Imagine a New York City Not Dominated by Real Estate

danny katch
8 min readAug 13, 2021

“Zoom showed society a different way of relating and working. . . . Are those people going to come back from the Hamptons, from Aspen, from Florida? . . . If you were to see a 15 percent decline of people coming back to New York City, that would have a devastating impact . . .

To my private-sector friends, I say, you have to be part of this. . . . Say to your workforce, ‘ By Labor Day, everyone is back to the office.’ We need that volume to support the restaurants, the shops, the services. . . . It’s not just about your business. It’s about all the spin-off economic activity that your workers bring to the surrounding community.”

You probably missed Andrew Cuomo’s July 28 remarks to the Association for a Better New York, one of his last gubernatorial acts before announcing his long-overdue resignation. Cuomo has resigned as governor (I know I just wrote that, but it’s fun to repeat it), but the speech was a revealing sign of how deeply concerned New York’s political and economic elite are about the economic impacts of remote work — and how few solutions they have beyond forcing people back into offices they no longer need.

Manhattan skyscrapers may not go the way of Borders bookstores, your local newspaper, and other businesses ruined by online alternatives. But it’s clear that Zoom poses a major threat to commercial real estate developers, who have seen New York City property values almost triple over the last twenty years. That in turn is a major problem for cities like New York that have become dangerously dependent on rising real estate costs as their primary engine of economic growth and tax revenue.

Of course, this urban model has led to ever-rising rents that have driven ordinary New Yorkers into poverty and displacement. So a crisis for real estate is also an opportunity for socialists to put forward a different vision for the city’s future, one that looks to serve the people actually living here instead of trying to replace them with higher-paying customers.

NOT GOING BACK

The picture for New York City’s commercial real estate sector — hotels, retail, dining and entertainment, and, above all, offices — is ominous. It seems very likely that a lot of workplaces will continue to allow many…

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