The world’s leading business media have written at length—in pieces both speculative and just-the-facts—about scenarios for global metropolitan areas post-Coronatide, and in our humble microdot of the media universe, Adam Smith, Esq. has also published “Whither the Office?” Part 1 and Part 2.
Largely, we’ve avoided—intentionally–publishing anything addressing the fortunes of New York City going forward, save for our somewhat cheeky “Letter from New York” back in June. But you, dear readers, have been asking us our views on this from our perch in Manhattan, and today we have a two-pronged hook for the article you claim to have been seeking.
Prefatorily, while this will focus on New York, our second favorite city, London, has inspired its own coverage (for example, “Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’” from the FT), and if you’re into comparative pain—we’re not—New York and London are in clover vis-à-vis Hong Kong.
The first pretext for publishing something on New York now is that a few days ago 163 prominent business executives released an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio criticizing his neglect of “public safety, cleanliness, and other quality-of-life issues [which have led to] widespread anxiety” among New Yorkers.” The power of the letter lies less in what it says in its few terse paragraphs and more in the stature of the signatories.
As usual, there’s a back story. Two months ago, Steven Swartz, head of Hearst Media, met with the Mayor at Gracie Mansion to present a briefing on a plan developed by 14 consulting firms (Accenture, Boston Consulting, McKinsey, and the Big Four among them) under the auspices of the Partnership for New York City. The plan, “A Call for Action and Collaboration”, outlines the impact of the pandemic on the City and the metropolitan region and “offers suggested actions to mitigate the damage of the pandemic and to forge a new value proposition for the city focused on opportunity, affordability and innovation.”
While those of you interested can and should read the plan for yourselves, it exudes maturity and perspective throughout. A few of the highlights for you:
- New York went from “a metropolis on top of the world” in 2019 to a “region in crisis.”
- The path forward depends on “less government spending” and more “leveraging of private finance and expertise.”
- A core strength of New York is its “wealth of tech savvy entrepreneurs and innovators entrepreneurs and innovators who should be called upon to reinvent education, health and transit and to update the technological capacity of government. This will require initial investment but quickly generate efficiencies, cost savings and greatly improved performance.
- And, as we predicted back in March (remember March?), this pandemic will bring out the best and the worst in people: “New York has emerged stronger from past crises. Its resilience has been a tribute to the fierce love and loyalty that the city commands from generations of immigrants and aspiring young Americans who have made it here. But will that attachment be enough to overcome pandemic-generated fears of factors that define urban life: density, diversity, proximity, social interaction and dependence on mass transit? Can New York remain a magnet for talent and economic activity in an age where working remotely has proven possible, and even preferable, to the corporate office? The answers will depend on how quickly and effectively we respond to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented. COVID-19 has shaken our confidence and tarnished our brand. By June 2020, the New York metropolitan region had experienced more infection, death and economic destruction than anywhere in the world. But it also brought out the best in New Yorkers.”
Although the Mayor reportedly “appeared receptive” during the meeting, nothing happened and there was apparently zero follow-up from City Hall. Hence the release of the letter.
Coincidentally, but almost simultaneously, additional context came from a very different sector, as reported in The New York Times:
a similar message of discontent was being delivered to the de Blasio administration by a coalition of neighborhood business groups and local chambers of commerce from around the city.
In a 90-minute video meeting on Thursday with top city officials, including three deputy mayors and the police commissioner, the small business groups urged action on open-air drug use, drug sales, illegal vending and homelessness, according to two people who attended the meeting.
The group had been organized with the help of the Real Estate Board of New York and included at least one labor leader, Gary LaBarbera of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
“I live in Harlem, and the trash is not being picked up,” said the president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Walker, who signed the letter and took part in the video meeting. “This is being felt all over the city, and we want to make sure it doesn’t get too far.”
At this point, your editor will invoke the prerogative of hitting the “pause” button: We have repeatedly written that our inviolable editorial policy is to be non-partisan and strictly apolitical, and we abide by that dictum here. We take no side for or against big business, small business, labor, or the Mayor of New York. Readers of Adam Smith, Esq.—as readers of all the coverage of this issue in monumentally more prominent media—are welcome to choose to dance with glee on our metropolitan grave, or to dig in and get to work with all the New Yorkers who love New York. That’s your business, not ours.
But back to our story: Cities have always been prime, or the only imaginable, office territory for thousands upon thousands of law firms worldwide—it’s not just New York and London, although they obviously draw the press coverage. All of you are facing uncharted territory in your cities. The question is, what are you doing about it?