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Professor Ester Fuchs

Ester is a Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science and is the Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. You can listen to our conversation with Ester in two podcast episodes on The DNA of New York.

Photo credit: NASA via Unsplash.

Caitlin Morrissey

So, Ester, in your mind, what is the DNA of New York?

Ester Fuchs

So I thought about this concept of DNA, and it seems to me the most critical thing about DNA is that each piece needs to connect to itself. So the pieces of the puzzle of New York include its neighbourhoods, obviously, but not just its neighbourhoods; it's really the diversity of the city that is located in its neighbourhoods. And, of course, connected to that is economic opportunity. It's not just that New York has this robust economy; although, we'll talk about what it's like right now. But its economic opportunity, people think about it globally as the financial capital and now, the tech capital. But that's only a piece of the economic puzzle. It's immigrants working at minimum wage who can then send their kids to public schools and a public university that they can still afford. And so this idea of the American dream and economic opportunity is alive and well in New York City.

And part of the reason for that, which is also part of the DNA, is a very, very robust city governance structure. We have a city that has a budget right now, even in this pandemic, of $88 billion - it's larger than most nation-states, to be honest - and this affords us the opportunity to provide a whole range of public services that other cities don't provide.

The other part of the DNA that relates to the economy, as I said, it's the support that government provides for economic development, but it's also the capacity to start a small business. So when you're a new immigrant or you've just graduated college or you just graduated high school, New York is a place in which you can start a small business. It's not just retail storefront, but we've got now an extraordinary opportunity for light manufacturing, high tech. We've got Hollywood on the Hudson now. I mean, you think of it, it's happening in here as it relates to the economy.

And of course, the most important thing that connects all of these strands of DNA together is the mythology of New York which I would not underestimate in any way. Why do people come here, and why don't they go to Cleveland? There are many things, as I said, that are in New York, but they also exist in other cities, these kinds of opportunities. But there is a mythology about New York that if you are the best and the brightest, you come to New York.

Greg Clark

Ester, this is a fantastic answer. I'm going to just encourage you to say a little bit more on a couple of themes. So picking up your last point of the mythology of New York, where does this idea come from, that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, the best and the brightest come to New York to compete, to make yourself the best you could be? Where does that idea originate from?

Ester Fuchs

Well, I mean, we've had a lot of assistance in creating this mythology from pop culture and from the arts because this has been a place where you could come to find your muse and find your artistic sensibility, create your art, create your music. And part of this has to do with urbanisation more broadly, but frankly, part of it has to do with the explosion, believe it or not, of manufacturing in New York and the creation of a very broad-based opportunity and the densification of New York. The need for large numbers of people to work in manufacturing was really what brought this incredible diversity to New York.

And as a consequence of that and as a consequence, I think, of creating a city governance structure that offered this opportunity, public schools, public health. We have a massive public hospital system in New York. We still have it; we're the only city in the country that has it, that safety and security on the streets. We have 36,000 police in New York. It's the largest police department in the country. We talk about what that means in a variety of ways, but low crime has been a very important part of the 21st-century view of New York. But the idea of the mythology did not even require low crime. I mean, gangsters came to New York to make it in New York. So it wasn't like, you know– During the Depression in the 1930s, I think that is really the period where this mythology gets created because you have essentially everybody needing to sort of band together, whoever is here, to ensure that people can eat, and that the city remains reasonably safe and that services get provided and that we figure out a way to reinvent the economy. So after the sort of long growth period of industrialisation at the turn of the century and the increase in the immigrant population as a result of the need for industrial workers, we're hit with this extraordinary depression.

And to be honest, I really think that the entertainment and the arts create this mythology that regardless of the adversity, the city is the place to come. And if you're going to do it-- by that point, New York was the biggest, and the most opportunity was available for people there. And we see that at every point in New York's history. When crisis emerges, the arts emerge to kind of envelop us and make us feel better and also contribute to this mythology about 'you come to New York to make it'. And I think it's just built on itself over the last hundred years.

