≡ Menu

Fourth Of July In New York City

The apex before the fall.

Fourth of July fireworks NYC
Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

ASTORIA, NYC- But I had a nice Fourth of July.

New York City — like many others — cancelled or severely downsized their Fourth of July firework shows. But unlike many other cities, NYC doesn’t really have a functioning police force. They were attacked, defunded, and demoralized. The last thing they are going to bother arresting people for fireworks, and everybody here knew this. So the citizens of NYC put the onus on themselves to put on their own firework shows. And that they did.

From the rooftops of buildings all over the city people shot off commercial-grade fireworks, blasting the sky with beams of color unlike anything I’ve seen since China in 2007. I stood on our rooftop with my wife and watched as the little projectiles shot into the night and basked the skyscrapers in red, blue, and yellow. You never knew what rooftop was going to fire next, and the effect was kind of like a game of whack-a-mole: we’d rush to one side of the roof, then the other, point over here and then over there. It made municipal firework shows seem lame.

This was wild and raw, unplanned and uncoordinated civil disobedience at the grassroots level — the people telling the city leaders that they were done with being nannied and were going to celebrate the Fourth of July with or without them. It wasn’t a protest to change policy or to denigrate the system. It was just people doing what they wanted to do: enjoy the founding of their nation with family and friends … as we do every year.

But as I watched the fireworks explode before the Manhattan skyline I started getting that preemptive ephemeral feeling that you get when you know that you are witnessing the end of something. A half million middle and upper class New Yorkers have already fled the city, myriad businesses have shut down permanently, and many of the offices in those glistening towers will never have workers in them again. The city’s draconian response to the pandemic expedited the realization of a fact that we’d all come to recognize sooner or later: we no longer need big cities.

The remote work experiment here was remarkably successful. Anyone who could was told to go and work from home so as not to spread the virus. But now many of these workers will find that they are no longer welcomed back to the office. Even the big banks and traditional companies will downsize their offices, keeping the majority of their workforce remote — it works just as well and is cheaper. They will also start paying them less because they no longer are obliged to pay New York City wages, as they can open their hiring pool up to people who live in cheaper locations.

The once proud skyscrapers of Manhattan will become vertical ghost towns, with renters unable to find tenants and one-time-tenants viewing the office as something of bygone era. Business travel will remain supplanted by Zoom meetings. The airlines and hotels will lose one of their biggest cash cows. The tax revenue for the city will dwindle, the people who decide to stay will be taxed even more, and the incentive to leave will likewise increase. The police will be defunded not because of a trendy political position but because there will literally not be any money to pay them. New York City will become a shithole once again.

I held my wife in my arms as we watched those fireworks erupt and I felt fortunate that I had the experience of getting to know the greatest city in history at its highest point, when everything was incredibly safe, when people had money to spend, and someone’s biggest problem was reading a Tweet that contained a word they morally objected to. We were spoiled, and I have to say that I appreciated it. It’s all downhill from here.


The only way I can continue my travels and publishing this blog is by generous contributions from readers. If you can, please subscribe for just $5 per month:


If you like what you just read, please sign up for our newsletter!
* indicates required
Filed under: Celebrations, New York City, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

10 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Rob July 7, 2020, 7:51 pm

    “All down hill for here”, I hope not but you may be correct.

    The last few days I’ve seen a couple of articles that talked of past hard times in NYC due to a variety of reasons and the city’s eventual come back.

    None of those times has “work at home” been an idea let alone tried and found to be both practical and cost effective.

    Link Reply
    • Vagabond Journey July 9, 2020, 12:19 pm

      Very true, man. People and businesses not needing NYC is a new thing. Never before have companies and people been able to just leave so easily. As the city tries to appease the mob (the very small but very vocal minority) they are destroying the place for everyone. It’s really not the place that many of us chose to live in anymore, and masses are on the way out. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear announcements of some of the big banks closing their Manhattan offices this week.

      Link Reply
  • Peter B July 8, 2020, 4:19 pm

    Hopefully a ‘correction’ and not a fall. A way to clear out some of the excess, the $15 grilled cheese sandwich in the neighborhood bistro. The continued Mall-ing of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Maybe some of the over-age frat boys and girls will go home. I don’t want the 70’s, but the last 10 years here have been a haven for a lot of entitled fucks that need a slap.

    Link Reply
    • Vagabond Journey July 9, 2020, 12:13 pm

      I hope so! However, I’m not optimistic. The shit is really going to hit the fan when PUP payments stop at the end of this month a third of the city realizes that they’re unemployed with not enough money to pay rent. Also, there is going to come a reckoning soon when the city realizes that it doesn’t have enough revenue to run the place. The numbers of businesses that stopped paying rent are pretty crazy … as well as the number of landlords that are probably not going to be able to pay their property taxes. They bozo’ed this crisis and we’re all going to pay the price for it. Although I just sit up in my apartment writing all day, so what do I know haha. Can’t wait to get going again!

      Link Reply
      • Trevor Warman July 9, 2020, 1:53 pm

        “”Can’t wait to get going again! “”

        Lol keeping up with the rules is mental. People tell me helpfully that borders are open but on the ground its a different scene. Admin at government offices cant keep up with the changes…. bus stations should know.. in theory.

        Apparently here is better than being stuck in Skopje or Pristina

        Link Reply
        • Vagabond Journey July 10, 2020, 11:45 am

          True… except Serbia was teetering on revolution even before all this. It’s going to be an interesting stay for you there! Let us know how it develops!

          Link Reply
          • Trevor Warman July 10, 2020, 1:33 pm

            Now you tell me? 2020 has been a crazy year.. should have gone to Iceland…

            Link Reply
            • Vagabond Journey July 10, 2020, 2:41 pm

              Yeah, man, you should have! There’s still time before it gets cold. But there is just something about you and calamity that seems to be going together these days. Live it up, man, because genuine clusterfucks are often to come by in this era of travel.

              Link Reply
  • Kyle B. July 15, 2020, 12:20 pm

    I found this photo series a while back, you might like it: https://dinalitovsky.com/Personal-Projects/DARK-CITY/. Perfectly captures what I’ll call “Phase One” of all this, the time when nobody went out and all the students left. Things were peaceful and empty. We still had groceries and laundry to do, and nighttime walks, but otherwise weren’t allowed to go inside any establishments.

    “Phase Two” was all the other nighttime reactionary stuff that happened after the protests. The illegal fireworks are part of that. Everything was made worse by no “eyes on the street”, only the risk takers were out and about and nobody was there to balance it out. We went out as usual but got home before dark for roughly a week.

    As far as I can tell, we’re in “Phase Three”. Restaurants are back open, people seem to be returning from their parents’ houses or wherever the younger people went during the quarantine, and there was more street life on a Tuesday, last night, than most Saturdays. There may be fewer parking spots, but the street seating has allowed even people of all risk tolerance levels to space out and enjoy themselves.

    Link Reply
    • Vagabond Journey July 15, 2020, 10:27 pm

      Yeah, man! The phase two period was nuts. Good call on not going out. People were being attacked in the streets out in front of my apartment and our building got robbed twice — and, as you know, it’s relatively super safe here.

      Phase three is actually getting kind of cool. With all the bars and restaurants taking over the streets it’s kind of feels like Europe. Been hanging around Ditmars a lot lately. We should meet up this weekend!

      Link Reply