Serial removals, unemployment, rising crime: the pandemic plunged New York into a major crisis, for some people of concern, although for others it is the opportunity for this symbolic city of dynamism to reinvent itself.
“We are experiencing perhaps one of the most painful and exceptional moments in our history. A moment of profound social change,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday.
With more than 23,000 deaths, the economic capital of the United States has been the western metropolis most affected by the coronavirus so far.
Despite a dramatic drop in the death toll since May, mismatch is limited by fear of a new wave of the pandemic, which is worsening every day in the United States.
Tourism is paralyzed, office towers practically deserted, many companies are closed and unemployment affects 20% of the economically active population: four months of COVID-19 caused a metamorphosis in this metropolis of 8.5 million inhabitants, synonymous with crowds and consumption .
Although schools plan to open in September, the city expects it to be just two or three days a week of classes, which will prevent many parents from working normally.
Crime, which has been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, has exploded. The latest police statistics show 634 shootings and 203 murders since January, up 60% and 23% respectively over the same period in 2019.
Some New Yorkers have left thousands of empty apartments. For the first time in 10 years, rents in Manhattan fell in the second quarter (-0.9%), according to the real estate website StreetEasy.
– “There were worse epidemics” –
It’s “the perfect combination of bad news,” said Kenneth Jackson, a New York historian at Columbia University. For this teacher who, in the middle of the pandemic, left the city and moved to the countryside, the situation recalls the dark period of the 70s and 80s, when New York, financially bankrupt, suffered from endemic crime and saw a massive exodus to a safer periphery.
But, like many New Yorkers, he refuses to dramatize the situation.
New York “had worse epidemics than this,” he said, recalling the 19th century cholera or the September 11, 2001 attacks, when some “predicted that people would never work on skyscrapers again”.
City centers are no longer abandoned as they were in the 1970s: the flight from the middle class, mainly white, was fueled by racism that is now diminishing, at least among young people, as recent protests by the Black Lives Matter movement show.
Eva Kassen-Noor, a city planner at the University of Michigan, thinks New York will know how to “adapt to the realities of the pandemic.”
She hopes that the city, which claims to be a pioneer in the environment, will take advantage of this crisis to redistribute part of the urban space to the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.
Some changes that environmental activists believed impossible are already visible. The number of cyclists exploded with the pandemic and more than 160 km of streets were or will soon be closed to cars to give more space to pedestrians, cyclists and restaurant terraces.
Andrew, a 40-year-old businessman, sees the multiplication of restaurant terraces “an image of optimism”: about 9,000 were opened in a few weeks, after the city government simplified the rules to offset the ban on eating indoors.