If you’ve been out and about in Manhattan over the past six weeks and you have eyes and ears, you know something’s happening — something worrisome.
The urban streetscape is degrading.
Take a walk down Broadway on the Upper West Side from the 100s to the 70s, as I did Sunday, and you’ll see it everywhere. It seems every barren storefront with a rental sign in the window has become impromptu outdoor housing for a homeless person.
There are many such storefronts — ironic signs of prosperity, not recession. Rents have risen so high that small businesses often can’t afford to continue and landlords will keep a storefront unoccupied for a very long time to secure a wealthy customer willing to take a very lengthy lease (i.e., a bank).
The number of people living on the street in the neighborhood, or at least taking up daytime residence to beg for change, has skyrocketed from a mere handful to several dozen or more.
And many of the faces on the street are a type new to New York City. They’re often startlingly young and white and look like nothing so much as the hippies who used to populate the Upper West Side in the late 1960s and early ’70s. They would have fit right in at the Occupy Wall Street encampment two years ago or at a G20 protest.