WHAT DOES RECESSION LOOK LIKE?
Nobody knows two things: How long the recession will last, and how to fix it.
But some things actually are knowable. Like how the city looks when it's in the throes of a budget crisis (state government has its own, even more serious budget crisis as well).
We got to see what that looks like up close during the 1970s, when Republican President Gerald Ford famously dismissed the city's appeal for financial help, telling the residents of our nearly bankrupt city to drop dead. In time, we got used to inhabiting a common space that was unremittingly dirty, frequently depressing and often dangerous.
For years, as the city rebuilt its financial standing--decades in some parts of the city--public spaces like parks got only the barest upkeep. Some, like High Bridge Park in Upper Manhattan, were ceded to the elements and to an informally encamped homeless population. The best that could be said of the subways was that they functioned fairly well most of the time. We assumed high crime rates the way we assumed cold weather in the winter.
To live in New York was no longer to live at the center of the universe. To live in New York was to be a survivor.
Now it seems the grim set of New York survival skills we learned in the late 20th century will come in handy in the early 21st. Including the understanding that when desperately poor people are without hope, they do what they think they have to, in order to get by.
What's different this time is the possibility that Barack Obama may actually be able to achieve even some of the goals we associate with him and an Obama administration. Which includes helping people do more than just get by.
Part of what I voted for, a big part, was the ability to feel hopeful again.