Friday, March 16, 2007

A Completely Subjective, Anecdotal Report

Is it just me (and if you disagree, please let me know) but does New York City have a growing "quality of life" problem? I think that over the past year or so, the standards in some public places have really deteriorated. First, I'm seeing far more instances of streets and sidewalks desperately needing a cleaning. Yes, the garbage is still being picked up on schedule. But I can't count the number of times I've seen what looks like someone's entire dinner (previously digested or not) simply dumped onto a sidewalk waiting for the next hard rain. Second, the subway system is clearly on the decline. As with garbage collection, the trains still come when you expect them. But the grime -- always a challenge for the subway even in the best of times -- is increasingly evident here as well. And after virtually disappearing for the past decade or longer, graffiti is making an ominous comeback; most of the subway cars I've been in recently have contained at least some of it. Third, I think the homeless situation has really gotten worse. Traditionally this has been a problem for specific areas -- the subways, midtown, parts of the Village -- but it's noticeable now in some of the nicest areas uptown and elsewhere. Fourth, outside of the subway system, I hadn't seen a rat in New York in a long time. A few days ago I dodged a large one in broad daylight on West End Avenue (quelle horreur!) at 88th. Rats in New York are nothing new, obviously. But was this stomach-churning story last month part of a deeper problem?

I have a fairly good perspective on this. I remember what New York was like in the mid-late 1970's (when the Stones noted "rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown") and except for a couple of years in the mid-90's, I've lived here without interruption since 1991. Make no mistake: conditions are light years away from the 70's and far better than the early 90's. But these things tend to run in long cycles, and every cycle starts with a short-term trend. I think Bloomberg has been a good mayor. But like Giuliani, he's had an economic wind at his back for most of his time in office. If that wind tapers off, what's already a noticeable trend could turn into something even more "unappetizing."


Blogger Grodge said...

As an inhabitant of the Great Flyover, my only knowledge of NYC comes from Letterman, Barry Ritholtz and TCR.

My gut turns every time I imagine Rudy Giuliani as President, but perhaps I'm too quick to judge. Was NYC better off under the stewardship of such a hard-nosed prosecutor?

Are the troubles referenced in this post due to the absence of Giuliani?

3/16/2007 12:02 PM  
Blogger H. Haller said...

I'm not much help, not having lived in Manhattan since '98, but I saw rats in daylight a few times in 95-98. The first time was in the middle of Herald Square -- I thought it was a squirrel, and had a playful he'll-get-out-of-the-way- first kick going in his direction until I flashed on the tail.

So that in itself, I don't think is new. Shame to hear the rest of your anecdotes, though.

3/16/2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no longer out every day, taking the subway to work, dealing with the city, as Cunning Realist is. I work at home now. Besides, I learned when I moved here in the late 60s to ignore the quality of life stuff that I could do nothing about. I pitch my trash in the trash basket, but I can't pick up everyone else's trash. I try to keep my own head above water psychologically and financially, but I can't keep someone else's head out of those nooses.

I worry much more about the water supply to the City, which comes to us through very, very old pipes, and so far as I know, no one is doing anything about modernizing that supply route to accommodate a much larger population than the original system was built to accommodate.

I worry about the Northeast power grid, which was also built to accommodate a much smaller and less electrically greedy population, and I don't hear anything about what we're doing to relieve the pressure on that power grid, especially in the summer.

Water and electricity are Quality of Life issues. Nothing is happening in those areas because we don't put any pressure on our politicians to spend the money to take care of our infrastructure. Trash and rats and homeless on the streets are also budget issues, and probably cheaper to fix than the infrastructure, but we're so busy spending huge amounts of unaccounted for money fighting "terrorists," we leave our own country uncared for in every way.

3/16/2007 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone want to bet that at least part of the problem is the drastic funding cuts made by Bush & Co to states and municipalities? Between the costs of Sept 11th and the cuts in federal aid, it seems quite likely that a major part of the quality of life problems getting worse is the sheer lack of money.

Also worth noting, Bush 43 has cut most (90%+) of the increases that Bush 41 and Clinton made in federal aid for community policing, and we're now seeing violent crime on the upswing for the first time in over a decade (other than 91 or 92, I forget which, violent crime rates decreased nation wide, and that trend held for the first few years of this decade, but they are now rising again).

3/16/2007 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Forest said...

While I do not live in New York, I think we are seeing a national trend because I am seeing similar traits in my city of Philadelphia...more homeless on the streets; murder rate is up 20%; traditionally safer areas are facing increased crime.

3/16/2007 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

I am quite afraid that TCR has excellent reasons to imagine the economic "wind tapers off".

I miss the macroeconomic analysis TCR used to do and hasn't done in, what, almost a year... In my opinion, TCR and sources like iTulip have been absolutely correct in their visions, even though they miss a few details here and there, and the processes are absolutely not linear with time even though the best way to explain the processes is linearly. Right on the big issues, quibbles on the timing.

However I can certainly understand quitting prognosticating out of the frustration at seeing events unfold just as predicted -- while everyone in power, both parties, appears determined not to notice the precipice we're sliding into...

3/16/2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as I feared. It's the New York City ban on trans-fats that is the cause.

Without a steady diet of transfatty food waste the vermin are living longer. Rats, like the canary in the coal mine, are an early warning sign that all living creatures will survive longer when deprived of transfatty sustenance.


First, declare New York City a disaster area.

Second, reverse the ban on transfats and mandate their use by all restaraunts in the affected area.

Third, get FEMA to ship in an emergency supply of transfats for distribution to all eating establishments until regular supplies become available.

Fortunately for the rest of the country this experiment in transfat deprevation has been tried in only a small area of the nation so it's not too late for the rest of us to avoid a similiar disaster.

Good luck.

3/16/2007 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NYC of the late 70s and early 80s was my playground. Tuff time for all.
But, I have to agree with Forest here. I'm in Seattle now and about a year and 1/2 ago, I started seeing the panhandlers appear on the freeway ramps and at major intersections, etc. Lots of street sleepers now and, violent crime seems, to me, to have increased.
Ominous signs.

3/16/2007 8:58 PM  
Anonymous wtf said...

Giuliani was an awful mayor. The drop of crime in the city was a function of demographics and the national and local economy. (Bill Clinton can claim as much credit as Rudy--and that ain't much.) Is the city better with a Disneyfied, tourist-clogged 42nd Street and spoiled children yapping on their cellphones and living in apartments their rich parents bought them? I don't think so. I've been in the city for 20 years and I prefer the more affordable New York, the one people came to to get away from the rest of America.

3/16/2007 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

When I went to NYC to art school in the early 80s, it was after the well publicized garbage strikes of the late 70s (if my memory serves me), so expected to find piles and piles of filth on the streets. I was pleasantly surprised.

Seattle's been a haven for 'hobos' for a long time (due to our largely mild weather) but I'm seeing more displaced people here as well.

3/17/2007 12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard that murders are actually down 40% in NYC this year, despite the deservedly well publicized Village rampage the other day.

3/17/2007 7:31 AM  
Blogger fatbear said...

I live in the Village, and I've been in the city since the early 60's (excepting a few years in 90210). Not as clean as a few years ago, and the rebirth of graffiti is ominous, as well as the increased street presence of homeless. Rats have been scurryiung around Wash Sq, both four and two leg versions, since I can remember, and not a month goes by that I don't see or hear a four-legged one as I perambulate. But no more than in the old days.

While last week's tragedy around the corner is horrible, there've been a couple of years recently with no murders in the restrooms in the Square, and there were formerly a few each year.

In general, I chaqlk up the decline in the Village to the increased NYU-iziation as well as the aforementioned trust fund babies - the kids are not real city people, and they treat the 'hood horribly; this is the same as the Disney version of midtown, and we NYers are suffering from the out-of-towners.

Not only that, but the tourists are insufferable invaders of my street privacy - I've been asked directions more in the last two years than in the entire 60's and 70's combined.

Non-Yankees go home!

3/19/2007 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also live in the Village, and I have noticed a significant increase in graffiti over the last several months. I have also noticed that graffiti appears to go uncleaned for longer periods than in the past.

I have also noticed a small increase in street garbage. As for fatbear's comment about tourists, I would much rather have a tourist ask me for directions than watch a fellow "Yankee" drop their trash on the sidewalk not ten feet from a garbage can. At least the tourists, in my experience, clean up after themselves.

3/19/2007 1:42 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I've lived in NYC for fifteen years (roughly half my life) and can say that this is the most accurate portrayal of the situation, right down to the relatively steady appearance of rats (outside of the Wash Sq area as well):

I live in the Village, and I've been in the city since the early 60's (excepting a few years in 90210). Not as clean as a few years ago, and the rebirth of graffiti is ominous, as well as the increased street presence of homeless. Rats have been scurryiung around Wash Sq, both four and two leg versions, since I can remember, and not a month goes by that I don't see or hear a four-legged one as I perambulate. But no more than in the old days.

So, resurgence in grafitti, resurgence in visible homelessness, yet relatively consistent on the rats and garbage.

3/21/2007 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Gus said...

At least we can look forward to a musical resurgence if past experience is any indication. The '70s gave us all the NY punk, Talking Heads, Television, and the 80's gave us Lou Reed's New York album.

3/22/2007 1:57 PM  
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