Op-ed | Why are New Yorkers leaving the city for something that exists here?

Hunter Island in Pelham Bay Park
Courtesy of Natural Areas Conservancy

BY CARLO A. SCISSURA

Like many lifelong New Yorkers, I am beyond tired of the stories of those decamping from the city because they are fed up with the pandemic.

Ignoring the privilege of having that option, the idea that New York City will be defeated by this crisis is a story that has been played out countless times, and just like before, the city will come back stronger.

Those who fled will be drawn back to the greatest city in the country (if not the world) when the lights of Broadway are re-illuminated, when fans can sit together at a Yankees or Mets game and when the subway trains are bursting again. 

Those who are looking outside of New York City for a peaceful escape do not know the full beauty and opportunities that lie within the other four boroughs and parts of upper Manhattan. New York City offers quiet oases across the city with more than 30,000 acres of parkland and neighborhoods that are as far from Manhattan in style as anything in the suburbs or the Midwest.

My neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn offers mom and pop shops, great schools, and amazing parks all along the river. Remaining in the city comes with the benefits and spontaneity of urbanity that has made New York City the most populous and revered in the country. It also supports the businesses that we frequent and the communities we call home. 

What we need instead of people vacating to Westchester and Connecticut is for New Yorkers to expand beyond a Manhattan-centric view of the city.

Residents seeking tranquil and spacious living spaces must remember that the quiet, leafy neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island are part of what makes New York so great. You can even get a driveway, backyard and garage if that’s what you’re seeking.  

While New Yorkers are leaving the city in pursuit of something that has been here all along, other New York City residents are taking advantage of the beautiful and unique neighborhoods throughout every borough in the city.

Those who feel discontented in their current space, or crave tranquility and spaciousness, should consider their many options within the city, rather than leaving all it has to offer behind. 

One of New York City’s greatest assets is the wide and diverse array of neighborhoods, each defined by a unique culture and offerings.

Flushing, Queens offers residents a worldly culinary experience in their own neighborhood as you hear a different language spoken with each street you cross.

The Bronx, home to the New York Yankees and the birthplace of hip-hop, is the greenest borough with the largest park in New York City, Pelham Bay Park.

Brooklyn, with its booming arts and cultural scene, offers the stunning Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, and let’s not forget the world’s amusement park and beaches of Coney Island.

And of course, Staten Island has the Ferry, which offers views of the Statue of Liberty that can’t be beat, Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, and some of the most beautiful neighborhoods anywhere in NYC. Every corner of New York City is bursting with experiences and opportunities that cannot be found or replicated elsewhere. 

Although some have disparaged density in light of COVID-19, it is one of New York’s greatest assets. Dense urban areas like our city have the potential to generate so much more in tax revenues from both residential and commercial development than lower-density suburbs, significantly lowering costs to maintain public services and infrastructure.

As a result, urban density improves public health outcomes like life expectancy, premature mortality, traffic accidents, and obesity. These metrics are better in New York City than the nation at large. Density affords us social services that take care of our residents and help ensure the city runs efficiently. 

Through good times and bad, New Yorkers must stay loyal to their city. Turning our backs on the city that has given us so much will hurt us all in the end. To live in the greatest city in the world is a privilege and an honor, not one to turn our backs on in pursuit of a lifestyle that is attainable within the city’s limits.

Those who seek more space must become resourceful and explore their options beyond Manhattan to discover the wonders this city has to offer. We will continue to invest in our infrastructure and build the future of NYC.

To all the New Yorkers looking for an escape, explore our energetic, diverse and green boroughs and find your sanctuary. To those who decide to leave I say, fuhgeddaboudit

Carlo A. Scissura is president & CEO of the New York Building Congress.

More from Around NYC

>