Is New York City About to See a Wave of Departures?

A perennial debate topic takes on a heightened urgency

New York City
New York City, circa now.
JJBers/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / June 7, 2020 6:00 am

These are trying times for New York City. The metropolitan area around it has seen a massive number of COVID-19 cases over the last few months. Numerous small businesses have been temporarily closed, leaving their futures uncertain. Add to that the ongoing protests over police brutality, which led Mayor Bill de Blasio to impose a controversial curfew, and you have an array of crises all happening simultaneously.

In a new article at Daily Intelligencer, Justin Davidson explored the current moment as it pertains to New York City’s streets and sidewalks — and, more broadly, its public spaces. “A city’s sense of freedom resides in its streets,” Davidson writes, noting that “[m]ost New Yorkers understand that intuitively.” Davidson posits the conflict between a city that can be walked through and a city that can only be driven through as an existential one, and closes the piece on an ominous note:

But faith in the future is fragile, and if it drains away on a bloodied pavement, it could turn New York back into a city of deadbolts and barricades, where residents hunker down or leave and the plywood storefronts never go away.

It’s one of a number of recent articles which have pondered what the city’s future might look like. Writing in The New York Times, Alyson Krueger spoke with a number of New York City residents weighing their options as they ponder a future where working remotely is far more feasible.

“Debating the topic, of course, is practically a blood sport.” Krueger writes. But at a time when the cost of living is prompting many people to look elsewhere for a place to live. It’s unclear if the current discussion many are having over leaving the city is the latest iteration in a familiar discussion, or something else.

In late May, Jake Dobkin took on the question of leaving New York City in Gothamist’s “Ask a Native New Yorker” column. Dobkin offered an optimistic vision of what the city might look like after a COVID-19 vaccine was made widely available:

While the people who fled are contemplating their lawns in the suburbs, those of us who stayed are going to be having the time of our lives — at least until the rents start going up again.

The debate over leaving New York City — or, really, any expensive yet appealing city — is a perennial one. Does this installment seem more charged? Yes — but as Dobkin notes, no one quite knows how New York’s future history will be written.

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