I lived in New York for six years until the summer of 2020. The time passed in a flash and I was seduced by its pace of life and the naked ambition of its inhabitants. Personal circumstances caused me to pack up and leave the city I loved in 36 hours, heading first to the UK and then to Italy. So when I recently returned to the Big Apple last week for the first time in two years, I wondered what I’d make of a city that I had put on a pedestal since leaving during the height of a pandemic.
Beyond the joy of being reunited with friends and a still-present flutter of excitement at seeing the Manhattan skyline slide into view, there was something else. New Yorkers, normally such proud defenders of their city, were complaining about it. Rubbish, including food waste, was strewn across streets (Eric Adams, the city’s mayor, has only recently pledged to bring the collection budget back to pre-pandemic levels); much media hype has been made about the city losing its battle against rats as a result. And already high rent prices were out of control as owners of F&B spots and apartment buildings look to recover lost revenue. New York’s median rental price, up more than 25 per cent on 2021, recently topped the $4,000 (€3,790) mark for the first time.
Maybe these are just temporary issues; people argue that the high prices will have to level out. Yet the idea that New York would undergo some sort of magical cultural revival as a result of the pandemic – one in which creatives could once again live there and flourish, instead of having to work two jobs – seems like a lofty dream. To say that Mayor Adams has plenty on his plate would be an understatement; more affordable housing and better price controls would be a good start.
Ed Stocker is Monocle’s Europe editor at large.