Greg Clark

Ester, thank you very much. You've made the point twice that New York has a strong city governance model. And I suppose the question behind is, what led to the expectation in New York, unlike in so many other places in the USA, that strong city government with a powerful municipal budget delivering a wide range of services was the right thing to do there? How did that consensus get created?

Ester Fuchs

So that's a really interesting question, and I think it really dates back to the consolidation of the city in 1898. We were a city-- we were not a city of five boroughs; we were a city primarily dominated by Manhattan. And I think that the industrial class really determined, in this period, that for them to make money, to be perfectly blunt, for them to be successful, it required that they have a city governance structure to run efficiently. So the expansion of city government, if you look at it initially, comes from the need to create safety and security for the land-owner class, for the business-owner class in New York, for the industrialists in New York; the need to manage New York City neighbourhoods which were filled with immigrants. Low-income immigrants were diverse by ethnicity, getting to become diverse by race in the 1930s primarily. But also, racial diversity, in this point in time, and not having opportunity available for everyone at the same rate required that city government initially step in and provide more services.

And what happens, I think - and this is just my take on the history of this period - is initially, the service delivery infrastructure of New York is designed to support the elites and the business class. But because we are a democratic, small 'd', governance structure and because we elected our city-level representatives through a similar democratic process as we elect our national elected officials, we created a charter which included a mayor and a city council which is an executive and a legislative branch, which is not always the case, as you know, in city government. So that kind of direct election of the mayor and the city council required a kind of mobilisation of people to vote, and so this is where the political parties came in. And initially, they were called political machines. The Democratic Party dominates electoral politics in New York, and so in this high-stakes competition to run city government, you also had to mobilise people. So you had to give them something, and the machine was all about giving people material incentives to engage in politics so that involved the expansion of city government, which is to say more jobs; the expansion of city services; contracts, which didn't necessarily help low-income people or new immigrants, but certainly, you can see this expansion of city services being directly related to the party organisation and their need to pull people into the democratic election process.

And I did some research on this years ago. And one of the things that I found is that when the machine declines because of the reformers taking over to essentially clean up city government from the corruption that did emerge in this period, what happens is something sort of unfortunate, in a way, because the machines were very effective at giving people a reason to engage in politics, meaning to vote. And when they are dismantled, new immigrants come in, low-income people are involved. There isn't the same opportunity to either learn about civic responsibility or even to link yourself to government in a materialistic way, which I don't find offensive at all as long as it's not corrupt. So the machine declines, and you can trace the decline of political engagement to the weakening of this party structure.

And part of the strength of the machine was essentially to create a more expansive government, to provide more services for these immigrants that they needed to vote in elections and to actually collect, as a consequence, a whole range of taxes to support the business class as well. So the expanse of New York City government really, I think, comes from the sort of democratic experiment at the city level that was created and also from something unexpected which is that once you pull people into the electoral process and you needed to create majorities in elections, then you needed actually to do something for these people too. The government had to provide some services directly to the communities that you were trying to attract into government. And this, kind of what we call in New York City politics, street fight and pluralism is still part of the dynamic of New York City government.

We, unfortunately, from my point of view, have a weak party organisation, so it is these interest groups that really are much more important now in mobilising voters and also in impacting policy. And from my point of view, the party, which was more broad-based, provided services much more directly to high-needs populations than what happened, literally, in the post-1975 fiscal crisis period of New York when we had a big contraction.

Greg Clark

Brilliant answer, Ester.

Caitlin Morrissey

I'd love to ask you, how many New York's are there, and what differentiates or distinguishes them?

Ester Fuchs

So that is such an interesting question. I mean there are so many New York's, of course, in some ways. And then we like to pretend there's one New York also; that's part of the mythology. But New York, I would say, is fundamentally a city of neighbourhoods, and these are incredibly diverse economically, racially, by ethnicity and by immigration status. And because of zoning laws, we also tend to restrict commercial development and manufacturing to particular geographic areas. So we've kept our residential neighbourhoods primarily residential even though they might have small business districts. But most neighbourhoods then, which are primarily residential, are dominated by generally one or two racial or ethnic groups. And this changes over time.

