Our Collapsing Cities

Let us take as our text for the day a passage from Sir Roger Scruton’s book How To Be a Conservative:

Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation is slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.

Now let us look at a few recent news items pertaining to how quickly the urban renaissance of the last generation has been reversed in the space of five months:

Apartment vacancies hit record high in Manhattan

The exodus of people from New York City now means that a record 13,117 apartments have been listed for rent in Manhattan, more than twice as many apartments as were available for rent at this time last year. . .  The number of new leases signed in Manhattan also dropped 23 percent.

News item:

The 2020 San Francisco exodus is real, and historic, report shows

A new report confirms what many have been talking about for weeks: There is a mass exodus out of San Francisco, and the numbers are staggering. Online real estate company Zillow released new statistics shining a stark light on the issue this week. Their “2020 Urban-Suburban Market Report” reveals that inventory has risen a whopping 96% year-on-year, as empty homes in the city flood the market like nowhere else in America.

News item:

In the heart of Manhattan, national chains including J.C. Penney, Kate Spade, Subway and Le Pain Quotidien have shuttered branches for good. Many other large brands, like Victoria’s Secret and the Gap, have kept their high-profile locations closed in Manhattan, while reopening in other states. . .

Even as the city has contained the virus and slowly reopens, there are ominous signs that some national brands are starting to abandon New York. The city is home to many flagship stores, chains and high-profile restaurants that tolerated astronomical rents and other costs because of New York’s global cachet and the reliable onslaught of tourists and commuters.

News item:

Amazon Considers Relocating Some Employees Out of Seattle

Question: How long until “some” becomes “all”?

News item:

. . . In Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Ore., many of those business owners consider themselves progressive, and in interviews they express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But they also worry that their businesses, already debilitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will struggle to survive if police departments and city governments cannot protect them.

Can businesses still rely on local governments, which are now rethinking the role of the police, to keep them safe? The issue is especially tense in Seattle, where the city government not only permitted the establishment of a police-free zone, but provided infrastructure like concrete barriers and portable toilets to sustain it. . .

“One window broken, then another, then another, then another. Garbage to clean off the sidewalk in front of the store every morning. Urine to wash out of our doorway alcove. Graffiti to remove,” Ms. McDougall wrote in an email. “Costs to board up and later we’ll have costs to repair.”

News item: It appears not all small business owners in Seattle have figured it out though.

Seattle brewer puts anti-police markings on cans

SEATTLE — When customers buy a beer from the small Seattle-based brewer, Mirage, they might see a message on the bottom of the can. In June, a beer called “Choosey Lover” had a stamp that read “ACAB means all cops.”

ACAB stands for “all cops are bastards.”

In a text message, Mirage owner and brewer Michael Dempster wrote, “I used the markings because I stand against institutional racism, of which modern policing is a militarized arm.”

Dempster wrote, “If it means someone won’t buy my beer anymore, good. The beer was not created for them. I make my beer for folks who are actively anti-racist, anti-Trump, anti-fascist and pro-equality.”

I wonder if Dempster will call the bastards when his windows get smashed and his cash register robbed?

The bigger question, recurring to Scruton’s theme: it took 25 years for cities to turn around after the demolition project of 1960s liberalism. Will it take as long this time—or longer?

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