Cheap rents and a vibrant culture

I’m a native New Yorker. My wife isn’t, but lived all her young adulthood there and is as committed to the idea of New York as any convert. She and I were both in theater there, often at the same theaters but at different times, so we didn’t meet until the 90s, when I moved to Los Angeles.

Often we sigh and say how much we miss New York… and then correct ourselves—we miss New York in the 70s and 80s, not New York now, debilitated as it is from money poisoning. Making a living is for losers—they want to make a killing. Commercial rent is jacked up not by 10% but by 100%, 200%, more, there is no top. And if space remains empty, the political and tax system support that. Once vibrant streets in the West Village are ghost towns, not because of Covid—this is from way before Covid—but because of rents. I suspect, but don’t know, that this is at least partly because landlord families are losing ground to hedge-fund and Wall St landlords who feel zero stake in the life of the city and the culture around them, and only respond, AI-like, to simple numerical metrics.

We may be seeing a return to cheap rents as Covid-19 hollows out cities and telework keeps people at their desk even in a remote location. Soon, some say and I hope but don’t dare believe, cities like New York can be places where people interested in collaborating on projects that don’t make all that much money can congregate and thrive.

These projects will seep into the culture and create a new, fresh American culture, which will replace the one we have now, decadent and rotting into the ground, and whose fate is to be compost for what comes later.

Oh, that’s fancy!

But New York is a disaster now. Its culture was embodied in the people who lived there and who left because of rents, maintained at an artificially high level by oligarchs parking money and by a Wall St mentality, driven by numerical metrics and divorced from any kind of human experience.

Even, though, at its most optimistic—the city empties out a little, rents ease, oligarchs complain about reducing value and decamp to seasteads, and artists can move back to the city—I wonder if it will, over the next few generations, become a fountainhead for American culture anything like it used to be.

In the 60s there was already a culture shaping across the country, so when it focused and concentrated in New York, it was a vibrant, transformational event. Post-war prosperity combined with a still-extant (soon to die) cultural egalitarianism that the whole world admired.

That’s gone now.

I can’t go on. I’m too vexed and upset… I’ll never be able to go home to NYC, and if I could (if rents dropped a LOT), it’s a cultural nothing.

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