New York’s suicide

I have had a bad feeling about New York City for a while, but even I am a bit surprised at the scale and speed of Gotham’s collapse. Because that is what it is. Not a collapse in the zombie-apocalypse, I Am Legend sense, but a psychological and cultural collapse, and an ongoing, early-stage political, economic and social collapse. Do you doubt it? Have you noticed that Midtown is an absolute ghost town? Apparently everyone is waiting for a vaccine to resume some semblance of normal urban life, because the virus is still out there, on the prowl, and it wants nothing more than to make you drown in your own lung juice! It’s mean and spiteful like that. Meanwhile, on Friday there were 5 reported COVID-19 deaths in all of New York State, including 3 in New York City. Total COVID hospitalizations in this state of 20 million people are down to 523. The epidemic is over.

That might come as news to Governor Cuomo, who refuses to lift the insane restrictions that are keeping the city’s malls, museums and concert venues closed and restaurants limited to outdoor seating (impossible in Midtown). Now it is estimated that up to one-third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses will close forever. Cuomo is also setting up “quarantine checkpoints” for inbound travelers, a useless but invasive measure that symbolically disconnects the city from the rest of the country – perhaps as the prelude to a real cordon sanitaire such I warned about back in March.

New York City isn’t going to recover from this. The sad truth is that the city completely destroyed itself in a spasm of hubris, cowardice and folly and you don’t come back from that, not for a long time and not without painful introspection and remorse. There is no evidence that that is going to happen, so the death spiral continues. New Yorkers either actively support or passively acquiesce to the madness that has wrecked their city. Or they flee.

Entrepreneur and angel investor James Altucher, author of Choose Yourself, has taken his own book’s advice by heading for the exit:

In early March, many people (not me), left NYC when they felt it would provide safety from the virus and they no longer needed to go to work and all the restaurants were closed. People figured, “I’ll get out for a month or two and then come back.”

They are all still gone.

And then in June, during rioting and looting, a second wave of NYCers (this time including me) left. I have kids. Nothing was wrong with the protests but I was a little nervous when I saw videos of rioters after curfew trying to break into my building.

Many people left temporarily but there were also people leaving permanently. Friends of mine moved to Nashville, Miami, Austin, Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas, etc.

Now a third wave of people is leaving. But they might be too late. Prices are down 30–50% on both rentals and sales no matter what real estate people tell you. And rentals are soaring in the second- and third-tier cities.

I’m temporarily, although maybe permanently, in South Florida now. I also got my place sight unseen. […]

Broadway is closed until at least the spring. The Lincoln Center is closed. All the museums are closed.

Forget about the tens of thousands of jobs lost in these cultural centers. Forget even about the millions of dollars of tourist-generated revenues lost by the closing of these centers.

There are thousands of performers, producers, artists, and the entire ecosystem of art, theater, production, curation, that surrounds these cultural centers.

Most New Yorkers blame this catastrophe on the “pandemic.” And will continue to do so. But it wasn’t the pandemic that did this; again, look at the recent numbers and ask yourself why everything is still closed. The truth is that New Yorkers didn’t care enough to keep their city alive, and so it died.


UPDATE: A couple of counterpoints to this grim perspective are in order.

(1)

(2)

Rail of fail

Nearly 420 million people are reported to have used China’s high-speed rail system during the annual Spring Festival holiday that has just wrapped up. Late last year, China opened the Vibrant Express, Hong Kong’s first bullet train, which zips passengers from the Special Administrative Region to Guangzhou in 48 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the US:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a project with an estimated cost that has ballooned to $77 billion.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

The idea long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule. The latest estimate for completion is 2033.

Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction that’s already underway on a segment of the high-speed train through California’s Central Valley, arguing it will revitalize the economically depressed region. He’s also replacing Brown’s head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.

One can’t really blame the new governor for this, as the promise of an LA-to-SF bullet train, which California voters approved in 2008, has always been a huge scam:

When California voters approved construction of a bullet train in 2008, they had a legal promise that passengers would be able to speed from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes.

But over the next decade, the state rail authority made a series of political and financial compromises that slowed speeds on long stretches of the track.

The authority says it can still meet its trip time commitments, though not by much.

Computer simulations conducted earlier this year by the authority, obtained by The Times under a public records act request, show the bullet train is three minutes and 10 seconds inside the legal mandate.

Such a tight margin of error has some disputing whether the rail network will regularly hit that two-hour-40 minute time, in part because the assumptions that went into those simulations are highly optimistic and unproven. The premise hinges on trains operating at higher speeds than virtually all the systems in Asia and Europe; human train operators consistently performing with the precision of a computer model; favorable deals on the use of tracks that the state doesn’t even own; and amicable decisions by federal safety regulators.

And let’s not even get started on the New York City subway.

Actually, let’s.