Nobody expects New York to be quiet, but noise—anarchic all-night outdoor raves, revved-up illegal dirt bikes, exploding fireworks, blasting sidewalk speakers, air-slapping choppers, and much else disrupting residents’ sleep and sanity—has become a true menace to public order, and it has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Noise now accounts for nearly a third of the complaints to the city’s 311 quality-of-life hotline, and more than 800,000 New Yorkers report at least seven noise-related disruptions a week. In “The Gotham Cacophony,” Nicole Gelinas details the full extent of the problem and says that officials need to act now, or the incessant din will impede the city’s post-pandemic recovery.
Major American corporations have endorsed a progressive worldview on race far to the left of the majority of Americans, telling their workers to challenge colorblindness, watch out for microaggressions, and—if they’re white—confess to their purported privileges. Charles Fain Lehman’s “The Genealogy of Woke Capital” describes how the business world came to parrot the “diversity” obsessions of radical academics—a development that harms the social fabric, even as it does zilch for profits. As Lehman argues, legal and political means are available to end the woke-ification of capital. One can find a far more hopeful vision of American race relations in the writings of the African-American social critic Shelby Steele, argues Samuel Kronen in “American Humanist.” For Steele, the only way to escape from contemporary racial tensions is to reinvigorate the noble idea—the original inspiration of the civil rights movement—that beneath our skin, we share a common humanity and national destiny.
Apart from an effective vaccine rollout, Britain’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a shockingly servile side to her adopted country, novelist Lionel Shriver writes in “The Most Frightened Nation.” During the course of the health emergency, the U.K. locked down with more constraints, and for longer, than most other countries. Yet as Shriver observes, most British citizens have “complained only when they haven’t been controlled enough.” With surveys showing more than half of Brits wanting government mask mandates to last forever and eight out of ten “anxious” about lifting any pandemic-related restrictions, Shriver wonders: What happened to the love of liberty of the freeborn English? Worrying that the pandemic has strengthened the forces that want to end travel and keep us close to home, Pascal Bruckner asks: “Will We Be Sorry We Shut Down?”
New contributing editor Judge Glock’s “A Benefit, Not a Burden” offers a defense of property taxes—when properly implemented. Economists like such taxes, at least in theory, because the revenues they generate fund local government services, so taxpayers should be able to see what they’re getting for their money. At various points in American history, that’s been true. But these days, the public hates the property tax more than any other levy. The reason, Glock argues, is that, since the 1970s, state and local laws have made the tax a means of redistribution, obscured how it is administered, and weakened its connection to local benefits.
Urban highways were built during the 1950s and 1960s as an accommodation to the era of the motor vehicle—but, as with other planning initiatives of the time, they often damaged, or even destroyed, the communities they were meant to help, writes Eric Kober in “Scars on the Cities.” To restore neighborhood vitality, he says, the highways will have to go—and that’s already happening in many places. Getting mentally ill people off the streets, where many are homeless, and into treatment is also crucial to keeping cities vibrant; Stephen Eide warns in “The Future of Crisis Response” that replacing the police with social workers in carrying out this often-dangerous task won’t work.
Our Urbanities section has a crime theme this issue. Theodore Dalrymple’s “The Mystery of Murder” reopens the notorious case of Donald Hume, suspected—though never convicted—of the killing of Stanley Setty in 1949, while Springs Toledo’s propulsive “Confessions of a Loan Shark” takes us back, via the recollections and regrets of former mobster John “Maxie” Shackelford, to Boston’s vicious Gangland War of the 1960s.
—Brian C. Anderson