Somebody - I forget who wrote this book - talked about New York neighbourhoods as 'creative destruction', almost. When you look at-- take Harlem. Harlem was Italian, was Jewish. Most people just think about Harlem as the epicentre of the Black community. And right now, there is a large Hispanic population. And within the Black community, there are Africans, who have come directly from Africa, who have very different ambitions and cultural backgrounds; than the African-Americans who kind of still live in Harlem and dominate the neighbourhood institutions and the neighbourhood politics. So as a consequence of New York being so neighbourhood based, politics is very neighbourhood based as well.

And you also find something that relates to this question of how many New York's when you sort of unpack these neighbourhoods a little bit more. So it's not just that they are different by race and ethnicity, but because of zoning, they're also different by their economic base, by the socioeconomic status of the people who live there. So it's so kind of amazing to think about this, but New York is the city in the United States which is home to the poorest zip code, which is in the Bronx, and one of the wealthiest zip codes which is in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Both of these are part of New York, yet we know they're very distinctive and different, not just, obviously, by the socioeconomic background of these communities but by the housing stock, by the opportunities that are available for cultural institutions, by the opportunities that are available to eat out, the retail.

The character of the neighbourhoods is to me what really distinguishes New York. And people like to think about the borough distinction; I drill down to the neighbourhood level. But really, if you started with the boroughs, that would help you considerably understanding the differences between New York. I mean, when I grew up in Queens, we were an outer borough. And I would get on the Subway to go to the city, and there was a sign in the subway that said 'to the city' as if we weren't even a part of the city. Well, newsflash, Queens is one of the five boroughs! It's pretty interesting, an extraordinary place in and of itself.

But when you talk about multiple New York's, you certainly begin with the distinctions around the boroughs. And of course, Brooklyn was actually an independent city at some point. And Staten Island is still trying to secede from New York. I mean, literally, in 1993, Governor Cuomo - that was Mario Cuomo - put on the ballot a proposition for Staten Islanders to vote on for secession. And 65% of the borough's residents voted for secession. And why is that the case? Because they see themselves quite differently in this, as Mayor Dinkins called New York, 'the beautiful mosaic'. And I love Mayor Dinkins' formulation because, in a mosaic, all the pieces connect to each other. It's similar to your DNA concept. There is linkages; there are connections. If we were just factious, if everybody had no connection, if you just stayed behind your wall in your gated community, which, fortunately, we do not have many of those in the city, if you stay disconnected, we would not be a mosaic. We would be not connected to each other in any kind of significant or serious way.

So while I do believe that there are multiple New York's and I do believe that that is a fortunate thing, at the same time, I do adopt Mayor Dinkins' concept that we are a gorgeous mosaic and that is really our strength. And that's also part of the mythology of New York that I think is true.

Caitlin Morrissey

And why do people come to New York to live there? 

Ester Fuchs

Wow. Okay. So without being trite-- I mean, it's so easy to kind of deteriorate our-- for our discussion to sort of deteriorate into the stereotypes of 'you come to New York for opportunity', but the truth is you do come to New York for opportunity.

The people who live here, who stay, are fiercely loyal, okay? And that is also part of what's unique about New York. Other cities do have their loyal folks who remain and stay even during the adverse times. But I love to look at the periods of adversity because it tells you so much about a city. And there's this wonderful book called Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, which I teach, and it really was written in the 1970s at the height of the New York City-- right before the New York City fiscal crisis but at the height of the declining American city.

It's hard for young people to understand or know or believe that, in the 20th century, urbanisation was not predicted to be the great trend that it turned out to be, but rather, the United States was expected to become a suburban nation. How sad that would have been. But we were expected to become a suburban nation. And instead, of course, the trend of urbanisation becomes the global trend. Now, that is probably the only thing we know about the 21st century that will continue even post-pandemic.

