New York City, a densely populated urban area.

How to Bring Them Back

By: Howard Husack, Daniel Kennelly
On: City Journal

Photo Manhattan Institute

Howard Husock is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor at City Journal, and author of Who Killed Civil Society? The Rise of Big Government and Decline of Bourgeois Norms (September 2019), Philanthropy Under Fire (2013), and The Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy (2003). He recently spoke with Daniel Kennelly, associate editor of City Journal, about what cities can do to bring back residents and businesses after the pandemic, what to look for as the New York mayoral race heats up, and how conservative politicians might appeal to big-city voters.

What are your thoughts on New York’s prospects for the coming year?

In the near term, it’s hard to be optimistic. Even if a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available, there will be a hangover from the pandemic crisis. Families with school-age children have suffered under a dysfunctional Department of Education, and homelessness and lawlessness have spread. Many suburbanites who patronize the theater and restaurants have not even come into the city since March. A return to reliable city services is key to recovery.

As we head into the mayoral race, what issues are you keeping an eye on?

I’m listening for candidates who acknowledge that conditions have changed. I think (negatively) of New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, who announced that he is running against the “gentrification-industrial complex.” That message is simply out of step with the city’s changed conditions. We should look for candidates emphasizing the delivery of high-quality city services: clean and safe streets, reliable education, and even reliable electric power.

What can cities do to make residents and businesses come back?

As per the above, they must demonstrate that they can deliver core services reliably—especially a low-crime environment in which it’s clear to all that public order will be maintained. That’s foundational.

What kind of policies could conservatives adopt to appeal to big-city voters?

Constitutional, race-neutral crime control; and effective public-health measures.

What books would you recommend for understanding how American cities are changing?

Joel Kotkin’s new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, has my attention.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images