We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, August 30, 2010

New York City During the Great Recession

How New York City is Doing 2 Years After the National Economy Died

It has been a year since I reported on the network of filthy subterranean dungeons that is supposed to be a subway system in New York City. It seemed at the time that the city's infrastructural organs could not possibly be any more rotten without Greek style riots breaking out.

Yet something is different now. There are large piles of uncollected garbage bags sitting throughout Manhattan for days at a time in 100 degree weather. Upper west side and upper east (supposedly some of the richest high population density zipcodes in the country) are literally covered with rotting trash. The natives seem oblivious and used to the ghastly spectacle. They make 6 figures to live in these parts yet appear rather jolly about navigating through rubbish mazes. The local authorities have abandoned them to their own devices. It is little wonder many tourists are horrified and baffled. Maybe a Chinese firm can organize affordable clean up brigades and pest extermination services in the future.

From the looks of it, the local ruling institution is Chase bank. Every other corner has a shining blue branch or one in the process of being opened. That seems to be the only thing opening as 1 out of 6 businesses in upper Manhattan are closed. There's barely a block without "prime retail space available" sign partially covering a vast unlit emptiness behind it. This isn't the outskirts of Las Vegas we're talking about here. Some businesses look like they were abandoned in a hurry. There's unusually high amounts of furniture amidst the trash bags.

Are people being forced out of their homes at a greater rate after the mass layoffs downtown? There's been reports that trash rail freight is greater this year than the last. A Bloomberg analyst tentatively suggested that as a metric of consumer recovery but the reality is that people are being economically displaced and just leave their belongings behind.

Lower west side has seen rapid construction of apartment buildings yet the prices on basic shelter have not fallen. Lots of hideous ancient 3 story buildings are simply blocking space and further construction. Speaking of hideous, everybody seems intensely proud of a dusty Empire State "skyscraper" built during the previous depression. From looking at the pace of overall tall architecture construction, political corruption, red tape, and incompetence, they'll continue being proud of it into the 2040s. That and possibly the ridiculously short strip of second avenue subway that has been planned for decades and only recently began being built. One day New Yorkers hope to have every subway platform tell when the next train will arrive. This advanced technological innovation was smuggled from Asia or Germany by well trained CIA operatives (we assume since local officials got creativity of a dead subway rat). Next stop, traffic lights that show how many seconds one has left to cross. Should be done by 2030s or so.

New Yorkers somehow maintain their spirits under the apathetic faces reminiscent of Soviet peasants on their way to more meaningless drudgery. They have some of the more advanced sardonic black humor in the country. Because they know they got it relatively good. It's worse beyond the city walls. 20 million homes stand foreclosed and empty through the country. The city is still receiving refugees seeking work from rural areas and medium sized dying cities elsewhere. Youthful suburbanites from the heartland are coming to this coastal center to escape tedium and be closer to Europe while serving beer to others. Brooklyn is being haphazardly colonized by them (as well as better off younger Western Europeans here to nibble on the corpse of the American economy, get a bigger bang for the Euro, and indulge in boisterous hedonism of the locals).

The hedonism has a strong tinge of desperation smeared all over it. The ruling regime seems to encourage bar culture as a form of release with their emphasis on service labor. They also legalized hard liquor advertising a few years back. There is a thriving underground economy in apartments and in nightlife organizing. There's even been proto-carnivals organized in Brooklyn in recent years. In 20 years this may very well become Rio of the north as grinding poverty, inequality, and stagnation only leave hardcore partying and interesting food as psychological comfort. Some alternative bars blatantly ape the styles of 1920s New York and Berlin as if sensing that the ugly past and present are now one.

The perpetual budgetary crisis that has affected California for decades now has spread to the rest of the country. New Yorkers now also go for months without a budget. Tax collection from Wall Street has fallen 20% since the great looting and money transfers abroad in 2008. This can only mean that local authorities will not have the funds to fix infrastructure quickly enough as it deteriorates. Rolling blackouts ahead? At least this city is relatively safe from natural disasters.

The natives tell stories about the decades long austerity regime of 1970s-80s (that turned parts of the city into a hybrid of war-time Sarajevo and Detroit). Remarkably, to them things have actually improved. They talk of how the gangs on the subways terrorized them in the past. Well they are much safer now. Homicide rate has actually fallen last year throughout the country (a strange research worthy phenomenon that is very interesting considering the macroeconomic situation and traditional correlation of economic depression and crime).

The city government has been proactive with getting hordes of homeless off the streets. The previous mayor created a network of thousands of undercover police who are not fired at the same rates as other public employees. A major train hub in center Manhattan actually has soldiers in full uniform patrolling alongside the police. Americans appear very comfortable with such daily military patrols. Are humvees on 5th avenue next?

It's not easy for any developing nation but if any new ideas on radical urban renewal appear, they will start here, the Big Apple. New Yorkers are a proud bunch and can surely rise above their present condition if given the resources. That is, after the wars and current American regime are ended and all national energies are turned inward.

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