Tuesday, April 23, 2002

New York City

My wife went down to Soho yesterday for a business lunch. From where she works, you take the Lexington Avenue line down to Spring Street and then walk over about six blocks to West Broadway. What took her back, as she walked to the restaurant, was the emptiness. The new DKNY store was empty. The Ralph Lauren store was empty. The cosmetics stores and furniture stores and boutqiues were all empty. Friends of ours run something called Eyestorm.com, a bricks-and-clicks art gallery, which has a storefront in Soho. No one was even looking in their window. Yes, it was a rainy Monday afternoon. But the emptiness was acute.

There's a disconnect between the reality and the perception of New York City. If you read the local papers, you get the impression that all of them are all doing everything they can to assure us that everything is okay. And then you read a column like Bob Herbert's (which you can read by clicking here -- registration is required).

I am ordinarily not a big Herbert fan and there are parts of yesterday's column that I think are nonsense. But the basic thrust of what he's saying is exactly right: New York is teetering on a tipping point, and if it "goes the other way" (if there's another terrorist attack or if the gains of the Giuliani era began to unravel under Bloomberg), then the city will be in for a very long and very difficult decade (at least).

Perhaps the weirdest thing about living in New York these days is the post-September 11th denial. I was talking to a friend yesterday who asked, in all seriousness, "you don't really think New York will be hit again, do you?" And I thought: "Of course I do. It's the target. It's the financial capital of the world. It's the media capital of the world. And it's the Jewish capital of the world. It's the bullseye of Isamo-fascism." What I said was: "I hope not."

The great unreported story of post-September 11 New York City is the exodus, the departure of people and businesses from Manhattan. It has begun and, in the event of another terrorist attack or a steady decline in the city's quality of life, it will accelerate. And if it does accelerate, then the city will deteriorate with astonishing speed.