September 2, 2020

New York City

“New York City postponed students’ return to classrooms by more than a week to keep working on coronavirus safety precautions, announcing the delay Tuesday after teachers said they might OK a strike over the city’s drive to open schools… instead of starting a mix of in-person and remote learning on Sept. 10, the city’s more than 1 million public school students will start remote-only classes Sept. 16. In-school instruction will begin Sept. 21.” AP News

The New York Times reports that “New Yorkers are fleeing to the suburbs… Since the pandemic began, the suburbs around New York City, from New Jersey to Westchester County to Connecticut to Long Island, have been experiencing enormous demand for homes of all prices… At the same time, the number of properties sold in Manhattan plummeted 56 percent… It is an exodus that analysts say is reminiscent of the one that fueled the suburbanization of America in the second half of the 20th century.” New York Times

Both sides are critical of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lack of preparation for opening schools:

De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza “have failed to write coherent reopening protocols; failed to incorporate school principals in strategic planning, thereby transforming potential allies into hostile outsiders with no stake in success; failed to develop useful ­remote-instruction plans should that once again become necessary; and failed to engage parents in the process, likely converting an army of potential supporters into confused antagonists.”
Bob McManus, New York Post

“In their efforts to assure the city that schools will be safe, de Blasio and Carranza promised they would be deep cleaned every day. But there are no plans to beef up custodial staff. Custodians will find themselves under enormous strain as they are expected to do far more work, with much higher stakes, and it’s not clear they will have the proper resources and supplies… De Blasio and Carranza have made other safety promises that manage to be both improbable and underwhelming

“‘All students and staff will be teaching in safe spaces with proper ventilation,’ Chancellor Carranza said at a press conference… To make good on Carranza’s promise, the city dispatched a little more than a hundred Department of Education inspection teams, which were given one week to review 1,700 city schools… They’ve now been given more time. But will it be enough? ‘Roughly 650 of the 1,500 buildings surveyed in 2019 by city inspectors had at least one deficiency in their exhaust fans,’ reported the New York Daily News… There is also the promise of a full-time nurse in every school building. This is miles away from reality in the cash-strapped school system, where just last fall it was reported that ‘more than 700 of New York City’s schools go a partial or full day without a nurse on site.’”
Jason Farbman, Jacobin Magazine

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

Jia Lee, a special education teacher at the Earth School and a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader, states that “When we talk about safely reopening schools, it’s irresponsible and unconscionable to take a citywide average. We live in a huge city, with 1.2 million students — Brooklyn itself is almost the size of Chicago. And the reality is that transmission rates in some working-class neighborhoods are still very high. In Sunset Park in Brooklyn, for example, the transmission rate was recently as high as 7 percent, and you have a similar dynamic in some neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens…

“And this isn’t just an issue for those neighborhoods. We have a lot of citywide schools in New York, which means that you’re going to have a whole lot more students from neighborhoods with higher COVID rates traveling on the subway all across the city, potentially bringing the virus into other neighborhoods. So at this moment, a safe reopening in our city means starting remotely only.”
Eric Blanc, Jacobin Magazine

Regarding the city as a whole, “Leadership is desperately needed if [the] spiral is going to be reversed. But this is something that is, frankly, in short supply. The relationship between New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and de Blasio is dysfunctional at best… Cooperation with each other and outside stakeholder residents (other than the wealthiest taxpayers, whom Cuomo is begging to return to New York City) is often nonexistent…

“The situation of the city’s restaurants, 40 percent of which did not pay one cent of rent last month, is instructive. Indoor dining is now permitted in nearby Westchester and Long Island, but not in New York City, despite the city’s less than 1 percent coronavirus positivity rate…

“Instead of offering help, Cuomo is threatening to revoke permission for city restaurants to offer outdoor dining, one of their few financial lifelines, to counter a possible second wave of the virus. Meanwhile, de Blasio is now suggesting indoor dining will not resume in any capacity until next year. An estimated 50 percent of workers in the sector remain unemployed, and the New York City Hospitality Alliance is threatening to sue.”
Helaine Olen, Washington Post

“New York never got over its beggar’s mentality from the ’70s; even at peak affluence, it was still tossing huge, needless subsidies to corporations and developers in exchange for fanciful promises of job creation. The Hudson Yards development, for instance, cost New York $6 billion in taxpayer subsidies. Yet more than 90 percent of the office workers there were simply relocated from offices in Midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks away…

“That’s what the real battle for New York is going to be about. It will mean once again changing the city’s power relationships: reining in the landlords, ending the giveaways to developers and companies that are dying to come here already, and pouring money back into the city’s tattered public services, to help working people survive and prosper.”
Kevin Baker, The Atlantic

