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The facts are clear: NYC is not dead

Credit: Getty Images/Nico De Pasquale Photography

James Altucher caused quite the stir recently by declaring, unequivocally, that New York City is dead forever.

Despite pushback, the author and former hedge-fund manager defended his op-ed, saying that he argues using facts while others use emotion.

As an analyst, I, too, prefer to study situations using facts instead of emotion. After much research on the subject, I believe declaring the city "dead forever" is overly alarmist and a woefully ill-conceived prognosis.

The city is facing challenges but is also fully capable of overcoming them.

Altucher begins his argument by saying Manhattan home prices are down 50%. A quick check of his source shows that it was actually the number of sales that are down 50%. Prices were down 17.7%. Also, it’s worth pointing out Brooklyn home sale numbers were up 39% year-over-year in August.

The cause of the Manhattan drop, he claims, are people leaving NYC for places like Miami, Austin and Salt Lake City. But these cities are dealing with their own problems. In Salt Lake City, only 23% have returned to their downtown offices and earlier this year Miami was labeled the most vulnerable coastal city worldwide due to the effects of climate change. Are they not dead forever, too?

He throws more gasoline on the fire by pointing out that cultural institutions like Broadway and museums are all closed. But NYC has no real rival when it comes to American theater, and its museum collection is among the best in the world (and already reopening). Furthermore, cultural institutions have endured in society despite wars, pandemics, and years of disruption from new technologies. Pre-pandemic, both museums and Broadway were setting sales records, and will return to prominence post-pandemic.

Although New York City has faced adversity and recovered before, Altucher uses the age-old sentiment that "This time it’s different," citing increased internet bandwidth to drive the nail in the coffin.

He argues that with faster internet, work will go remote, workers will move away, and the city will die as a result.

Research suggests fully remote work offers short-term productivity boosts, but also has many long-term problems. In-fact after an initial productivity boost, which some argue was more so fear-driven, recent data suggests productivity is actually down from pre-pandemic levels.

Also, employees hoping for small-town life with a big city salary shouldn’t get too excited. Facebook already set the precedent that remote workers will see salary cuts to account for changes in their cost of living. A hybrid work model will likely emerge post pandemic, but the office is hardly dead.

Yes, fewer are at their Midtown offices now, but this is a symptom of the pandemic, hardly a permanent state that will subdue NYC forever.

Urbanization has been driving people to cities for more than 200 years already. They’re preferred by younger generations, and as humanity combats climate change they have proven more eco-friendly. More philosophically, human beings are in our very nature social creatures. No temporary stint of social distancing will change that.

Altucher ends by describing a day out on the city: going to his favorite restaurants, playing chess in the park, catching a Broadway performance. He says days like this will happen "no more."

What I say instead is: not now, but soon.

D.J. Condon, who lives in Brooklyn, is a data analyst working for a Manhattan tech firm.

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