Gaze upon New York City from the godlike vantage point of Greenwich, Scarsdale, or Water Mill and you behold an urban wasteland. Rats gambol in formerly gilded Zip Codes. Trash piles teeter and ooze. Gunshots pierce the enfolding silence. The streets are paved with hypodermics, and the only signs of life come from the movers packing up trucks headed for … Greenwich, Scarsdale, or Water Mill.
Amble around the city on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, though, and you might be fooled into swallowing the lie of New York’s continuing allure. Children have returned to playgrounds, oblivious to the fact that this is no place for children. Former subway riders are reduced to biking and walking. Couples and friends huddle on blankets spread out in parks, gnawing on meager picnics and doling out contraband rosé. Museums are reopening, ready to receive the relics of our fading era. Farmers’ markets, aglow with late-summer abundance, cruelly remind shoppers of the green pastures beyond the Bronx. Restaurants spill out into traffic-free avenues and side streets, where families enjoy last meals in the dining room of the damned.
In every borough, the trappings of contentment cloak depths of urban misery. All the outdoor yoga classes, beach volleyball, impromptu dance parties, jazz trios, and socially distanced get-togethers can’t obscure the terrible truth: that nobody could possibly want to live in this ravaged Aleppo-on-Hudson. The scenes of New Yorkers getting by are inspiring, in their grim way: The human spirit endures even amid the smoldering ruins of civilization. But those who populate the metropolis now are the sad cases, the addled, and the left-behind. That must be true, because by now anyone with any sense or resources, or a healthy sense of fear, has surely heeded the message that hisses ceaselessly through the dead city’s streets: Go! Get out! Head for Greenwich, Scarsdale, or Water Mill!