The Millennials' Manhattan


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

I was in Manhattan a couple of days the other week and seeing all those young adults (some are friends of mine) on the sunny streets brought back memories of when I lived in New York, in the ‘70s. Most of them seemed to be in their twenties, recently out of college and at least looked and sounded ambitious and not yet soured by the claustrophobia and stress that accompany life in the city and that ultimately drives out a lot of people when they enter their thirties. The sight of a bunch of young lawyers with the name of their corporate firm, “Davis Polk,’’ on their T-shirts and probably headed for an obligatory softball game in Central Park sort of crystallized my nostalgia as I gazed at the gleaming towers, too many now occupied by Russian oligarchs and other flight capitalists.

When I lived there, “The City,’’ as we still call it, was falling apart for various reasons, some affecting all large American cities, some unique to New York. Crime was high, the subways were a mess (and  mostly un-air-conditioned), strikes were frequent and many big employers were fleeing the city for Fairfield County, Conn.

Still, because of demographic changes, huge Reagan-era incentives for Wall Street, stronger mayors and an unexpected increase in younger Americans’ appreciation of the joys of city life, New York came back and is a hell of a lot spiffier now than it was 40 years ago. But you can see a few signs that it’s sliding again – there’s more graffiti and more bums than just a few years ago, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, and the current mayor, Bill DiBlasio does not, shall we say, have the reputation for competence and integrity that Bloomberg had and has.

The city’s Achilles heel is its over-dependence on finance. Artificial intelligence and big New York banks’ drive to lower costs by moving major operations to cheaper places threaten to shrink the city’s greatest wealth creator.

The most surprising thing I saw on a sidewalk: A bike whose frame was made of wood.