Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


The Uncertain Future of Midtown

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

New York City has entered its final phase of reopening from the coronavirus lockdown. A sobering walk around one block in Midtown, however, exposes just how far off a true comeback remains.

Street vendors have vanished. So have many people who fed, poured drinks for and drove workers to and from the neighborhood. Office buildings remain mostly empty, and companies are rethinking how much space they need.

For a century, Midtown has been the power center of New York City. But, emptied of the workers and crowds, the neighborhood’s identity is under siege. And what the Midtown of the future, and other business districts around the country, will be is far from certain.

[Once bustling, Midtown has become a ghost town amid the pandemic’s economic devastation.]

What does a block near Rockefeller Center look like in this diminished state? On a recent Friday, there was only one hot dog vendor, Ahmed Ahmed, on the sidewalk. He said he now sells only about 10 hot dogs a day, instead of the usual 400.

In the nearby Time & Life Building, recently renovated to fit some 8,000 workers, only about 500 show up on any given day.

Corporations that had rented out apartments at the Executive Plaza, which opened in 1986 at Seventh Avenue and West 51st Street in what had been the Taft Hotel, are not renewing their leases. Building officials are trying to persuade apartment owners to cut rents and woo younger people to the area.


The crisis in Midtown fits within a broader upending of life in New York City. Companies across the city are reconsidering whether to continue paying rent for space in office buildings. Many people in their 20s and 30s have left the city after losing their jobs, having been put on furlough or having had their pay cut.

Rich neighborhoods in particular have emptied out.

Public places like parks and plazas are racing to adopt new rules and designs to keep New Yorkers safe.

[Businesses that endured for decades in New York are now closed for good.]

Where that will leave New York in one year, or five years, is uncertain. Midtown may never be the same place again.

Some interpret the changes less ominously, noting that the city has emerged from many crises and has always been evolving.

“New York survived the late ’70s, and everybody thought the city was over — rampant crime, near bankruptcy,” said Robert A.M. Stern, the modern traditionalist architect whose firm has executed many prominent projects in Manhattan and around the globe. “It survives the market crashes of ’87 and ’89, it survives the dot-com crash of 2000 or so. It survived 2008. So it will survive.”

Lisa M. Collins writes:

It was the fig trees that tipped him off: Something was very unusual at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was May in the early 2000s, and Chris Roddick, the head arborist, was making his rounds when he noticed a big mistake.

Months ago, a gardener had forgotten to wrap the fig trees in burlap, which protects them over the winter. Mr. Roddick expected them to be damaged, perhaps even destroyed. But they were fine. Actually, they looked great.

That year the garden reaped a phenomenal bounty of ripe figs.

“Before, we were just trying to keep the plants alive,” Mr. Roddick said. Suddenly, “it was like, OK, we can grow figs.”

This was a sign of things to come.

New species are thriving in the metropolitan area, while those associated with New England are slowly vanishing. This is because of rising temperatures, which are largely the result of human activity, including emissions from fossil fuels, according to the National Climate Assessment.

New York City, after years of being considered a humid continental climate, now sits within the humid subtropical climate zone. The classification requires that summers average above 72 degrees Fahrenheit — which New York’s have since 1927 — and for winter months to stay above 27 degrees on average. The city has met that requirement for the last five years.

This summer is on pace to register as one of the hottest on record.

There are plenty of visual clues that show how subtropical New York City has become. Read about a few of them here.

It’s Monday — here comes the sun.

Dear Diary:

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s, my wife and I decided to stroll north on Fifth Avenue.

We were somewhere in the 50s when we noticed a brass quartet setting up in front of a bank.

We decided to listen to them play for a few minutes, and we were rewarded with a stirring rendition of Jean-Joseph Mouret’s brass fanfare “Rondeau,” the “Masterpiece Theater” theme.

A crowd gathered, and we all enjoyed the performance. When it ended, everyone applauded, and Lynda and I prepared to continue on uptown.

As we turned north, there in the crowd was Alistair Cooke.

He was smiling.

— Scott Shand

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