I received a different kind of email the other day from a reader who asked some questions that may be on the minds of others these days. She wrote:
So I don’t know if you care to comment on this aspect (or even if it fits within the range of things you care to discuss on your blog), but I’d be curious / interested in knowing your take, as a New Yorker, on the future of New York (as discussed in recent viral essays here and here), and whether the current situation has brought your family to consider moving, or has that not been a thought?
Coming from Montreal, which has nothing to do with NY, we are seeing this “city vs. countryside” debate pop up as well. Just curious to hear your thoughts – on the future of NY, on your own thoughts about staying or moving, about how working from home (as a working from home expert) is here to stay or not – if ever you were so inclined to share them.
Aw, the ol’ “should I move or not?” question that I know for sure a lot of New Yorkers are asking themselves, and that I bet a lot of people around the country (and elsewhere!) are asking as well. If you’ve spent any time in NYC this summer, you have no doubt seen tons of moving vans clogging the city streets. If you’re a resident, there’s a good chance you know at least a few people who have already made the move out of the city since the pandemic began – to suburbs, to other states – and countless others entertaining the debate about whether or not to follow suit. My own family is among the latter. The question to leave New York and raise our kids somewhere else isn’t a new one for us, but it’s one we thought we’d answered when we bought our place three years ago and decided to put down even deeper roots. And now, like so many others, here we are wondering whether this is really the best place to raise our kids given the current situation.
First, I should say that I don’t think NYC is going anywhere. New York City is the best city in the world and in a decade that is still going to be the case. I hope in a decade it will be even better than it’s ever been. But the truth is, it’s going to get worse before that happens. We see it already – empty store fronts up and down the main thoroughfare in our neighborhood, going-out-of-business announcements from a few others, the aforementioned moving vans all over the place, an uptick in crime, and a huge spike in unemployment and food insecurity. (Thankfully, a moratorium on evictions has delayed a homelessness crisis of epic proportions, but what happens when that’s lifted? And what happens to landlords who count on rental income to pay their bills?) There’s even garbage overflowing out of every public garbage can every weekend because severe budget cuts mean less garbage collection. And don’t even get me started on the school situation. It’s bad and likely getting worse because of huge budget cuts and the high probability that people who can afford to do so will move their kids (and financial contributions and tax revenue) to private schools or out to the suburbs (it’s already started). Honestly, under these circumstances, who wouldn’t consider leaving, given the choice? And, yet, I/we don’t have a clear answer for ourselves.
It’s a complicated decision and one I imagine people everywhere are grappling with: Do you uproot the life you’ve cultivated for yourself and your family in one place and start over somewhere else, hoping the benefits will outweigh what you give up? And, if so, where do you move? How can you be sure that the challenges you’re moving to avoid won’t happen where you end up, especially since the pandemic is reaching into every community and the economic downfall will likely leave few places unaffected? What if you regret the move? What if your kids hate you for moving? What if they hate you more for staying? I really don’t know the right answer for ourselves, let alone anyone else. We do have two plans though. Plan A is we stay put, for now, and see what things look like by next summer when we expect (hope!) the immediate future of post-pandemic NYC will be much clearer. At that point we may decide to go with Plan B, which is to move. We have a location picked out that ticks a lot of boxes on the list of what we desire in a locale. We feel pretty good about Plan B, which is a relief. We think we could be pretty happy with Plan B. As happy as we’ve been here, where we are, in the greatest city in the world where we have close friends, a strong community, family not too far away? I don’t know.
One thing I do know is that we won’t do anything, we won’t make any kind of move, until after the election in November. Honestly, if Trump wins, we will seriously consider a third option, Plan C: get the fuck out of this country. And I’m serious about that. But I don’t want to turn this into a political rant and discuss all the ways I fear Trump’s authoritarian government will obliterate any shred of democracy we have enjoyed in the US and any chance we might have had to become the nation so many of us dream we have the potential to become, and how terrified I am of a country where Trump’s values and those of his followers become the guiding principles. So, let’s move on.
Yes, things are going to get worse for New York City before they get better. Whether the downturn lasts a year or two and then NYC comes roaring back, or whether it lasts through the whole next decade, I don’t know. A year or two I could handle, but a whole decade would eat most of the rest of my kids’ childhood, and I don’t want that.
When things do come back, I feel confident it will be a renaissance for the ages. There’s a very literal energy in the rocks of Manhattan that will always create an attraction, will always pull people from elsewhere, and will always, always stir the creation of new things, new ideas, new plots and plans and discoveries. The rocks of Manhattan aren’t going anywhere, and neither is the energy they generate. New artists and makers and creators and thinkers will replace those who leave, either by choice or by lack of one. Am I here to stay forever? I just don’t know. We’ll see what the next year brings. New York, though, isn’t going anywhere.
You asked about working from home – whether I think that’s here to stay, and I think it probably is to some degree. People are learning what I’ve known for 15 years (the amount of time I’ve earned a living working from my living room): You can actually be more productive outside the distractions of a shared office space than inside. Maybe that’s not true for everyone, and maybe it’s not true 100% of the time. But I would not be surprised if we see an enormous increase in working from home, at least on a part-time basis, as a long-term, post-pandemic change in public behavior. The benefits are great, as less time commuting means: a better work/life balance; big savings on office space rentals; savings on business travel; less burden on our transportation infrastructure; and more opportunity for working parents to be engaged in their children’s schools (volunteering for an hour is a lot easier when your home office is a 10-minute walk away and you can use your lunch break!). There are drawbacks, too – most of which could be addressed with at least some face-to-face time among colleagues in a shared work environment on a part-time basis. But, yeah, working from home is here to stay, and I, personally, think that’s great.
And, yes, I’m sure that when the pandemic ends and the working-from-home stays, even more people will leave big urban environments that they were formerly tied to because of the location of their jobs, and with them will go their tax revenue and financial contribution to these cities’ economies. But choosing to live in a place like New York City isn’t always a rational decision anyway. There will be people who have the choice to leave – to go where the cost of living is much cheaper, where they can get a house with a yard, and where they can send their kids to schools that always have hand soap in the bathroom—-and a lot of those people will choose the much less rational option. And it goes back to those rocks in Manhattan and the pull they have to people who are attracted to that energy and want to be close to it.
Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling a bit, but hopefully I’ve addressed your questions and given others another lens to view their own circumstances through as they maybe consider/reconsider similar questions for themselves. Who else is reconsidering where they currently live because of the pandemic and what you assume will be its long-term effects? How are you thinking about this issue? Do you think you lean more rational or more emotional when you think about whether and where to move?