Even before the virus, New York City residents were trying to cope with serious problems: a surge in violent crimes, worsening homelessness, and rampant drug use. Residents put up with all of these as part of the price of living here. Then the virus hit, and so did prolonged rioting and protests. And these were followed by the unthinkable: The city was shut down.
Over the years, the city had survived a brush with bankruptcy, recessions and depressions, two world wars, and for a considerable time it was the crime capital of the nation. And then there were the devastating attacks on 9/11.
Breaking The Big Apple’s Back?
The city always came back after these crises. But this time, things may be different. The city is clearly on the ropes and a growing number of people are afraid this time it is down for the count. And they are fleeing by the droves.
A recent article in The New York Times reported that 420,000 New Yorkers, most upper-middle class or wealthy, had moved out of the city between March 1 and May 1.
But the exodus did not stop there. A local Fox affiliate reports that the most recent data from the moving firm United Van Lines shows that between May and July there was “a 95% year over year increase in interest in moving out of Manhattan.” This compares with a 19 percent increase in moving interest in the U.S. overall.
A week ago, James Altucher, co-owner of a comedy club in the city and a former hedge fund manager, wrote an essay in the New York Post called “New York City Is Dead Forever. Here’s Why.” “I love New York City,” Altucher begins. “When I first moved here it was a dream-come- true.” He goes on to describe the many fascinating subcultures here, the opportunities to start any kind of business and find jobs, to meet people and make friends.
“New York always bounces back,” he writes, “but not this time. Opportunities will not flourish here again.” The city, he concludes sadly, is dead.
Many other people agree. A few weeks ago, a group formed on Facebook for people planning to move from New York; they wanted to share their experiences here and to give and get advice about their plans. Within two days the group had 10,000 members.
Clearly, many people are fed up with the anti-police culture, unchecked violence, homelessness, and never-ending tax increases, and they feel it’s just not worth living here anymore. Earlier this year, apartments in the city were almost impossible to come by and commanded premium rents; now, rents are dropping sharply and there are many thousands of vacancies. People are leaving for greener pastures, and judging by the many different places they are moving to, everywhere is greener.
Grand Central Station, Penn Station, Rockefeller Center, and other once-popular landmarks draw only a fraction of the visitors they once did. Well-known businesses and iconic stores have already closed or are planning to.
A disgruntled New Yorker recently made a video while driving down Fifth Avenue. The video shows relatively few pedestrians shopping or even walking the streets - streets that normally would be crowded with shoppers and tourists and endless traffic. But now almost every business is completely boarded up. Businesses and neighborhoods are gone, battered, or burned.
This two-minute video speaks louder than words about the upheaval that has taken place in this city in the last five months. It is shocking, sad, infuriating, and perplexing. Why were mobs so determined to unleash so much destruction here? Why did our political leaders not stop it? Videos like this need to be shown on mainstream news outlets, but more often all we hear is that protests are peaceful and quieting down.
After seeing what happened to Manhattan and hearing the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ranting of rioters, it is very understandable why tens of thousands of Jewish New Yorkers are now in various stages of making aliyah.
Meanwhile, brutal crimes are becoming a familiar sight, adding to all the gloom and despair here. Shootings in the city surged by 177% in July; there were 49 shootings in a 72-hour period in August. Sanitation pickups are down sharply, which has resulted not only in dirty streets but also in a 60 percent increase in rat sightings. The city’s budget is so strained that tens of thousands of jobs may have to be axed, including some in emergency services.
Is it surprising that so many people are leaving? Would you stay here if you could get out? The case for toughing it out here keeps becoming weaker.
New Yorkers are certainly not the only urbanites singing the big city blues. Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are among the others suffering from similar problems. But this doesn’t make the rot and decay here any easier to bear.
Every time the city experiences a crisis, local politicians pull out a time-worn line: New Yorkers are tough, we’ll get through it and emerge even stronger than ever. If only this were true! This time, maybe Altucher will be right: Maybe this downturn really is different and this time the city won’t bounce back.
Over the years, frum people and other New Yorkers have built wonderful shuls and yeshivos here, incredible institutions that give all kinds of financial and moral support and social services to the weak and needy, to people who desperately need this help. And they have exceptionally capable and dedicated staffs whose objectives are altruistic and sincere.
If frum people keep moving away, these yeshivos and shuls and institutions may reach a tipping point. There simply may not be enough people to keep them going. And then what happens?
This is not just an issue of rebuilding them somewhere else, although that alone would involve incredible costs and challenges. But they also need dedicated staffs, and with so many New Yorkers moving to so many different destinations, it may be impossible to assemble these.
Let’s hope all the pessimism gives way to optimism and that the city is able to resolve its problems. The alternative is too unpleasant to imagine.