A trip to New York City in the days right before Christmas 2019 wound up being an unexpectedly revelatory experience. Every December, the area of Midtown Manhattan around the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the dazzling decorated store fronts on Fifth Avenue draw hundreds of thousands of visitors from every state in the nation, scores of foreign countries, and cities and towns that make up the metropolitan NYC area itself.
This year 2019 was no exception. But as one who grew up in the NYC metro area and who has visited numerous times during Christmas seasons since then, I was not quite prepared for what I saw and experienced this year during my first holiday stay in the city in seven years.
First, taking note of what might be some positive signs: Massive construction of new high rise buildings was in evidence everywhere in central and downtown Manhattan. Several buildings just south of Central Park, for example, still under construction, are already so tall that they dwarf surrounding buildings and have completely changed the distinctive skyline of Manhattan.
The streets of Manhattan this month were bustling with vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and stores seemed to be doing a brisk business with block-long lines of customers waiting to be admitted to some of them. I do not recall seeing that phenomenon in previous years.
These and other signs would seem to reflect positively on the state of the economy in the third year of the Trump presidency.
But looking a little more closely and a bit deeper, there are many troubling signs of negative change and decay.
Just as there is chronic vehicular traffic gridlock on many of the nation’s highways, there is now – at least during the Christmas season – near-impenetrable human gridlock on the sidewalks and streets of central Manhattan. I have never seen a crush of people bringing pedestrian traffic to a near complete standstill as I have this year in NYC. The area around the Rockefeller Center tree and on Fifth Avenue, for example, more closely resembled the massive crowds packed into Times Square for the annual New Year’s Eve ball dropping.
Since this situation – the increase in the number of people on the streets every year to a point where the sidewalks are now almost unnavigable – is continuing to worsen, I wonder what future years will be like.
English, or unaccented idiomatic American English, is rarely heard – and not just because of the presence of foreign tourists. It was impossible, for example, to communicate with some key staff at a highrise midtown hotel, almost all of whom are immigrants and have clearly not learned even the basics of the language of their new country.
The appearance of the crowds on the streets – not including the foreign tourists – was decidedly down and out. Contrast that picture with archival photos of NYC at Christmastime in decades past but not so long ago, when almost everyone was nicely dressed and appeared to be middle- or upper-middle-class.
A common sight was groups of disheveled men eating a meal on paper plates while standing or sitting on the curb or a low building wall. The source of their food was a pushcart or stall right on the street selling greasy grilled food, the smoke and smell of which permeated the air.
Police, fire department, and ambulance sirens were heard every couple of minutes as gridlocked cars, taxicabs, and trucks did their best to somehow make way for the emergency vehicles to pass.
The condition of the pavement on the sidewalks and streets in the heart of Manhattan was disgraceful. Some of the patched and uneven sidewalks looked like they haven’t been improved on since the 1960s. A decade and a half of Green-worshipping mayoral administrations (Mike Bloomberg’s and now Bill DeBlasio’s) have remade many major avenues and streets, with infrequently used wide bike lanes robbing valuable space for motor vehicles, resulting in even worse traffic gridlock.
Trash and garbage littered the streets and even the walkways and lawns of Central Park which, despite the cold weather, was a magnet for crowds of strollers on the Saturday before Christmas.
The downbeat appearance at street level of the city reminded me of the bad old days under Democrat mayors in the 1970s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s – until finally the ascent to power of a Republican, Rudy Giuliani, who served as NYC’s mayor for two terms from 1994 to 2001. By unleashing the police to enforce the laws; cleaning up Times Square’s disrepair, decay, and filth; and taking other proactive, commonsense steps, Giuliani’s administration significantly improved the quality of life in the city for everyone, including visitors, by orders of magnitude.
Since 2011, New York has had as its mayor the socialist Bill DeBlasio, who has been a disaster in too many ways to count. His policies, mostly championed by the 51 members of the radical City Council (most of whom reflect the leftist views of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “Squad”), have clearly made life in NYC demonstrably worse.
Finally, this observation: The December holiday season is – or was until recently – all about Christmas. These days, the word “Christmas,” however, was often not seen or not mentioned prominently in advertising or in storefront displays. An incredibly obnoxious, state-of-the-art booming sound and light show projected on the building that houses Saks Fifth Avenue, according to one observer, was more appropriate for the gaudy Las Vegas strip.
The huge multi-block area around Broadway and Times Square is now a sea of enormous pulsating video screens, blaring and exploding their advertising messages. Night has been turned into day by the surreal power of the screens. It’s like George Orwell’s prophetic dystopian novel 1984 come to life.
I was surprised upon entering a brand new flagship Nordstrom store on 57th Street that the music being played, loudly audible throughout several floors of the enormous store, was not Christmas music but rap and hip hop recordings sequenced by a live DJ – more appropriate for a trendy disco.
Meanwhile, in human interactions, a greeting or a parting comment of “Merry Christmas” was usually met with “Happy Holidays.” In fact, many of the people one encounters look as if they will be celebrating Kwanzaa or some African or Third World religious ritual or perhaps nothing at all this month.
But it’s too politically incorrect to report that kind of thing now, isn’t it? But fortunately, not in this space.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2020!
An earlier version of this article appeared at American Thinker.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. Peter’s website is http://peter.media. His new YouTube channel is here. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.