It comes as no surprise that the United States’ most populated and dense city, New York City, was hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. Though living in the high-energy and undoubtedly surprise-filled New York City was once craved by millennials, COVID-19’s effects seem to influence a shift in residential mindset. The New Yorker’s once enticing commutes and journeys through the city streets had been significantly changed when stay-at-home orders were put in place. Aside from essential workers, those confined to their apartments are inevitably left craving the openness that the suburbs provide.
Consequently, many people with mobility and accessibility to leave their city homes fled to temporary or permanent suburban life. However, as tempting as escaping the dense city life during COVID-19 is, the short and long term effects it has on New York City is significant enough to rethink the move.
Potential de-urbanization and the rise of suburbanization is not a new phenomenon. Actually, it has a long history of impacting some of the United States’ biggest cities. We saw the first signs of suburbanization in the 50s when the postwar shift towards a consumer-driven economy was one of the first distinguishers of suburbanization. No longer confined to working industrial jobs, people were given the ability to buy a home out of the city and pursue the famous (or infamous) “American Dream,” which was constructed of the stereotypical office job and the nuclear family.
Those granted access to start their new lives in the suburbs were distinguished by race, sex, and class status. With most of the civil rights act yet to come, “white flight” from urban areas caused a deep disparity between city and suburban living. Those with the ability to pursue their upwardly mobile “American Dream” continued to gain wealth while lower-income and minority peoples were left without these benefits.
Although post-war white flight and suburbanization occurred nearly seventy years ago, certain aspects of its presence seem to linger into modern times. Moving to the suburbs seems to be especially intriguing for millennials looking to grow families in a home that offers ample indoor and outdoor space, unlike the average NYC apartment. After all, the global pandemic may be the final push for some current city millennials to pursue a life in the suburbs.
Unfortunately, just like the rise of post-war suburbanization, there is a prominent disparity between those that can pick up life outside of the city and those that can not. Namely, local and small business owners who are the city’s backbone, are unlikely granted the mobility to move to the suburbs but also will face costly consequences of other New Yorker’s suburban sprawl.
Since the beginning of New York City’s first COVID-19 outbreak, Yelp reported that 2,800 businesses permanently closed, half of which were located in Manhattan. For perspective, small businesses represent 98% of employers in the city, contributing to the employment of more than 3 million people. Unlike many of the jobs that allow one to work remotely, most of New York’s small businesses can not be made remote. Not only did the pandemic force closure upon restaurants, and for many to ultimately go out of business, but it also took away millions of New Yorkers jobs.
Ranging from the local bagel and coffee shops to old-timey bookstores to the many bodegas lining the streets, these businesses do more than just offer a sense of community service and pose as essentials for the daily New Yorkers’ lives; they are a major leading contributor to the cities job market.
Notably, many of the small businesses which are led by minority owners are most vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic. According to a report by Partnership for New York City, there are 10,500 minority-owned and women-owned businesses in NYC. Increasingly during this time, the disparity within the social determinants of health exposes the vulnerability of minority communities, especially during this time. In a recent report, it is found that Black patients are nearly 3.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts.
Additionally, the minority communities’ position of vulnerability stems from a long history of being shut out of federal aid for government assistance and relief. The New York Times explained that only 12% of Black and Latino business orders received aid from the Small Business Association, and 26% said they only received a fraction of their request. Without access to promised aid, business owners will find it extremely difficult to continue operating.
With all this being said, one major thing privileged New Yorkers (or former New Yorkers in some cases) forget is that these people still exist beyond their business. While their local shops may be in great jeopardy or even fully closed down, that does not mean that those owners and employees are no longer existing in the city.
To abandon New York and the people that keep it alive and running is to turn a blind eye to the thousands of people who have once made it such a special and unique place for you. To reiterate, many small business owners in New York City are not only granted the ability to pick up and work from home but as their usual consumers leave them, they will be placed in greater jeopardy for the present and future.
Of course, a break from the fast passed and dense city life may feel necessary every so often for those that can afford the vacation. But now more than ever it is important to support your city and the people that keep it alive. Shopping local while in the city is extremely crucial and one of the best ways to keep your local small businesses open.
Keeping a conscious mind towards the decisions you make by acknowledging both your privilege and responsibility that come with being a part of your city’s community. If you have temporarily or permanently left the city but are still looking for ways to contribute to your community, consider donating to the local small businesses or mutual aid funds that help the members of your community sustain their lives. Finally, remember that if given the choice to stay or leave, it is necessary to understand the important role you, and any other community member, plays in community and neighborhood sustainability.
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