True story: My wife and I both are former residents of New York City, and on a recent business trip there she was taking a nostalgic walk through the Upper West Side on a lovely fall day, talking to me on the phone about the possibility of moving back there. And then the crusty guy walking in front of her on the sidewalk stopped, dropped trou and took a dump right there on the sidewalk on Central Park West.
“Never mind,” she said.
We live in Texas, where we don’t have any state or local income tax or languish in rodential subterranean subway stations waiting for a train that may or may not come. For me, it was the subways that were the last straw. I had one of the easiest subway commutes in town: from City Hall to Grand Central, a nice straight shot on the express train. When it started taking me as long to get home downtown as it had when I lived in Norwalk, Conn., I decided it was time to get out.
I’m not the only one: New York City is, for the first time in more than 10 years, shrinking, with tens of thousands of people scooting off to greener pastures — sometimes literally to green pastures for people who have the ability to work remotely and enjoy a quieter and slower pace of life than New York City has to offer. According to new federal estimates, the city saw a net loss of 37,705 residents in 2017 and 39,523 in 2018. Of the five boroughs, only Staten Island is growing.
There was a time, not that long ago, when being a player in many American industries — finance, publishing, media, fashion — required having a residence or an office or both in New York. It was de rigueur. That is not the case any more. You can be a fashion giant in South Florida or a technology titan in Texas or a banking big in Charleston, SC.
If you are in New York City now, there’s precisely one reason for that: because you want to be.
I love New York City, and it has a great deal to offer — at a price. And whether a particular price is worth paying is not exclusively a function of the number on the price tag: It matters what you are getting for it. New York’s theaters, restaurants and museums can be enjoyed as a tourist, and if you have a healthy income you can stay a lot of nights in the Ritz-Carlton for what’d you pay in city and state taxes.
What really matters is the everyday stuff: Do the subways work? Do they leave and arrive on time? Do they smell like port-a-potties? Is the garbage piling up? Are the streets clean, safe and orderly? Can you get around town to do business and live your life, or is it an ordeal every time you set foot outside of your own neighborhood? Can you get to the airports easily? Are the schools worth a damn?
It’s a lot of complicated things, and Bill de Blasio’s cheap moralistic theatrics aren’t going to get it done.
That’s the real challenge for New York City — and it’s a tough one. There isn’t one simple thing you can do to fix it, because it isn’t one simple thing that’s wrong. It’s a lot of complicated things, and Bill de Blasio’s cheap moralistic theatrics aren’t going to get it done.
It would be great if New York City were more affordable. But even though its taxes are very high, there isn’t any tax cut that is going to make New York City affordable enough to offset the dysfunctional transit system, the crumbling infrastructure, the awful schools and occasional bouts of municipal chaos — not when the alternatives are increasingly attractive on their own merits.
Not when you can sit in the shade of your palm trees in Houston in February in a nice three-bedroom house that costs you half the rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
Plus, we have tacos. It’s not Broadway, but you can always visit.