manhattan residents left for upstate New York, where there is more space for appropriate social distancing. Some also had to leave due to an inability to pay rent.
In an article from CNN, a 47-year-old former Manhattanite, Lori Cheek, said, “I was in New York City through 9/11 and Sandy and the recession, and I wasn’t about to give up on New York. But there was something about this that was completely different.” Cheek is a microcosm of the growing hopelessness in New York. Many people make the argument that since people are moving out of Manhattan, New York has hit rock bottom. This simply isn’t true for two reasons.
First, what is happening to New York has happened before, just for a different reason. White people chose to leave the city between the ‘60s and ‘80s due to the increasing presence of ethnic communities. This was termed “white flight” and the suburbs became the new home for these former city residents.
In an article from The Atlantic, Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, said, “Wealthy white people may be leaving cities for the suburbs, just as they did decades ago. And the horrible thing for Black and brown urban communities is that they suffer either way.” He continued, “We’re all watching something similar play out now,” with the caveat that it is too soon to know whether the current outflows are “temporary” or “durable.”
White people are now leaving New York, but there is no need to panic. This has happened before. When it did happen, though the communities left behind did suffer, New York itself didn’t crumble to the ground. In fact, history is just further proving the point that people should stay in Manhattan to prevent history from repeating itself. People shouldn’t lose hope in New York and leave. It is one thing to say that New York is dead, but it is another to be the cause of it.
In response to an article on LinkedIn titled “NYC IS DEAD FOREVER. HERE’S WHY,” Seinfeld echoed this sentiment: “You say New York will not bounce back this time. You will not bounce back. In your enervated, pastel-filled new life in Florida. I hope you have a long, healthy run down there. I can’t think of a more fitting retribution for your fine article. This stupid virus will give up eventually. The same way you have.”
Moreover, like Cheek mentioned, New York has made it through so many challenging and destructive events already. From being battered by earthquakes and hurricanes like Hurricane Sandy to dealing with the swine flu, nothing has been able to push New York past its limits. Every year, New York honors 9/11, which itself was a traumatic day that scarred people, but did not stop them from coming together to help one another. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic has lasted months now. Yes, New York’s economy took a hit. Yes, public morale shot down significantly. But New York still stands.
In a national crisis that seemed to be the end of life as we know it, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held New York’s hand through the four phases of reopening. Before, restaurants were closed, but now people are dining outside. Before, schools seemed to be a big question mark, but students are getting an education right now, even from home. People are returning to work and finally able to make enough money to at least buy necessities. The way that New York is progressing, there is still hope for it to return to being the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. New York is not dead, nor will it ever be. It just needs some time.