- Zadie Smith
New York City is always changing — but every once in awhile, there is a sea change. At these pivotal moments, New York’s strength has always been its resiliency and its ability to adapt. After 9/11, we remade downtown Manhattan into a live/work community that prioritized livability and did not depend completely on the 9-to-5 workweek. After Sandy, we rethought our shoreline.
Now we face perhaps our greatest test: COVID-19. The effect of the virus on the way our city works — or doesn’t — is apparent. For instance, suddenly places like Midtown that generated so much economic activity for New York seem built for another era. But we can also see much more clearly now how the design of our city was already flawed — and often how those flaws perpetuated inequality.
New York may be a group of communities, but it is also one city, and we should all be in this recovery together. Let’s start acting like it. To see ourselves as walled-off enclaves is an old, and frankly biased, way of thinking. Housing — including affordable housing — can be and should be put anywhere it can go, as long as it benefits those who need it. And the infrastructure and space for jobs that support the city must also go where it is smartest to build — not just easiest.
To deal with our housing crisis in New York, I believe the city must rapidly build new affordable housing while protecting existing apartments anywhere and everywhere we can. That means bold, aggressive measures that are even more necessary now as we simultaneously fight a pandemic and an economic crisis.
Much of our city is zoned for another era, when all New Yorkers lived in one area and worked in another. When COVID-19 hit, it economically decimated neighborhoods dominated by tall office towers, where retailers, restaurants, and other businesses relied almost entirely on 9-to-5 workers. The city also relies too heavily on office workers and the service economy overall, when it could and should be expanding employment options in areas like life sciences, urban agriculture, and manufacturing.
Even before the pandemic, we knew that tens-of-billions of dollars was needed to make basic improvements to NYCHA homes and complexes throughout the city. Now the virus has exposed even more issues that need immediate attention. I believe we need an all-in approach to raise enough funds and make the most use of them in order to save NYCHA tenants from dilapidated buildings and deteriorating apartments.