And so New York has, particularly in the 20th century, experienced cycles of growth and decline. And it is cycles. It's not like this has been a one-dimensional trajectory in which the city grows and thrives and prospers and new immigrants come in and they find the American dream, and then they move to the next phase of their life. That is not what happens.

And we have large pockets of concentrated poverty, and there are disproportionate negative impacts and disparities that relate to race and ethnicity. Black and Brown people are likely to have less good outcomes on every measure than white people. And that's in New York City as well. And so this is not, by any means, a perfect story when we think about what is the DNA of New York and who benefits from that DNA, okay? So there are still folks who really don't benefit, and we haven't solved that problem even with our expansive city governance structure in which we spend more money on social services than any other jurisdiction in the country.

But if we look at these moments of crisis, it's very instructive about why people come to New York, I think, and why people stay and why people leave. And I love what-- I mean, I shouldn't say I love what's happening now. You know, I don't. I'm absolutely appalled at what's happening now and sad about the failure of our national government and our city government in dealing with the pandemic. We've had crises in our city before and failures of governance before too.

But this is what's interesting: if you think about 1975 and the New York City fiscal crisis in which, famously, the president of the United States kind of refused our request of support. Just to borrow money, give us a break in the borrowing. It wasn't even for direct aid. And then, eventually, it turns around. But New York City lost 10% of its population in the initial decline in the 1970s. But other people did come, so it's not just this one-way street out.

And so New York continuously kind of rebuilt itself on a different vision, and it has this extraordinary infrastructure in place that allows for it. We were very fortunate that during the 1960s, we didn't destroy our downtown - like so many people did in a stage of urban renewal - so we had places for people to come in and regenerate the city. I mean, now, people talk about gentrification and it's negative because so many poor people are pushed out and the reasons for that are complex. But if you go back to the ‘70s and the ‘80s, no one thought any of these neighbourhoods would ever be anything but concentrated pockets of poor people. The whole idea that you could come and regenerate an economy and find a new approach to job creation wasn't anything that people thought was realistic or reality-based.

So I think that, yes, people do come to New York for the opportunities because we don't ever completely destroy ourselves. The sort of raw material for creative growth, whether it's in the economic sector or in the arts or in food or in anything that can earn people a living or nourish their soul, the opportunities remain. Now, most people who just want to live a staid middle-class life are suited to suburban living.

So I used to say to my students in the '80s when things were not great in New York, and I taught a course called 'Contemporary Urban Problems' and had to change the name, because I got very frustrated, to 'Contemporary Urban Problems and Solutions' because I thought, why are we just sitting here talking about problems? That was what people did. They thought there are no solutions to these problems.

Well, part of the reason is that New York City government also continuously reinvents itself. And people like to say we get the right mayor for the right time. I hope that's true in the next round because we're going to need a damn good mayor in New York in the next round because we've got a lot of digging out to do.

But New York reinvents itself continuously, doesn't completely destroy its DNA - I call it infrastructure, but you're right, it's DNA - so that when you come, there's something to connect to, something to build on. So there was housing for artists who didn't have a lot of money. For a visionary person who wanted to develop the waterfront, we had this open waterfront. The public sector forced them to put an enormous, gorgeous park in there when you look at the Brooklyn waterfront now. And so we have both the natural resources, the infrastructure and the governance structure, which I come back to again, which still allows for people to organise and come into the process and try and produce things that will contribute to a public interest and not just individuals making money.

Now, individuals will make money here, too. And that is not a bad thing because we want them to contribute to our tax base, so we can redistribute, which is what we do in New York because we still have people who pay taxes in New York. If you don't, given the governance structure of our cities in the United States, you don't have anything to redistribute. So we can do that in our city. And we've chosen to do that, and we continue to do that. And I think that's really, partly, why people continue to come here.

