The Prophet of Urban Doom Says New York Still Has a Chance

“In a best-case scenario, we remove 30 or 40 percent of the office stock in New York City, turn it into wonderful housing. New York City has all these great amenities, it’s a wonderful place where young people want to live, regardless of where they work.” He imagined people telecommuting to jobs in other parts of the country by day, then convening at bars in the Village by night. “That to me is the vision of New York City,” he said.

There are impediments to such a scenario, including the prohibitive costs of converting offices to apartments and zoning restrictions that bar residential construction in much of Midtown. In December, Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a 40-point plan that included removing barriers to converting older office buildings to housing.

Not all economists agree that remote work signals doom for New York. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor who grew up in New York in the 1970s, knows what urban collapse looks like. He said the city was in a down cycle, but not a doom loop.

“The history of New York is one of continued resilience under duress,” he said. “New York has done this extremely well for centuries. The things we went through in the ’60s and ’70s, when the crime rate was much higher than it is now, when the shock to the core industrial structure of the city was much more extreme — this doesn’t feel like it’s that big a deal.”

And the city is still a prime destination for new college graduates seeking fortune and mates, said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group. No one wants a future of celibate telecommuting.

“Blight precedes resurgence in New York City,” she said, adding that the city created 32,000 new businesses last year, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens. If Midtown Manhattan is suffering, other parts of the city are surging, she said.

And even in Midtown, she noted that at Mr. Kravis’s firm, KKR & Co., employees are back in the office five days a week — in Hudson Yards.