The Uncertain Future of Midtown
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.
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.”
And finally: Welcome to the subtropics
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.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 23, 2020
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
What’s the best material for a mask?
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
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.
Metropolitan Diary: Masterpiece
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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