“The consulting and finance bros of the Village, Murray Hill, and the Lower East Side may be stuck at their family home in North Jersey or Connecticut (if they’re younger), or lodged in some Instagrammable enclave (if they’re older). But the Rockaways, on the southern edge of Queens, 16 train stops from the edge of Manhattan, have been whizzing on any given weekend with a welcoming middle-class medley of energy…

“The large playgrounds at the Marcy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, are still home to an interplay of children’s laughter and 20-somethings’ music. In Liberty Park, Queens—where my barber, at last, can give me a haircut—the old blue-collar white guys still nod to passersby as they mow their front yard. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, I saw how happy hour has moved outdoors, and I eavesdropped on picnic rendezvous between young couples and circles of friends. In Central Harlem, ’80s and ’90s R&B still thumps from the late afternoon to the late evening, vibrating in your chest…

New York isn’t dead—it’s as vital as ever, just changing, for a while or forever, like always. Perpetual shift is the only rhythm this city knows.”
Talmon Joseph Smith, The Atlantic

From the Right

“De Blasio’s plan has also not solved the riddle of who will be doing remote teaching while most teachers are occupied in the classroom—or how students reliant on school buses will get to school. This centrally developed plan, imposed on hundreds of thousands of parents and tens of thousands of teachers, is the opposite of what’s needed to build trust and compliance. De Blasio has been misguided from the beginning because he fundamentally distrusts local decision-making and engagement, seeing variety as synonymous with inequality…

“Teachers and parents in the highly selective high schools have voiced strong opposition to in-person instruction. These students, high-achieving and highly motivated, could likely learn successfully from home without the lengthy commutes that many of them face to get to school…  Had the mayor deferred to [these] parents’ and teachers’ wishes and permitted complete remote instruction, he could have turned three large school buildings over to in-person teaching of thousands of lower-income students, or those with special needs. These are the very students for whose interests he claims to be fighting.”
Ray Domanico, City Journal

“Mayor Bill de Blasio just folded like a cheap beach chair — twice in two days, flinching first on his vow to lay off 22,000 city workers, then on his promise to open schools on Sept. 10… The shift left parents who’d planned for their kids to begin at least hybrid learning next week scrambling. It also left everyone wondering why, with months of relatively few COVID infections, the mayor couldn’t have worked out a deal earlier — if he was going to cave in anyway in the end…

“De Blasio’s schools flip follows by a day his retreat on sending pink slips to 22,000 workers. He’ll now give lawmakers more time to let him borrow billions… Borrowing should be a last resort. As the Citizens Budget Commission’s Maria Doulis suggests, the city could dodge new debt or layoffs by just getting its workers to kick in a few bucks a month for health-care costs. But this mayor is constitutionally unable to stand up to the municipal unions to protect the larger public.”
Editorial Board, New York Post

“Our biggest cities have exceeded the viable scale of their operation as we enter an era of resource and capital scarcities that will inescapably shrink economies. Their infrastructure is too complex and costly to maintain. The skyscrapers and megastructures that were built to accommodate a particular way of organizing work have very suddenly gone obsolete. The cities face default on their ruinous debt obligations and pension promises…

“By May 2020, The New York Times reported that 420,000 residents had fled America’s largest city… The wealthiest neighborhoods were the biggest losers—and they were the city’s leading taxpayers. Of course, the initial impetus for flight was fear of catching Covid-19 in an environment densely packed with people. But as corporate offices shuttered, many of these refugees performed their work duties at home over the Internet, and it dawned on the corporations that perhaps it was a waste to lease expensive, high-status headquarters in Manhattan.”
James Howard Kunstler, The American Conservative

New York City is not dead, but it is on life support… Three long-term challenges stand out: the city’s tax base is worryingly fragile, its workforce is highly remote-able and its leadership is uniquely weak… just 100,000 families pay half of New York City’s income tax revenue. These jobs and families were already leaving New York City going into this year, and both desperation and critical mass in the face of COVID-19 drove their lives and work to go virtual…

“Responding with higher taxes or worse service does more harm to lower-income New Yorkers while doing little to boost New York’s competitiveness. Trimming fringe benefits, renegotiating labor agreements or introducing cost-saving innovations in government would yield greater gains while leaving core services intact, but they are politically dead on arrival. This is why New Yorkers today instead endure cuts to parks and trash pickup — the things that make life livable in Gotham — while leaving intact, say, $1.5 billion in teacher backpay for work done up to a decade ago in the last recession.”
Michael Hendrix, New York Daily News

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