Cities

James Altucher thinks COVID-19 might be the end of New York City as we know it.

Manhattan, in particular, is a small island with a lot of people on it. And a lot of restaurants and small businesses. And a lot of tall towers full of rented offices.

The rented offices were abandoned when people went to work from home, and the businesses renting them realized that was a lot of overhead.

And the restaurants weren’t serving anyone because the offices were empty.

And then those high-rent restaurant spots became even more untenable when they were only allowed takeout and outdoor dining, the latter of which is a tough sell in New York City in the winter.

COVID has certainly showed us some of the dangers of living stacked on top of each other, walking shoulder to shoulder the way we do in New York and other large cities.

When did we start living in cities, anyway, and, perhaps more importantly, why?


We’ve been living in cities for going on about 10,000 years, with the first very large cities — with populations of 50,000 or more — coming more like 5,000 years ago.

That follows the timeline of large-scale agriculture (even if we were doing smaller-scale farming much earlier than that). But once we had a solid large-scale agriculture base, we developed cities. It was easier to find people to trade your excess crops with, and in general we were able to set up local economies, without having to travel days, weeks or months to trade.

After the first millennium or so of having large-scale cities, those long trade routes became more of a reality, with globalization growing and cities (and nations) expanding their wealth by trading for goods they couldn’t grow or make locally.


In modern times, cities do, of course, have both benefits and drawbacks. If your area were to be invaded, you’d probably be safer in a more populous city than in a disparate rural area. There’s economic opportunity and romantic opportunity and access to services.

But cities can also be very isolating. A plurality of people live in cities large and small, but many would much prefer to be living in a rural community.


I’ve seen a bunch on Twitter and in some Facebook groups about people fleeing cities for farm communities. Some high-profile celebrities have announced their exits from the Los Angeles area. And, as we mentioned at the opening, Altucher, who has made much of his career in New York City (including the current incarnation wherein he owns a comedy club), thinks this might be the end of America’s largest city.

This is the doing of COVID.

I don’t know if this is panic, or if this is the next wave of the world population.

We’re in a perfect spot, I think. Technically, we’re in a small city, though it’s more like a small city suburb (we’re actually in unincorporated county, but it’s within the city limits, sort of — boundaries are weird here).

We know most of our neighbors by name, and the few we don’t, we know by sight. The street isn’t busy. We’re able to patronize our favorite places for takeout. We can actually get to things if we need and/or want to. But we can also maintain some privacy and aren’t worried about the places we want to go getting too crowded.

Call us lucky; this is just the sort of place we enjoy. It’s not pandemic foresight.

I think a lot of the people fleeing to rural communities might be in for a real awakening — many of them are going to insular communities where outsiders need to prove themselves. The services they’re used to won’t be available — it will be a long trip to a grocery store or a hospital and many will need to grow some food and supplement with shipments. Internet and cell phone reception won’t be awesome. Roads will not be quickly cleared in winter.

Or maybe we’ll really see a fundamental shift in the makeup of America. Only one way to find out.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.