In late October, the Roosevelt Hotel will be a memory. One of the symbolic places of New York, where in the 1930s Guy Lombardo's orchestra performed every evening in the sumptuous ballroom, closes due to the pandemic. The property, Pakistan International Airlines, says it can no longer afford the costs of the building; eighteen floors in neo-Renaissance style inaugurated in 1924 in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. It is not known what will happen to the old hotel. The area, an entire block between Madison and Vanderbilt, is tempting to many. Possible that the building is demolished and replaced by something much higher.
Closed hotels and bars, garbage piled on the street: the city stands still - Capitalism proceeds in shock, in cycles of destruction and reconstruction, and it couldn't be clearer in New York today. The city, severely affected by the pandemic (which killed almost 24,000 here, 33,000 in the state), is slowly re-emerging from the darkest days and the destruction caused by the health emergency is palpable everywhere. Many businesses, especially bars and restaurants, have closed. Those who survive do so in a narrow gauge. Finding a coffee on the Upper East Side or in Midtown, after four in the afternoon, is a challenge. Most of the hotels are closed or used to house the approximately 13,000 homeless people who have returned en masse to populate the streets. The few hotels that are open turn off their lights early in the evening and have drastically reduced services. At the Holiday Inn in Chelsea, due to a shortage of staff, the rooms are redone every five days. The hospitality industry, which here had one of its outposts in the world, is in short collapsing. The city is closed to most international arrivals and quarantine is mandatory even if you enter from 35 American states, those most affected by the virus.
This means that, basically, hardly anyone arrives in New York anymore. The huge machine of services for tourists, art, culture, leisure, has lost 44 percent of jobs. Closed theaters, cinemas, concert halls. The damage to the city's coffers, in terms of reduced tax revenues, is enormous. Cuts in schools, parks, transport will be inevitable. The first signs are already there. Garbage piles up on the streets, more than once, and attracts swarms of mice - again, more than once. The flower beds, which in autumn exhibited colorful compositions of heather and white and purple cabbage flowers, languish among a few tufts of dying grass. Gone, due to the absence of customers, many yellow taxis. Gone the music on the street. The subway closes from one to five in the morning to sanitize the carriages. But that doesn't matter much anymore. There are few people around. And whoever is there has little desire to go out in the evening.
Zadie Smith: “The city by its very nature thrives on culture, theaters, relationships. It's all over ”-“ It's painful to see the city so emptied ”, Zadie Smith tells ilfatto.it. The English writer teaches at New York University and during the lockdown she moved, like other New Yorkers, upstate, to the countryside. Then she left for London. “All my friends are traumatized - he says -. For New York this was a huge blow. New York, by its nature, thrives on relationships, social life, culture and theaters. It's all over". Smith also wrote a book, This strange and irrepressible season (SUR publishes it in Italy), in which he tells how his hectic New York time suddenly imploded when the pandemic arrived. "The virus made us look in the mirror," he says. She believes that eventually something positive will come out: “I hope it doesn't go back to the past. The health emergency has revealed all the distortions of capitalism ". In the meantime, however, what you feel above all, walking around the streets of New York, is the change of time. It is as if from the most syncopated bebop we had passed to an adage that goes on forever. The city that never stops has suddenly stopped and is slow to start again.
Remote commuters, students at home - The change of time is also a matter of emptiness. Absences. The rhythm of the city is absent but the people of the city are also absent. Those who could have gone to more benign places: the rich, usually, to Long Island and to country houses. Many students never returned. Those who have families in other parts of the States, thanks to work from home, continue to stay away. As the city empties, the surroundings are repopulated. The centers of New Jersey, just beyond the Hudson, are experiencing an unexpected revival. In February 68,000 commuters entered Manhattan by train from Jersey City and Hoboken each day. In August, it became 8300. "There is no longer any reason to come to Manhattan every day," Jake, a boy from Tel Aviv for two and a half years in America, explains to me. He is hired at Morgan Stanley and the company has decided to have many employees work from home. “When I arrived, I took a house in Jersey City because it was cheaper and the apartments were bigger. I thought that I would go back to Jersey in the evening, to sleep, and that I would spend my day in the city ". Now it's the other way around. Jake sees Manhattan across the river and hardly ever goes back.
On this side of the river, meanwhile, many are not doing very well. Extensive layoffs and reduced working hours have exacerbated poverty and hardship. One in four New Yorkers can't buy food, and Mayor De Blasio ordered 1.5 million meals a day to be distributed in May. TV and newspapers tell how the rich have become even richer in the months of the pandemic. In particular, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, the 643 richest American billionaires have gone from having 2.95 trillion on March 18 to 3.8 trillion on September 15. American society has always changed at an overwhelming speed and perhaps the shock of these months will produce more innovation, transformation and new prosperity. For the moment this is not the case. Unemployment in the city quadrupled in 2020.
Who can leave - The fact is that, perhaps, Covid has done nothing but accelerate processes that have already been in action for some time. For the three years leading up to 2020, the city's population continued to decline. Less than once are those willing to shell out stratospheric rents for often tiny apartments and live in a city that, like all big cities, is a tiring and difficult exercise in survival. In short, the dream had already faded and the health emergency only revealed it. The thing is even clearer as you stroll through the streets of Manhattan in the evening, dark for miles and miles: from the residential neighborhoods of the East and West Side down the theater area to the business district in Chelsea to the Meat Packing District in Soho. The lights come back on, but partially, in the Village, with clubs and restaurants that have placed tables outside and are struggling to survive. But they are just flashes of memory. Not even September 11 had touched New York so deeply. The skyscrapers, in the evening, go out earlier. The Empire State Building remains to shine longer, with a white and intermittent light. Then he goes out too.