Times Square

UNCERTAINTY: With several industries facing unsettled futures, including those related to tourism, kickstarting the city’s economy post-pandemic such that its recovery is inclusive and lasting will be a challenge more difficult than it was after the September 2001 attacks, several experts said.

“I think this is infinitely harder than the recovery from 9/11, and that was not simple,” said Dan Doctoroff, the former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development for the first six years of the Bloomberg administration.

The chairman of Sidewalk Labs, who previously helped revive lower Manhattan after the 2001 terrorist attacks, spoke during a July 21 virtual panel hosted by the Center for an Urban Future focused on ways the city can recover from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opportunity Sectors

As of June, 20.4 percent of city residents were unemployed, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. With so many industries—such as restaurants and hospitality—facing uncertainty, Mr. Doctoroff believed that hospitals and the public-health sector had the chance to grow and help revitalize the city.


DANIEL DOCTOROFF: In crisis lies opportunities

“I think we have the opportunity to become a global leader in public health,” he said. “I think we have the potential to become the first municipality to offer universal health-care.”

Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic, agreed.

Although critics of a universal health-care plan oppose the idea because of the cost—it’s estimated that it would require $139 billion in new tax revenue—he believed that many people were beginning to see why such a system was essential.

“One thing that a crisis like this teaches us is that we are all bound up in an invisible network of transmission that my neighbor’s illness…can become my illness,” Mr. Thompson said. “Universal health-care is an issue of national security.”

Psychological Factor

Having public health as a foundation for the city's reviving was also critical for an obvious reason: “If we do not establish as a foundation of our strategy moving forward that people can go out in public and be healthy, we will not recover,” Mr. Doctoroff said.

Jelena Kovačević, Dean of New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, noted that telehealth services—such as virtual doctor’s appointments—also had the potential to become a booming industry.

“It didn’t really seem to take off until this pandemic,” she said. “Every disruption gives us the opportunity to create something new.”

Industries that intersected with such virtual services, such as cybersecurity, also have an opportunity for growth, she believed.

The experts acknowledged that the city’s recovery would not be possible without Federal aid, but Mr. Thompson pointed out that the city used to take far-more-aggressive action to respond to crises. He cited as examples the Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed 17 city blocks and resulted in the city creating the Old Croton Aqueduct as a freshwater source. A blizzard in 1888 that impeded people’s ability to move above-ground led to the creation of the subway system.

New York City Regional Economic Development Council co-chair Winston Fisher, and Mr. Doctoroff warned that if strong action to promote public health and safety wasn’t taken, the pandemic could accelerate the rate of residents moving out of the city.

“We were starting to see declines in the population before COVID,” Mr. Doctoroff explained. “A vicious decline is one in which you lose people, the tax base declines, you cut essential services that are critical to quality of life, that city deteriorates, more people leave the city, and that cycle perpetuates itself. We are at risk of that actually occurring.”

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