It's both the immigrants, who are looking for opportunity, often at the low end of the economic rung, and then it's people who are coming to invent and create who want to make a lot of money, too. I mean, it's the artists, and it's middle-class families who think this is a great place to raise children and do your life. Because New York is not just Manhattan, which is part of the secret: it's five boroughs. It's got even little houses where you can raise a family with a backyard if you like that. But the difference between it and the suburbs is it's got diversity. It's got this crazy, robust public school system, and it's got opportunities that you will not find in the local shopping mall, and it's got the subways. And I know that right now the subways are in big trouble, but that's going to be our saviour down the road once again.

Greg Clark

Ester, this is an amazing answer. You've said a lot about shocks and how New York recovers from shocks, but I want to ask you a little question in there. So when you think about the shocks that New York has been through, even in the last 30 or 40 years with the '75 fiscal crisis; obviously, there's 9/11; there's Hurricane Sandy; you have the global financial crisis; there's coronavirus, are there any sort of traumas or wounds that the city carries from one crisis to another? If somebody said to you, what is the wound that New York has or the trauma, the collective trauma, is there anything you would point to?

Ester Fuchs

Yeah, just to go back on these shocks because I was thinking about that. I thought that was such an interesting question, and I didn't realise how many crises and shocks New Yorkers have experienced. It's really pretty amazing. I mean, if we just begin in the 20th century with the 1918 Spanish flu, which people have on their minds right now because of the coronavirus, 300,000 people died, right; and then, of course, the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, which hit New York very hard as the heart of the financial service sector; and, I would say, the gradual shock of deindustrialisation, which doesn't happen in one fell swoop, but begins in the post-World War II period, right, and really culminates in the 1975 fiscal crisis in New York.

Part of what's different about that than other fiscal crises that come later is this was a long-term decline and transformation of New York City's economy that wasn't really attended to in any kind of significant or serious way. And we only start to understand it when the city is almost locked out of the bond market and almost goes bankrupt. And when we realised that, our elected officials essentially were rolling over a short-term debt into long-term debt, which is essentially borrowing our future away. And in '75, it's so serious because that fiscal crisis pushed the city into a financial control situation which essentially took away a lot of governance powers from city residents. And some people say it had to be done, and we could have a long conversation about that, as you know.

But the impact of the bailout was an extraordinary long-term decline in service delivery which is partly why people thought New York-- "Okay, we'll be okay, but we're not really coming back. It's going to be in the suburbs." So this is what a lot of investors thought, a lot of high-end people thought. And it changes New York permanently. We have 20 years of decline in services before things turn around. The city parks are turned into dust bowls, the public school system declined significantly in terms of the education outcome for its kids, especially in low income and minority neighbourhoods, crime rate goes through the roof, okay, and there's a serious and significant disinvestment in the city's economy.

What doesn't happen and what's different is a lot of middle-class people stay in the outer boroughs. So people don't realise that, and they don't think about that. So New York doesn't completely lose its tax base like so many other cities did when they lost their industrial base. And we had financial services, and financial services doesn't leave New York. But the shock and the impact is significant and long term, and lots of people thought we would never climb out of it. We do, but it takes a long period of time. 

And I actually worry now about how we're dealing with the current fiscal crisis because I don't want to duplicate the kind of bailout that we did in '75 because it took us 20 years to recover from that even though there's a kind of mythology that we were saved by all the wonderful elites in the city, banking community and the unions, and the real estate folks got together and bailed us out well. On some level, they did. On another level, every single nickel was paid back to the banks on debt, which never happens in a bankruptcy, and didn't even happen when Orange County, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, in California, went bankrupt. New York City paid back every nickel on its debt. The unions managed to save all the benefits for their older employees and allowed the city to essentially cut the guts out of service delivery and lay off young employees; last in, first out.

And while some in the real estate community pre-paid their real estate taxes, which was very important for the city at the time, as everybody knows, of all the folks in our economy that we have to focus on by sector, real estate is the least mobile. Real estate cannot get up and take their assets and leave the city. So the fact that the real estate families in New York did prepay their real estate taxes, I think, was great. On the other hand, it was in their interest for them to do it. So the kind of bailout that we engaged in that people seemed to think was miraculous and spectacular, when I think about it now, I really think that our turnaround was made more difficult by the fact that city government was so constrained and ended up really cutting basic services.

