Four years ago, 20,000 whooping Democrats blew into New York City, chomped its pizza, downed its booze and donned their funny hats. They were confident. They sensed a win. Their host, on the other hand, was all smiles, but shaky. It had no confidence and sensed collapse. Oh, the city scrubbed its face, all right; got out the good china, the usual. But New York was broke, after all. Bonds were finally due. Corporations headed for the hills. When the Democrats showed up in 1976, New York was like a Marx Brothers hotel with Margaret Dumont in the lobby—all love and terror and accommodation.
Goodbye to all that, at least for the moment. For the moment New York may still be going broke, but nobody is saying so above a whisper, and the desperate, adamant I LOVE NEW YORK of three years back sounds suddenly sincere, almost giddy. In the four years since the Democrats sighed amen to Jimmy Carter, New York has reduced its debt (considerably), improved its cultural life (remarkably), raised its housing costs (out-of-sightedly), increased its industry (selectively), supported a new mayor (mostly), cleaned up after itself (doggedly) and become a happier place to live (generally). There are naysayers (naturally) and data to justify their attitude. But most New Yorkers agree that the place is fit as a fiddle again, and only a few believe that the fiddle is Nero's.
What has happened to cause the illusory miracle is that the city has played to its strength, with all the usual rewards and penalties of such a strategy. New York's strength is Manhattan. Manhattan is beautiful and rich and piled high with roof gardens that give shade to some very rich and beautiful people. The cost of rental apartments in Manhattan, if one can be found, has risen preposterously since 1975, which means in short that a two-bedroom pad for $1,500 a month is a steal. Or would you rather buy? The number of cooperative apartments resold in 1976 was 1,026, at an average price of $11,380 per room. In 1979 the number of resales was down to 845, and the average price per room up to $34,481. Only the arrogance of realtors has risen proportionately. Co-op prices at a million or two are neither rare nor shocking.
Naturally, the consequence of such prices is that people are clawing their way into every inch of Manhattan space available. After a long quiescence, builders are now providing more space all the time, both office and living. In the East Side area between 50th and 94th streets—the heart of the matter, if the Big Apple were an artichoke—at least eight new co-ops or condominiums are currently in some stage of completion, all high-rising and luxurious, of course, and all smack in the center of things, which accounts for their appeal. At the proposed 44-story Museum Tower, for example, condominium owners will be able to descend from a $250,000 one-bedroom home to an extension of the Museum of Modern Art within the same building. In the 62-story Trump Tower (named for Builder Donald, not the bridge maneuver) one apartment is planned that will cost $11 million. The applicants so far do not include any New Yorkers.