This is a pretty good piece about the “New York is Dead” strain in Covid-19 punditry. The whole genre strikes me as unbearably classist and narcissistic, and I imagine it does to most people who don’t live in Manhattan, who bring home less than $200,000 per year, and who aren’t white (which is to say, about 99.9 per cent of the people in the US). The longest I ever lived in Manhattan was two months—my first five years here I was in Jersey City and then I moved to Brooklyn, where I stayed for 35 years. I was white and hence privileged, but I wasn’t entitled—I never saw the city as the romance-drenched backdrop for the movie I was starring in (as it was for Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the 1940s or Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies today). It was where I worked, and a lot of it was always unaffordable, culturally other, or dangerous. Even then, most of Manhattan fit into the first category, while Jersey City fit into the second and third. Brooklyn only fit into the third, and in time that changed. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that the city doesn’t take its definition from me—it was here before I laid claim to it and it will be here long after I’m gone.
Great cities like London, New York, LA, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna are agglomerations of people and economic activities. They are growing hubs, so they support a lot of innovation, artistic and otherwise. Economically and situationally, the quality of life they offer changes. Diseases and economic downturns come and go, as do occupying armies and technological shifts that superannuate existing industries. If they are single-industry cities, those shifts can prove fatal. But if they’re ports, centers of different kinds of trade, of government, universities, and media; if they are magnets to internal and external immigrants, then they regenerate. They regenerate after fires, even after volcanoes blow up and kill all their inhabitants; certainly they regenerate after epidemics.
Most of those articles are so anecdotal and self-referential. Yes, certain numbers of mid-level financial people and lawyers may move ten miles to the east, west, north, or south of Manhattan, but in the scheme of things, what does that matter? The metro region has always been a more relevant economic unit than the over-priced neighborhoods of Manhattan. Anecdotally, I visited my lawyer sister at her second home in Long Island last week, where she’s been sheltering since this started. They don’t know when they’re going back to Manhattan but they have absolutely no intention of selling their apartment. She told me about friends and colleagues and friends’ and colleagues’ kids who have shifted to their second homes, but none of them were giving up their city houses. Who would they sell them to, even if they wanted to?
As for the creative people, they are going to have to come together somewhere, because even solitary creatives like novelists and poets and painters of still lifes crave company or work in academia or media to support themselves, and most collaborate. Odds are, they’ll congregate here.