The Death and Life of the Greatest American City
A running joke on social media among New Yorkers who stayed put for the pandemic roller coaster ride these last seven months is to match evidence of joyful city life that has exploded everywhere against proclamations of the city’s death. “New York Is Dead!” run the headlines next to photos of streets teeming with outdoor diners and shots of Central Park’s Great Lawn full of masked New Yorkers socially distanced in the late autumn sun. This outcry kicks into overdrive every time the president gets in on the doomsday action, as he did again during Thursday’s debate: “Take a look at what’s happening to New York. It’s a ghost town. It’s dying.”
It’s tempting to crack wise and say, “If that’s so, then I’ve been seeing a lot of dead people these days.” Except that nearly 24,000 New Yorkers have died from Covid-19, making Donald Trump’s trash-talking even more gruesome.
And yet, despite the stories of an exodus from New York, real life in the city remains on the rebound even as the days grow colder. The move to outdoor dining has left parts of the city feeling like Paris (perhaps even more so than the City of Lights itself, which is currently under curfew as a second wave of the virus hits the city). There is live music to be found in pockets everywhere. A few weeks ago, I biked across Terrace Drive in Central Park at 11 p.m. and jumped off halfway to join in an impromptu, and socially distant, dance party. Museums have opened and, absent the tourists, can actually be enjoyed on the weekend. Wherever you turn, there is a pervasive feeling of residents doing their best — to be safe, to keep others safe, and to enjoy themselves however they can. To live.
If anything’s over, it’s the city previously known as “Instagram New York.” Covid-19 has pulled the filter off much of our lives, revealing fault lines that had been there all along. Nowhere has this shift been more apparent than in New York City. The wealth that flooded into the city during the Bloomberg years, bringing with it a staggeringly inflated real estate market and making a comfortable home here unfeasible for anyone but the very wealthy also brought with it a rosy lens that allowed a lot of people to “perform” city life. Crime was low; social…