The New York City of six months ago certainly doesn’t look like the city of today. Midtown is empty. The flashing lights of Times Square play to an audience of no one. Double-decker tour buses have become relics of the past. And if these places are what you think of when you think of New York, then you don’t really know New York.
Because New York is more than just a place. It is people. It’s an energy that binds every walk of life, from all over the world — all 8.5 million of us.
When New Yorkers tell stories about 9/11, we talk about the people who enlisted in the Fire Department as Ground Zero still smoldered. We talk about the cab drivers stopping in the middle of Broadway to turn their radios up for those of us on the sidewalk to hear. We talk about the hot dog vendors who opened every bottle of water they had to help clean ash out of people’s eyes. And the steelworkers from Queens and Brooklyn walking miles across closed bridges with their blowtorches to help cut people out of the rubble.
Today, during COVID-19, that same spirit has continued to show itself.
Elmhurst Hospital nurses volunteered to sit with people who were dying when their families weren’t allowed in the hospital. Paramedics in Brooklyn slept in their cars so as not to spread the virus to their families. Nightly 7 p.m. cheers in the Bronx could be heard all the way in Connecticut to honor our essential workers. Cab drivers started running food to those most at risk, instead of making their normal runs to JFK.
In the midst of it all, thousands of people marched (and still, peacefully continue to march) to show that Black Lives Matter, standing up for a better city without creating a spike in illness in the middle of a pandemic.
See, New York City hasn’t gone anywhere. Its energy is alive and stronger than ever.
New York now tests more people every single day than entire countries do. Our infection rate has remained below 1% for more than 30 straight days. Our subways are cleaner than they’ve been in years, and mask-wearing is the overwhelming norm.
Now, for all of us and especially those who stayed home or left the city to protect themselves and their loved ones by slowing the spread of the coronavirus, it’s time to face this moment by safely but actively working together for New York’s recovery.
We may not be able to come together like we used to, but we can and we will invent new ways to get uptown or downtown, to talk long into the night at our neighborhood restaurants, to take a moment outside the world around us to appreciate our museums, and to get back to educating our children and collaborating in the office.
At a moment like this, we — no matter who we are, no matter how much money we make — cannot desert each other or surrender the city’s future.
We need to safely fill our city streets, our parks, our stores, our restaurants, and our business districts. Every lawyer, software engineer and banker working in New York’s office buildings supports five additional service jobs in retail, restaurants and small businesses, but this partnership, hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods, falls apart if we all stay home.
Let’s remember that New York has faced challenges before, unthinkable challenges. We came through them, rising to the occasion. Let us remember the resiliency and strength that we demonstrated in the days following the attacks.
At the time, we didn’t back down. We bravely went back to our daily lives to reenergize and reinvent our city.
Like then, if we come together and do our civic duty now, we, and the city that we all love, will get through this current challenge and emerge stronger than ever.
Rechler is chair of RXR Realty and vice-chair of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.