In march, the bloody bruising of the city’s lockdown boiled down to the bare necessities of absence: working, teaching and learning without leaving the house; raising without assistance or witness; communicating without warmth; living without serendipity.
Earlier this month a friend invited me for a rooftop picnic near the southern tip of Manhattan. When viewed from a high position, a spectacular sunset gave way to the sparkle and glitter of the island at night: the empty glass skyscrapers looking like see-through doll houses, car headlights and tail lights merged together, turning northbound roads into red ribbons and southbound roads into white ones. Each day it is Christmas, said my friend, who was on the illumination. The invocation of December and a sharp wind reminded me that our time socializing in relative comfort is coming to an end, this is the eve of the next long, dark winter in our city. I felt for a moment in the Soviet Union the same as I did when I was a child. Every September, after a summer away from Moscow, I heard endless talks about the beginning of a new, exciting school year, but all I could see were months of cold, darkness, and loneliness before me. Returning to the city was the opposite of restoring a life—life was instead reduced again to a bare existence. This September in New York, amid different if still incessant talking about the return to school, find myself filled with this old, familiar dread. It’s a bit worse than when I was a child, though, because I know this time that it didn’t have to be this way.
In march, the bruising of the city’s lockdown has boiled down to the bare necessities of going without: working, teaching and learning without leaving the house; raising without help or a witness; communicating without warmth; living without serendipity. But what would happen if after New Yorkers had made it through the grief and despair of Spring, we saw an urgent call for creative problem solving—for new, inventive thinking in the pandemic? What would we have resisted the settling for less in every area of our lives? Imagine what September may look like next year.
These post-secondary jobs are just some of the new jobs created during the pandemic and funded by a new wealth tax. The billionaires and hundred millionaires of New York supported the imposition of this tax along with the rest of the city’s population. It seemed the only logical political consequence of the spectacle of the rich getting richer – largely due to the actions of the Federal Reserve to support the stock market – despite the fact that millions of people lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. The new tax income funded the retrofitting of the city offices as schools. While the people who occupied these buildings are continuing to work remotely, as they have for the last six months. New municipal and state laws have enabled organizations to break their office leases — a godsend for the New York Legion of nonprofit organizations and —fundraising for which broke down when in-person events became impossible and the economy slowed down.
Following the success of the Federal Enhanced Working People Program ( enacted in October 2008 ), New York City has piloted several Universal Basic Income Projects. These efforts are concentrated in neighborhoods with lower average incomes because they have been the most affected by the pandemic and because they have the highest concentration of residents with jobs that can not be remote. The guaranteed income has allowed people at higher risk to remain home, while younger, healthier people work. In some cases it has also enabled multigenerational households to reconfigure their living arrangements to improve the security of vulnerable relatives. As in other locations where U.B.I. was. Recent experiments have been conducted; the positive effect on the mental health was almost immediately observed.
A further boon for the mental health of the city is exercise. Associated roads have been closed to traffic since April. New Yorkers have adopted bicycles and Kick-Heroes. The new Citi Bike tandems have been a hit – many families now use them to go to school. With all the two and three wheel commutes, and all the others working remotely, subway and buses, both of which have been free since March, when fares were suspended, are half empty even at rush hour, which makes them safer.
After the town’s new retrofitting construction crews — still funded by the wealth tax — finished turning office towers into mixed-use housing. The pandemic has forced a reckoning with the urban homelessness problem. For some, it was the realization that a large number of New Yorkers could not obey city-born early stay-at-home orders because they had no house to stay in. For others, it was understood that the current shelter system is not only inhuman and inadequate, but also dangerous because it contributes to the spread of infection. And once people experiencing homeless moved into some of the empty hotels it was politically impossible for city officials to drop them out of the streets and shelters. New York had to become a city where every resident has a permanent address.
And so on. I shared some of these fantasies-that could have been with my friend during our rooftop picnic. America can never do anything like that,” she told me. « They are too afraid of socialism. For example, you can’t even talk to them about taxation. ” My friend is, as me, a queer ethnic minority émigré from what was the Soviet Union. Supposedly, if anyone was afraid of socialism it is us. The truth was, except socialism as we knew it was a regime of indifference, incompetence, and disregard for human life. It was not socialism, but totalitarianism that brought us the lonely, anxious, atomized state we remember from childhood.