So there's a difference, obviously, between '75 and a lot of the other crises because it was long term in the making. And when we look at-- you mentioned the '93 World Trade Center bombing and of course, 9/11. I mean, I was in city government right after 9/11 when Mayor Bloomberg came in. And I have to tell you, this whole idea that New York gets the mayors that it needs, I think Ed Koch in the fiscal crisis was an extraordinary mayor for New York. La Guardia during the Depression was an extraordinary mayor for New York. David Dinkins was so important for New York because we needed somebody to heal the racial divisions at the time, so he was important for New York.

Bloomberg, I can't tell you how things could have gone so badly had we had a different mayor in New York. I mean, we had lost an extraordinary number of jobs in a very short period of time. Rudy Giuliani left a huge budget deficit, and businesses were ready to get up and leave in the financial service sector. And I remember sitting at City Hall and hearing the mayor talk to people on the phone and saying, "No, you're not leaving. We're not letting crime go back up. We're not." And he kept on saying the city's open for business, and this was very important at the time. And if you were prescient, you might have bought real estate down by the World Trade Center because the market had dropped out of the-- excuse me, the bottom had dropped out of the real estate market in Battery Park City. And people really thought this is global terrorism. “It's not safe to live in this city anymore. I've got to get out of here.” And there was a lot of that. We're seeing some mirroring of this, of course, around the coronavirus now. And New York came back very quickly, relatively speaking from that attack. And I think that is about mayoral leadership to a certain extent, but it was also about the fact that the economic leaders in the city did not fail.

I mean, the federal government put out a report and said, "Financial services, you should diversify your location and leave the city." I mean, that would have been hell for us. I was like, you know-- I remember reading that and thinking, "Really? Thanks. That's great. Thanks a lot. So you wanted to just kick a person when they're down, kick a city when it's down. That's good." So they didn't by and large. There was some movement out. They moved across the river to Jersey which turned out not to be the best investment for a lot of these big financial companies. But in the end, people reinvested, and they reclaimed the city. And we created a new economy in the city in tech, which no one expected that you could do tech in cities because in the United States, we had Silicon Valley, and it was assumed that you needed suburban office-park-type space for tech, and we had started in New York with Silicon Alley. 

But Bloomberg used government to create the infrastructure for tech investment. And that's a pattern over time in New York: having political leaders who understand that part of government's role is to create the infrastructure for economic investment and obviously, also to deal with the social service challenges that low-income people need.

The biggest challenge to urban areas in the United States, to cities and to New York in general, in my view, is the public education system, is turning around public education so that it serves equally Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, all children of every colour and nationality, that everybody has access to that kind of education.

And just as a personal story, when I decided to work on Mayor Bloomberg's campaign, which was something that surprised me since he was running Republican at the time, I asked him why he wanted to be mayor of New York, and he said, "Because I believe every child deserves a quality education, and we can do better. We need to fix it." And he did fix a lot of it. It's not where it should be yet, but certainly, real improvements were made. And that is, in my view, the driver of whether or not somebody has the opportunity to really change their economic condition, and we have that in New York. We have public schools that work; more of them should work. And we have a city university system that's affordable, relatively speaking, which nobody else has in the United States.

Greg Clark

I just want to ask you to talk a little bit about the relationship between New York and America. It's a funny question, but on the one hand, New York obviously plays all sorts of roles that are beneficial for America. On the other hand, as far as I'm aware, America doesn't seem to love New York. Can you say a little bit about that?

Ester Fuchs

So America has one of those love-hate relationships with New York. And I mean, during crises, Americans rally around New York. During 9/11, it was extraordinary how people just came here to volunteer to help. During Hurricane Sandy, people came from all across the country to help. During the initial stages of the coronavirus, when we were the epicentre of the virus, first responders and nurses and nurse practitioners and doctors were coming in to volunteer into the New York City hospital system. It's quite amazing.

