The apex before the fall.
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.