Hello. It’s Friday. Today we’ll look at RTO inequality – the return to the office – and what it means for New York.
So many things seemed uneven during the pandemic.
There was a patchwork of stay-at-home orders and mask rules that differed from state to state (and sometimes city to city or county to county). There was a patchwork of eligibility regulations when vaccines became available, and when restaurants reopened there was a patchwork of requirements for customers to show they had been vaccinated.
There is now a familiar inequality in return-to-work scenarios, which vary from company to company. Bosses’ expectations of when employees should return – and how many days a week – can even vary within companies, leaving many offices empty.
Office occupancy across the country stabilized last month at around 43%, according to data from security firm Kastle. But in Manhattan, only 8% of office workers were back at their desks five days a week, the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group, said last month.
In Manhattan, there are actually fewer offices to return to. Some companies have moved their offices closer to where their employees live. My colleague Matthew Haag wrote that the idea was to make returning to work more attractive by shortening the commute. Before the pandemic, workers in New York averaged 38 minutes of commute time – the longest in the country. And that was just one way.
Before the pandemic, Manhattan office buildings supported a network of cafes, restaurants and stores in the downtown and financial district. Many closed after daily office crowds dwindled to almost nothing. Rental signs remain in many storefronts, and 19% of Manhattan offices are available, the equivalent of 30 Empire State Buildings. That’s up from 12% before the pandemic, according to real estate firm Newmark.
Daniel Ismail, the principal office space analyst at Green Street, a commercial property research firm, told Matthew he expects the office market to get worse before it improves as leases are signed. years ago expire. He said many businesses no longer needed the space they had, while others had moved to better-equipped buildings, including better access to public transport.
Isn’t Midtown’s rebound affected by return-to-work plans, which many companies have delayed, and hybrid schedules, which many have embraced? How many office workers go to the office?
Yes, Midtown is still central. The Partnership for New York City’s latest survey found that just 38% of Manhattan’s one million office workers were back on the job as of mid-April.
Many business leaders expected that figure to be higher this summer, but many companies (including ours) have again pushed back to work plans due to rising virus rates.
Given that, I was surprised to see so many people in Midtown. It appears that office workers who have returned are resuming their pre-pandemic routines. In Times Square, the new Margaritaville Hotel hosted more than 30 corporate events last month and expects to be even busier this month.
You wrote that people were harassing chairs again in Bryant Park. What is it, anyway?
It’s one of those essential city skills if you want to sit down and eat. You drive around the park with your takeout, looking for people to grab their last bite of lunch. You hover nearby so you can grab their chair or table as soon as they get up. But you try not to come across as pushy, rude, or desperate.
Before the pandemic, you had to sit on hot sunny days when it seemed like everyone was in the park. This is all the more essential now that there are fewer chairs than before. The park has not replenished its supply of chairs during the pandemic. There was no need when there were more chairs than people. That has changed now. The lunch crowd reached 3,500 people a day in May, about 83% of what it was in 2019.
Foreign tourists were essential to Midtown’s economy before the pandemic. And now?
There are more foreign tourists than just a year ago – you can tell by all the different languages you hear as you walk around.
About eight million foreign visitors are expected in the city this year, almost triple the 2.7 million who came last year, according to the city’s tourism promotion agency. But it is still far from the 13.5 million visitors in 2019.
Domestic tourists have returned much faster, but foreign tourists remain crucial. Many stayed away due to a federal testing requirement for a negative Covid test the day before boarding a plane for the United States. Until that changes, we may not see many foreign tourists.
You can’t talk about Midtown without talking about the traffic.
Yes, Midtown traffic is back and crawling again at 6 miles per hour. It’s even better than before the pandemic, when you could only drive at 8 km / h. But that’s painfully slow compared to the 11.1 miles per hour speed at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
There are plenty of reasons why the traffic jam is back. Transit riders have switched to driving during the pandemic. The number of cars has increased throughout the city. Deliveries have jumped and construction is in full swing. More people than ever are using the streets to ride bikes, eat outdoors and socialize.
Don’t some people find it hard to readapt to crowds?
Yes, many New Yorkers – myself included – appreciated having more space in the most populated part of the city. Rochel Pinder told me she got used to walking around without being locked on the sidewalk and having her pick of chairs in Bryant Park. She’s a college administrator who commutes between Midtown and Queens.
She told me she feels overwhelmed now. “There are so many people,” she said. “Personally, I prefer to have the space for myself to enjoy it. But I think it’s a good thing for New York.
Enjoy a sunny day near the low 80s, New York City. The evening is usually clear with temperatures dropping around the mid-60s.
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Valid until June 20 (June 19).
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A friend and I had planned a jazz night in SoHo, and we decided to grab a drink at a wine bar beforehand. It was quite an intimate place, and a few minutes after we sat down I noticed how cute the bartender was – a little younger than me, maybe, but totally my type.
I had been trying to be more forward lately, as my friend and I were getting ready to leave, I decided to give the bartender my number.
I rummaged through my bag for a pen and a piece of paper and found neither. So I resorted to an eyeliner pencil and a McNally Jackson bookmark. After scribbling down my number, I handed the bookmark to my new crush when he walked past.
He quickly said he had a girlfriend, and my face flushed impressively.
Shortly after, I was reading my book on my morning commute, lucky to have found a seat by the door.
As the train pulled into Canal Street, the page I was reading suddenly darkened. A man about to walk through the door slipped a folded sheet of paper into the spine of my book and melted into the bustling crowd before I could react.
Taken aback, I unfolded the paper to find a name and number.
Looks like I got my bookmark back.
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Submit your submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.