New York is the United States’ principal city and the most populous urban area in the nation. It serves as one of the world’s financial and cultural capitals, to say nothing of the political clout — the United Nations is headquartered here and several presidents have called New York and its surrounding areas home, including the current one. But despite all of its influence and lofty credentials, life in The Big Apple is anything but idyllic for many of its residents, and the cloud of recent history hangs over nearly every aspect of life.
The most important of which is, of course, the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Nearly 3,000 people died that day, most of them in the World Trade Center as they collapsed. Understanding the impact of this terrible event on the city is the most important first step to understanding who the people of New York really are.
There is a sense that much of the city suffers from some form of PTSD from the attacks, as many will refuse to even talk about it outright, preferring to refer to it in vague terms or to avoid the topic altogether. It’s easy to find people who were directly affected by it, however, as many knew people in the towers or involved in the rescue effort. Even those who didn’t saw their city burning with plumes of smoke which could be seen for miles and miles away and their skyline forever altered unexpectedly.
With these emotional scars comes a much more open populace when it comes to security and allowing the police force and government to have much wider powers than would be acceptable nearly anywhere else in the nation. If that means that their lives are less free than those of other Americans, they are willing to pay that price as they never want to see anything even remotely approaching the devastation from that day.
This gives the New York Police Department a lot more leeway than most others. In fact, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg once infamously boasted that they were the seventh largest military force in the world, and they have bureaus and offices worldwide to help combat terrorism. Current Mayor Bill de Blasio came under fire as well when he expressed a willingness to listen to the grievances of the Black Lives Matter movement, and was painted as being anti-cop in a city where police hero-worship is the order of the day.
The reverence for police in New York is definitely a white phenomenon, however. In black communities in the still highly de facto segregated city trust for the cops is much lower. Programs like the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” and the enforcement of laws along racial lines leaves many in the black community feeling less protected and more oppressed, and the continuation of these programs under the radar despite court orders and a multitude of lawsuits to stop them certainly doesn’t help.
The police aren’t the only arm of the government with a long reach either. High taxation, heavy regulation on virtually all commerce, and varying quality of public services are all part of the package. The state has the highest tax burden of all, and that doesn’t even take into account the additional taxes levied by the city. New business models, especially those in the sharing economy such as Uber and Airbnb, are targeted by regulations and rules in order to protect existing business. But the rules of supply and demand still apply and many people still use these services, while others are happy to have the regulations enforced in the name of economic stability and safety.
De Blasio also came under fire recently from the other side of the aisle when he expressed a disdain for private property, expressing that a more socialistic model would be more apt in such a large city. With the high cost of living in the city and the low quality of life, he may have a point and programs like rent control and accepting regulations in a manner which allows so many people to live on top of one another without encroaching heavily on each other.
The issues facing New York aren’t all manmade either. The weather is often atrocious here, and climate change poses a unique threat as four of the city’s five boroughs lie on islands. Superstorm Sandy, as well as a slew of other storms, have battered the entire region over the years. Each time one of these storms strikes transit is delayed or shut down completely, rolling brownouts and blackouts may strike, and the streets are often flooded. Partially due to an aging infrastructure and partially due to the constraint of the geography of the area, with every storm the threat of lasting damage increases. In fact, New York is one of the most at risk cities in the nation and in the world to irreversible harm by rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms.
As in the case of security, many New Yorkers look to their government to upgrade systems in place to protect them, and are often underwhelmed with the results while at the same time acknowledging that there are few other options. After all, with such a massive population a hodgepodge of private citizens and organizations don’t even come close to being equipped with the manpower or tools needed to organize preparation and recovery efforts.
Still, for all the problems in the Big Apple, New Yorkers are fiercely proud of their city. They boast of the cultural and economic outputs from the city and it is a point of pride to know the city itself — one of the most popular pastimes among denizens is giving directions to newcomers or visitors. And while the citizens have a reputation for being brusque or rude there are few places where neighbors and even strangers will leap to the aid of others if they suspect that there may be trouble or harm impending, even if it means taking a risk themselves. That spirit is what drives most New Yorkers, and what makes them view large government not as an inconvenience but as an extension of that sense of community and spirit of cooperation.