And so there is this thing about New York where Americans know that we need New York in the United States. Now, do they all want to live here and have this kind of a lifestyle that comes from living in a city? No. So Americans, I think, are not antagonistic toward New York.

I mean, I think one of the things that people get wrong about New York-- often people say, like, New Yorkers are rude. But when you come to New York, and you'll ask tourists - when we get them back again, hopefully - or anybody, they'll tell you, "No, they'll stop in the middle of their rushed day in a subway to give you directions." People are not rude; people are very generous, by and large, here.

And then people see what they might have in common with people who are often caricatured in the pop culture and most importantly, in the politics. So New York has been a very important symbol in American politics for the Left and the Right, and I think that's partly what contributes to this sort of schizophrenia about how Americans feel about New York.

So we're experiencing it right now, during this presidential election, where the current president [at the time of the interview], Donald Trump, is using New York as a symbol of everything that is wrong with America; that crime is rampant on the streets, and because we have a Democratic mayor, that is why we live in some hellscape right now. And this is what the Republicans are using to scare people into voting Republican.

This is not the first time that happened. The Law and Order campaign during the Reagan period was very much targeted toward cities in general, but New York was always featured large. Then you have Jimmy Carter coming to the South Bronx, when it was a burnt-out shell, and saying, "We're going to rebuild," which he never came back and did much of anything, frankly.

But the truth is that the imagery and the vision and the mythology of New York is used politically, and the public often doesn't know what to believe. I mean, I'm in New York right now. It is not a hellscape. Crime is not rampant. We have problems that are related to coronavirus. There is an increase in shootings and murders. That's another conversation of why that might be happening. And we're in an economic crisis right now, like the rest of the country, as a consequence of coronavirus. And we have a very robust Black Lives Matter movement which is demonstrating around social justice and racial justice, which I think we need, and we need to do. So this is the reality.

Can you twist this reality, create visions and images of New York? Hollywood loved New York in the '70s. They loved the graffiti on the trains. I mean, if you saw Death Wish-- I always tell my students to watch that movie. Yeah. If you want to create the picture of some 21st century apocalyptic view of what city life must be like, that movie does a great job of it.

So at the same time, even the things around the finance then and the masters of the universe, some people may think that those are great images; other people find it despicable. So New York is the place that some people love to hate. You know, it's a great punching bag; it's a big, big target. And at the same time, New York is also the place that many of us want to love.

Greg Clark

Brilliant, Ester.

Caitlin Morrissey

So I'll come now to two final questions. And the first is, in your mind, what does the future hold for New York and how will its DNA shape its future? 

Ester Fuchs

OK, so we're in a very, very difficult time right now in the short term because of these three crises that are plaguing the United States but can be especially seen in New York: the coronavirus, the economic crisis, the crisis around racial justice. There is going to be tremendous disruption in the short term. Economic displacement. Our city government is reeling from a loss of tax revenue.

And what we also know is that the coronavirus hasn't affected all New Yorkers in the same way and that it's exacerbated existing inequities in health and in the economy and in education. And low-income Black and Hispanic communities have been disproportionately impacted by all of this. And so we are experiencing some social unrest, as I said, much of which is justified. And we're projecting a loss of over half a million jobs. So in the short term, this is going to be very difficult.

What I think about the long term is, New York is very resilient. As the city comes back to life, I expect that many people will find it too difficult to live here or simply not worth the effort. The economic transitions will be wrenching, as I said, and as with past crises, the poor and immigrants will stay. But what I also think will happen is that the real estate market will finally experience a long-overdue correction. Rents will fall and space will open up so that strivers and artists, entrepreneurs, dreamers, new immigrants and young families will find a place for themselves in every city, in New York's amazing neighbourhoods.

And I think New Yorkers will elect a new mayor who's capable of making difficult political decisions with a deep understanding of how to manage in the public interest. And in the end, there's really no alternative for New York than to once again reinvent itself. And those who choose to stay will know why they are here and what they have to do. And those who come to pursue the New York City dream like generations before them, they'll find it.

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