Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll look at how the pandemic is rewriting the people-in-office model that perpetuated Manhattan for generations. And a playwright who decided not to change the name of her play.
“You can’t stay home all day in your pajamas,” Mayor Eric Adams said.
He and Governor Kathy Hochul, who have accelerated the return to office, could very well be shouting into the wind. The society around them is changing and the idea that you need an office to do office work is being reconsidered.
My colleagues Dana Rubinstein and Nicole Hong write that the list of New York companies that are changing the way they work continues to grow as the city moves beyond the this-is-just-temporary mentality of the early weeks of the pandemic. For example:
PwC, a global consulting firm headquartered in New York City, has told 40,000 employees in this country they can work remotely forever. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a law firm with about 300 attorneys in New York, says its staff can live anywhere in the country. Verizon is now letting “hybrid” workers — workers who haven’t had to return to the office every day as pandemic restrictions ease — in as many days a week as they want. Or so little.
And Penguin Random House, the publishing house with about 2,500 employees in the New York City area, has no mandatory return to office plans at all. “There won’t be a date when we’re going to say, ‘Okay, everyone back in the pool,'” said Paige McInerney, the company’s director of human resources.
Why should the trend alarm Adams and Hochul?
With fewer workers in cubicles, the average office worker in New York City is projected to reduce annual spending near the office by $6,730, from a prepandemic total of about $13,700, according to research by economists at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Mexico, Stanford University and the University of Chicago. That was the biggest drop of any major city.
And if fewer people invade the office elevators and crowd around coffee machines and snack tables, the city’s real estate tax base will pinch. Manhattan’s office buildings accounted for more than a quarter of the city’s pre-pandemic property tax revenue, according to the state’s comptroller’s office.
Many coffee shops, dry cleaners and other small businesses that served commuters have already closed. According to the city government, the number of empty storefronts has increased throughout Manhattan. In some parts of Midtown, one in three retail spaces is vacant.
Yet policymakers are only just beginning to address what that could mean for schools, parks and the police, all of which depend on tax revenues. Public transport could face budget cuts that would disproportionately harm workers who still have to come every day. And the state has yet to take steps toward relaxed zoning laws that hinder the conversion of office buildings to residential, including low-income units. A new $100 million fund approved last year to help developers convert empty hotels into homes has gone untouched, blocked by legal hurdles.
Officials have also been slow to consider repurposing Midtown office buildings for start-up incubators, educational institutions or entertainment promoters, said Brad Lander, the New York City superintendent. Adams has so far proposed creating a joint city and state panel to study the future of work and its implications for the city. He and the governor have also prioritized making the subway system safer so that office workers feel more comfortable commuting.
“We’re not going back to 100 percent office occupancy in Midtown,” Lander said. “The sooner stakeholders get to grips with that reality, the faster we can intervene smartly.”
Prepare for a chance of showers in the morning, with gusts and temperatures in the mid-70s, with gradual sunny days during the day. The evening will be partly cloudy, with temperatures dropping below 50.
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Valid until Thursday (Maundy Thursday).
Juneteenth will be a holiday for city workers
Mayor Adams, who worked remotely after announcing Sunday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, called Juneteenth — June 19, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States — a paid vacation for city workers.
Adams said the move was “long overdue” and that it was time “for our city to finally do the right thing”. It aligned the city with the federal government and the state of New York.
It also fulfilled a promise Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, made in 2020 — less than a month after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis — but failed to keep. That year and again last year, council workers wishing to celebrate Juneteenth had to take advantage of pre-existing paid time off.
No longer, Adams said in a statement. “As the second black mayor of New York City,” he said, “I know that I stand on the shoulders of countless heroes and sheroes who risk their lives to bring about a more perfect union.”
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‘The title is what it is’
If this were a play, the stage directions would say there are four people sitting at dinner in 2017 – a woman who is herself a playwright and whose latest work has just been read; her husband; her father-in-law; and a 12-year-old teenage son.
“I think I’m going to change the title,” the playwright says. “I don’t want to scare people.”
The father-in-law thunders: “You can’t change the title. The title is what it is. The title explains what they get. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to come and watch.”
The playwright, Michelle Kholos Brooks, would later say she recalled thinking, “This is a man who knows what he’s talking about.”
Her father-in-law is Mel Brooks. The title of her play is ‘H*tler’s Tasters’. Performances begin on Thursday at Theater Row on West 42nd Street. Director is Sara Norris, artistic director of the New Light Theater Project, which presents the play. More about the star soon.
It is her imaginary account of the German girls being ordered to sample Hitler’s meals in case an attempt was made to poison him. The story surfaced ten years ago, when Margot Wölk, then 95, was quoted as saying she had been a taster in Hitler’s bunker in occupied Poland.
Brooks said that when she wrote the first draft, she referred to it as “Hitler’s Tasters” as “a bit of a placeholder.”
“Then I had the first workshop lecture,” she said, “and nobody said anything.”
“There’s been some backlash,” Brooks said. In Los Angeles, she said, “We had one reviewer who refused to review it during the three days we were open before Covid shut us down.” She changed the I to an asterisk because algorithms in some search engines apparently saw the name and labeled the piece as hate speech, she said.
“The title is not ‘I Love Hitler’; the title is ‘Hitler’s Tasters,’ she said. “We’re talking about a real person in history, you know. Just because you don’t say his name doesn’t mean he didn’t exist.” She said knowledge about dictators has become all the more relevant since Russia invaded Ukraine. “World War II is very much in the back view for young people,” said she. “The level of Holocaust denial right now is staggering. And here we have Putin.”
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Near the old playground
I was waiting for a bus on the corner of 85th Street and Fifth Avenue, near what’s called the Ancient Playground, where a young boy and his grandfather were playing with a beach ball.
Suddenly, a gust of wind blew the ball over the play fence. A man walking his dog stopped the ball, picked it up, walked to the fence and tried to throw it back.
The ball went even higher into the air and was on its way to Fifth Avenue when a cabbie parked nearby jumped out of his cab, grabbed the ball and drove it back to the boy and his grandfather.