I like Michael Bloomberg. I think he has been a good mayor for New York. I like the fact that he rides the Subway. I like how he rearranged his office in City Hall into a trading floor. I like the idea that he disappears for weekends flaunting his notoriety in an age of incessant paparazzi.
I even like the fact that he is remarkably rich. I think that in general the rich make the best leaders in government (think Washington, both Roosevelts, Rockfeller), especially the self made rich, who cary with their success the memory of a youth when all was not quite so easy, like Mike. And while some guys on the make (Lincoln, Kotch) have done well, the risks of a Boss Tweed, Nixon or Clinton are inherent in their lot. Great wealth makes one less externally corruptible because the pressure of accumulation is minimized to a trifle. However, wealth, like its brother power, does create an internal corruption of one’s soul, but thats for another post.
But I think mayor Mike is absolutely wrong about promoting tourism in New York City, one of the direct outcomes of which has been the infestation of red double-decker tourist busses on all the streets of our city.
In case you forgot, the tourist busses were part of a deal that Bloomburg struck with the water taxi company to increase ferry service in Manhattan. (So how many New Yorkers take the water ferry, right? None.) It goes to a strategy of making tourism an industrial balance to the Wall Street centric economy we have developed over the past two decades.
But as enticing as tourist tax dollars are to the city’s budget this is a long term loosing bet. Tourism is not an industry. It is a parasitical activity that destroys its host over time by destroying the reason for its existence.
Perhaps when Mike began thinking about tourism he did it in a cultural context he was familiar with; wealthy people, and business travelers who add their cache as well as their cash to New York by consuming the rarified product of a rarified city. Being at the pinnacle of the modern world’s global empire, New York held a unique ability to offer up what other cities could not, and the influx of the word’s wealthy added to that aura of desire.
But our tourism has devolved, as all tourism does, to an amusement park ride for the working classes. The world’s vacationers, (on holiday, as they say in Europe) are streaming to New York to watch us from the top deck of a red bus or (if you havn’t seen them you will be aghast when you do) the amphibious duck bus/boats that load up the Dallas Cowboy t-shirt and floral print shorts crowd in Times Square. They are attracted by the aura of New York and the past glamor. If you need any further proof of this, the most sought after bus route is the Sex In The City tour of fictional address across town.
On Tuesday I had a street cart lunch in front of Brown Brothers Harriman and I sat watching tour bus after tour bus coming down an amazingly crowded Broadway. One after another, they came, each filled with tourists jumping up and snapping pictures of finance executives and Wall Street employees as if they were on safari in Africa.
“Look daddy! That’s a stock broker!”
“No, son. The guide book says that that one’s a municipal trader, “Muni trader” it says. Much rarer. See the picture here in the book? It says you can tell them apart by their flushed appearance and natty plumage”.
“Oh, cool. Daddy, is that one an “equities analyst”?”
“No, no. Those are even rarer, that’s a “tarty secretary”, Very common in these parts.”
“How do you know, Daddy?”
“You look at the shoes, son. Analysts wear flats. Those must be at least three inch heels.”
“Do you think they will mate, Daddy?”
“Not here son, the book says they only mate in expensive midtown hotels, after martinis and calling home to say that they have to work late on a deal. They are becoming rarer because their habitat is overrun by tourism. It does says something here about the young ones occasionally being found in stairwells, but…”
“Harold, I think thats enough now. Look dear, there’s a group feeding at that falafel cart”
“Cool Mommy! Take a picture before they run off. Mommy, can I have a souvenir pinstripe t-shirt, Please!!!”
The same is true in our theaters and concert halls as those accustomed to spending the day at Six Flags have descend on and cheapened these institutions that they have come to venerate. I mean, have you sat in a Broadway theater recently, perhaps after work, in your suit, having paid the better half of a day’s wage for your tickets and just as the curtain goes up, here they come, the last minute sqeezers, in their best Walmart attire, catching that New York experience by stepping on your foot on the way to their $10 seats.
The reality is that being watched in a zoo, or going to the theater like its a discounted E ticket ride, erodes the exclusivity and sheen that makes people who can work anywhere put up with all the hassles of our little island. It looks to me like we are just one more bus away from driving them all off to bright clean, tourist free offices in Greenwich, or maybe they’ve already taken their trading desks to London.
And when they go they aren’t going to be supporting our great restaurants, (don’t worry Friday’s and McDonalds will be fine) or funding the museums (the Met and MOMA are not paying their operating budgets from admissions) or taking care of Central Park (all supported by the Conservancy). Hey wait, aren’t these the things the tourists are coming to see…
So it will be a double loss, our city will lose its central driving engine, and the bus gawkers who ran that soul out of town will find other reasons to go to other places, leaving us New Yorkers to wonder what the heck happened to our town. That sound you hear? It’s the parasite of tourism leaving an empty carapace of our city crinkling on the floor.
Hey Mike! Where can I buy a t-shirt that says that?