New York – Serial moves, unemployment, rising crime: the pandemic has plunged New York into a multifaceted crisis, worrying for some but that others see as an opportunity for this city symbol of dynamism to reinvent itself, for the better.
“We are going through perhaps one of the most painful, the most exceptional moments in our history, (…) a moment of profound social upheaval,” declared its mayor, Bill de Blasio, on Friday.
With more than 23,000 dead, the American economic capital is, to date, the western metropolis hardest hit by the coronavirus.
Despite a spectacular drop in the number of cases since May, deconfinement remains limited, for fear of a resumption of the epidemic which is still blazing in the United States.
Tourism stopped, office towers practically deserted, many shops closed, unemployment at 20% of the working population: four months of Covid-19 have transformed this metropolis of 8.5 million inhabitants, synonymous with crowds and consumerism .
If the schools hope to reopen in September, the town hall only plans three days of class per week maximum, preventing many parents from reworking normally.
And crime, which has been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, has just started to rise again: the latest police statistics list 634 shootings and 203 murders since January, up 60% and 23% respectively compared to the same period in 2019. .
Some New Yorkers have left, leaving thousands of apartments empty: for the first time in 10 years, rents in Manhattan fell slightly in the second quarter (-0.9%), according to real estate site StreetEasy.
– “We’ve experienced worse” –
It’s “the perfect combination of bad news,” says Kenneth Jackson, a New York historian at Columbia University.
For this professor who left Manhattan for the campaign with the pandemic, the situation evokes the black period of the 70s and 80s, when New York, in financial bankruptcy, was undermined by endemic crime and a mass exodus for safer suburbs.
But like many New Yorkers, he refuses to dramatize.
New York “has seen epidemics worse than this,” he says, recalling the annual cholera epidemics of the 19th century, or the attacks of September 11, 2001, when some “predicted that people would no longer want to work in towers. “.
But the era is no longer the abandonment of city centers as in the 1970s: the flight of the middle classes, mainly white, then fed on a now declining racism, at least among young people, like the showed recent #BlackLivesMatter protests, he said.
The strong trend is towards “the rebirth of cities”, to improved quality of life. They alone satisfy our needs as “social animals”, in search of meetings, entertainment and professional opportunities, according to him.
Kyle Scott, 30, who works in online real estate, confirms. He and his pediatrician wife had left New York two years ago for a pretty suburb, before becoming disillusioned. “We have more space, a better family life”, but life is “too quiet”, he says.
Now parents of a seven month old baby, they intend to stay in a city which “is always reinventing itself”. And hope that the next drop in property prices will allow them to buy their first apartment.
– “Healing” –
Eva Kassen-Noor, an urban planner at Michigan State University, believes New York will “adapt to the realities of the epidemic”. She hopes that this metropolis, which wants to be a pioneer in environmental matters, will take advantage of this crisis to redistribute part of the urban space for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.
Some changes, which environmental activists have believed unachievable so far, are already visible: the number of cyclists has exploded with the pandemic. More than 160 kilometers of roadways have been, or will soon be, closed to cars.
Andrew, a forty-year-old business executive, sees the proliferation of restaurant terraces as “an image of optimism”: nearly 9,000 terraces have opened in a few weeks, since the town hall has simplified the formalities to compensate for the closure of rooms.
And Scott Ellard, owner of a well-known jazz club in Greenwich Village, is currently working on making his street pedestrianized, with hopes of reopening outdoors after a four-month shutdown.
“We are doing everything we can, nobody wants to close,” he said. “I would hate to lose this club steeped in history just to some fucking virus.”
Kenneth Jackson says he’s convinced the city will bounce back and he’ll be returning to his Upper East Side apartment soon. “As late as the summer of 2021,” he predicts, “there will be clear signs that the city is on the mend.”