It is a proven fact that economic development in a city is directly related to its stability and safety. Business requires a “healthy” environment to thrive, a fact that most big city mayors have come to realize despite the possible conflict with their political base or agenda. New York’s newly elected mayor Eric Adams consistently makes that point in a city that so many pundits have over the years declared as “ungovernable.” But New York is a perfect example of a major city that has proven the pundits wrong, particularly during the tenures of Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
Progressive politicians who advocated slashing police budgets were in for a rude awakening as crime in their jurisdictions soared. They quickly learned that the fear of being overwhelmed by crime and drugs outweighed any political considerations. Cities like San Francisco have suffered major decline because politicians were pandering to the political left and not paying attention to the spreading homelessness and crime.
Every business professional will tell you that a healthy economic environment means low crime, full employment, favorable tax laws, clean streets, good educational system, and quality health care. The collapse of any of these can spell disaster for a city, particularly a city that is dependent on tourism and international commerce like San Francisco. Corporate America is known to heavily weigh the “health” of a city in considering the location for their headquarters or expansion. They are well aware of the fact that a healthy city can determine the quality of the labor force, an important consideration in any move by corporations.
There is broad recognition in the halls of government that for business to thrive in major cities across America, some of the basic ills like crime and filth will have to be dealt with. Corporate America is, after all, important for the government if only because of their being a key tax base and employer, again directly affecting the economy.
Congress also put a great deal of emphasis on rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure. In November President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, that will funnel billions to states and local governments to upgrade outdated roads, bridges, transit systems and more. There are other residual benefits such as increased employment, being more attractive to the hospitality industry and encouraging tourism in general.
With spiraling crime of late in cities like New York and Chicago there has been a great deal of emphasis on combating the scourge. Crime imposes an immense burden on cities, taking its toll in higher policing costs, lower property values, fewer job opportunities, and reduced overall quality of life. High and rising rates of crime are often cited as reasons for businesses not to locate areas of concentrated poverty which do not have the adequate resources to adequately fight violence and pervasive drug use. Business generally likes to be located in an area that invests in economic development. Crime not only affects economic productivity when victims miss work, but communities also are affected through loss of tourism and retail sales. Even the so-called victimless crimes like drug abuse have major social consequences.
The quality of life in contemporary cities is characterized by three dimensions: economic, social, and environmental. Each one defines ambiances for the life of citizens and their life’s satisfaction. The quality-of-life dimensions consist of many sub-dimensions and indicators. Mayor Rudy Giuliani placed a great deal of emphasis on quality-of-life issues and had his police force trained to deal with quality-of-life crimes. He was particularly focused on quality of life in the transportation system which is plaguing cities like New York and Chicago.
Cities like New York are suffering immensely from the lack of confidence in the public transit system. Since the pandemic, many commuters have shunned riding on subways and buses and are instead creating huge traffic jams on highways. That has not only resulted in a significant loss of revenue from fares but has also impacted the related economy such as shopping strips that are near subway stations.
Here’s how the New York Times put it: “The crisis on public transit systems threatens the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic: Restoring confidence in subways, commuter rail and buses, officials say, could help rescue local economies from two years of the doldrums, encourage more workers to return to urban offices and make tourists comfortable moving about cities freely. In densely populated places like Chicago and New York, where public transit is essential for millions of people, the well-being of the system can feel like a proxy for the city itself.”
New York’s recovery has been significantly slowed since the pandemic. Manhattan has yet to fully revert to pre-pandemic strength. More than half of its office space has yet to return to 2019 levels. Although restaurants and entertainment are slowly rebounding, they are still lagging behind what they were prior to the onset of the Covid-19 virus. The image of empty streets is a far cry from the world-wide perception of a bustling metropolis that millions of tourists from around the world used to frequent. The slow recovery from the pandemic has complicated the efforts of the Adams administration to rekindle the city’s vibrant and safe image.
The Jewish community has always put great faith in the health of the big cites. There was always an abundance of opportunities, good government, tolerance, and a good environment to grow economically and spiritually. When cities were burning due to riots and violent crowds, a significant number of Jewish businesses were victimized. For millions of Jewish immigrants, the first stop in their new country was the city. Jews first came to the Lower East Side of Manhattan where they were able to find work and establish their businesses. It was here where the “rags to riches” concept took hold.
Business monitors the quality of living in states based on the “health” of their cities. CNBC rated the 10 top states for business in 2021. The list included Utah, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, and Ohio. New York was rated as number 21 while New Jersey came in at 26. California came in at 33rd. The states were rated based on the same criteria that we evaluated in this article. Virginia was rated America’s top state for business in 2021. Why? A strong work force and solid education system were amongst the most important criteria.
In many respects the future of business will depend on the health and wellbeing of our cities. They are inextricably linked as we look to the future.