New York Has Always Been, And Will Always Be, New York
Over the years, I have written a number of posts entitled “Top Ten Reasons to Live In New York.” At this moment of crisis for the city, it seems like a good idea to remember why so many of us have chosen to live in the great urban areas of our country, whether Boston or San Francisco or Chicago or Austin or New York. I will choose New York for the rest of my days, just as my family has for (counting my grandchildren) seven generations. Over the arc of that 160 years, the family lived through the end and aftermath of the Civil War, many panics and recessions, the flu epidemic of 1918, the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, and two world wars. We’re still here and so is New York, bigger and more dynamic than ever. Here’s why:
We have the most diverse population of any city anywhere. Anyone and everyone streams into New York. People from all over the world bring their cultures and beliefs, their art, their food with them when they settle here. The days of social distancing will pass, as these things do, and we will once again be delighted by access to Italian and Armenian, Middle Eastern and Greek, Ethiopian and Thai foods and cultural events. Who could fail to look forward to that?
New Yorkers act tough, but we are kind. Sure, there are those people at the grocery store who cluelessly stand too close, or those people wearing headsets on the street who almost bump into you. But mostly we are good neighbors and wish our fellows the best. Like every small town, the city runs on a million minor acts of kindness a day. This matters now more than ever. Each evening at 7 PM we cheer our people on the front lines who are dealing with the virus. We sing from our windows like the Italians. We make music on Zoom; last week we celebrated Easter or Passover on Zoom with our loved ones across the country or across town. We are knit together.
We rise to the occasion, for ourselves and for all Americans. I sit on the Board of several not-for-profit arts organizations, and I am more peripherally involved with a number of others. All draw their strength from the deep cultural brew of our city, and all have received gifts, large and small, from hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers and others throughout the country who treasure the cultural richness which is part of our urban heritage. And these institutions in turn have streamed content: opera, chamber music, world music, theater, art, poetry – which have enriched our stay-at-home lives.
We adapt. The world changes and New York changes with it. We don’t know yet what the new normal will be, but whatever it is, New Yorkers will be at the forefront of making it work. Will we be using less office space now that we have learned to do so much on Zoom? If so, then those spaces will be repurposed to a new highest and best use. Will restaurants space tables a bit further apart? Will theaters and concert halls and stadiums, at least for a while, decline to sell every seat so as to create a sense of space between people? All this may happen as the world settles back, gradually into its old, and new, habits.
Finally here is what we know. The world will return to a form which we recognize. Children will return to school. High school seniors will go to college. We will go outdoors again without apprehension and greet those we know. We will eat out. We will buy and sell homes. We will mourn those we lost, and we will learn from this experience how to prepare better for the next event, even as this pandemic, once there is an effective vaccine, will both attain mythic status and cease to meaningfully impact our daily lives. As the brilliant Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska has written in her poem “The End and The Beginning,” about the aftermath of war: