What the virus has done to us: Is NYC changed forever, or are our weaknesses just revealed?

What will our city be like when this is over?
What will our city be like when this is over?(David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

“Large numbers of people crowded together in a pretty small space — that’s New York City, that’s who we are,” said Mayor de Blasio.
He was talking about the cancellation of “the parades, the street fairs, the concerts, the festivals” through May and likely beyond, but that’s a pretty good description of life here more generally. Or at least life as it’s been.
April has never been so cruel a month in New York City, with bird songs and cherry blossoms gracing the spaces that people and their machines have largely abandoned and as the virus, unseen, lingers on surfaces and in the stuff people cough and sneeze out.
As EMTs, grocery clerks and others continue going to and from work, the city is in a weird pause at this moment when our leaders say the curve has flattened and we’re past the worse of the “war” even as intensive care units remain overfilled and medical workers are exhausted and getting infected themselves and corpses are being found and disposed of in distressing places.
It’s a weird pause between the city we’ve known, and whatever city is coming after this — whenever that is, and whatever this is — following decades of rising prices and pressures left just about everyone who isn’t very well-off feeling like they were hanging on by their fingertips.
Now, many of the well-off have quietly retreated, for the time being, to safer and more spacious settings. Hudson Yards is a ghost town now, same as the Far West Side ever was.
As Glynnis MacNicol put it in an essay at GEN about the city of those who stayed, “The witchy New York hour between yesterday and today is now the New York of all day, every day. A nightmarish bizarro world set to the soundtrack of sirens. Everything is still here, but off.”
What will follow this seemingly endless witching hour where time has ground down will come down to the still unanswered question of why New York City has been hit so much harder than other cities, and what that will mean for life here going forward.
The coronavirus has exposed a lot that wasn’t so hidden before but was more easily overlooked, starting with the cramped quarters many people share, the many hospital beds lost to luxury real estate, and all the people barely eking out livings doing what’s now rightly called essential work.
While Gov. Cuomo has declared that “the worst is over” and is now planning for an eventual end to the ongoing “pause” he declared, a virus isn’t a thing made to our measure or apt to respect our schedules or proclamations.
So it’s too soon to say what comes after this, but it’s never too soon for the living to think about what they value. Often, it takes some shock — a brick falling from the sky — to remind people to stop and do that.
This virus has been “Gotham’s kryptonite,” as MacNicol put it, a contagion that feels as though it were designed to undo the rhythms and routines of “a city of congregators.”
“There have been as many plagues as wars in history,” Albert Camus wrote in “The Plague,” “yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”

The simplest way to know a city, he wrote, “is to ascertain how the people in it work, how they love, and how they die.”

In the big, cosmopolitan trading hub with its back to the ocean that he’s describing, before the bubonic plague strikes and the city is quarantined, rather like Trump wanted to do to us, “the truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits…

“The passions of the young are violent and short-lived; the vices of the old seldom range beyond an addiction to bowling, to banquets and social clubs…The men and women consume one another rapidly in what is called ‘the act of love’ or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality.”

Sound familiar?

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