To The Progressive, Everything That Happens In Urban America Is Bad

After my post from Tuesday ("How Progressives See New York"), I was hoping that the New York Times would immediately realize how laughable it appears to rational people when it discusses these issues.  But no, as if in complete ignorance of my ridicule of their world view (admittedly as expressed in an article in the New Republic), they immediately came back with a piece in yesterday's print edition titled "A Revival Comes to Newark, but Some Worry It’s ‘Not for Us.’"  The piece is about a big new Whole Foods market that recently opened in New Jersey's formerly most economically-depressed place, Newark.  

Before this, probably for the last decade or more, you probably have read a few dozen or so articles, many of them in the Times, bemoaning that poor black neighborhoods and cities had become "food deserts," where supermarkets had disappeared, and thus it was impossible to obtain anything nutritious to eat.  The residents were forced to eat some combination of fast food and chips and sugared sodas and their health got ruined.  Usually, the overarching narrative was that this was all part of the oppression of the low income minority groups by the dominant white culture, or something like that.  So therefore, surely the arrival of a Whole Foods must be good news for Newark?  Don't be ridiculous!

I would write my own take down of the Times piece, but fortunately Kyle Smith, writing at National Review, already did it for me.  Excerpt:

[A] New York Times piece this week headlined with a lament from one [Newark] resident that Whole Foods, which opened its Newark branch in late winter, is “not for us.”  Newark’s population is only one-fourth white, and it seems obvious that the sentiment being expressed here, as well as the use of the word “gentrification,” are what in other contexts might be called “racial dog whistles" . . . .

Let’s recap the slate of urban worries on the left. “Food deserts,” meaning a lack of availability of fresh food (or a lack of market demand for it), are bad. The opening of a gigantic store dedicated to selling healthy comestibles and produce, though, is also bad. When large corporations don’t invest in urban communities, that’s shameful. Investment? Also shameful. White flight by people moving to suburbs in the 1960s? Racist. Their grandchildren’s return? Also racist. Increased disorder that leads to garbage-strewn vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and declining property values is troubling, but increased order that leads to refilled buildings, cleaned-up neighborhoods, and rising rents is also troubling. Segregation? Bad. Integration? Bad.

So literally everything is bad, and its opposite is also bad.  And not just any kind of bad.  As Smith correctly points out, everything is the worst kind of bad -- racist!  And its opposite is also racist.  Try to not be a racist by following progressive prescriptions and doing the opposite of what you were previously doing, and you've just become an even worse racist.  The more you consider how people can hold all of these conflicting beliefs at the same time, the more you realize that rational thought has nothing to do with it.  My own leading hypothesis is that the phenomenon stems from an all-consuming irrational sense of guilt.  Or, as one commenter on my previous piece called it, "self-loathing."

For myself, I marvel every day at how much better things have become here in New York City in the 40+ years since I moved here in 1975.  And that goes for all races and ethnic groups.  I've been compiling a short list, which could be expanded to as long as you would like:

  • In 1975 there were 1645 murders in New York City (about 22 per 100,000).  In 2016 there were 335 murders with a bigger population (less than 4 per 100,000).  Declines in other crimes have been comparable.
  • In 1975, the City's population was in rapid and alarming decline.  (It fell by about 800,000, or about 10%, between the 1970 and 1980 censuses, to barely over 7 million.)  Today the population is about 8.5 million and growing nicely.  People have an optimistic sense that this is a good place to make a living.
  • As a corollary of the declining population, big parts of the City in 1975 were experiencing abandonment, arson, and destruction of the housing stock.  It was the time of "Fort Apache, the Bronx."  Today, all of the areas that saw abandonment and destruction then are having new construction, mostly not subsidized.
  • In 1975 if you walked around the streets of Greenwich Village in the morning, you would see several piles of little beads of automobile glass, where someone had smashed a car window in the middle of the night to steal the radio or other equipment out of the car.  I haven't seen any of that for a decade or more.
  • In 1975 there were signs at the housing office at NYU warning students not to try living east of First Avenue.  More broadly, wide swaths of North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Harlem and the East Village in Manhattan, were widely known as places where white people just should not go.  That broad fear is now long gone.
  • In 1975 the Greenwich Village waterfront was abandoned and decrepit.  Today it is a beautiful park.
  • In 1975, all but a few residential buildings in Greenwich Village were rent-controlled apartments.  The buildings clearly had once been beautiful, but most of them were run-down.  No owner would invest a dime in them, because the rents did not justify investment, and could not be raised.  And if you went looking for an apartment, literally nothing was available.  (I later learned that you had to go building-to-building and offer bribes to the superintendents, and suddenly there would be availability.  But I never did that myself.)  Today, there are many more owner-occupied buildings (townhouses, condos, co-ops) and about half of the remaining rental apartments have been freed from the rent-regulation system.  Yes, it's expensive, but there is plenty of availability at market prices.  Every block has multiple renovation and upgrade projects going on.
  • In 1975 subway ridership was declining alarmingly, reaching barely over 1 billion annual riders that year, which was less than half of the peak in the late 1940s.  Today, subway ridership is over 1.8 billion per year and approaching that 1940s peak (which is not completely comparable because some elevated lines were taken down in the interim).
  • In 1975, as a young associate at a law firm, I regularly went home on the subway in the late evening, sometimes midnight or later.  It was extremely noticeable that there were no, and I mean no, women riding the subway after about 8 PM.  Today, you find women on the subway at all hours.
  • In 1975 there was literally no new construction going on in Greenwich Village, and similarly in almost all of the rest of the City.  (The Upper East Side was a limited exception.)  Today, we have many new high-end condos going up.  Most of my neighbors are horrified.  I cannot figure out why.
  • With more ownership and more people having a stake in the neighborhood, today we have far more in the way of gardens, flowers, well-cared-for trees, and other beautification of the streets and the environment than we had back in the 70s.  The parks are in far better condition -- a consequence of the City government having more revenue, resulting from the influx of new businesses and wealthier residents.

And this could go on.  We get to choose whether we enjoy our new and greatly improved circumstances, or whether we wallow in irrational self-loathing.  I know where I come down.