Some 30 years ago, I traveled with then-New York City mayor David Dinkins to Europe to write about his efforts to persuade foreign businesses to set up shop in Gotham. The narrative of that trip revolved around New York’s struggle to attract new business amid the city’s woes—record crime, a steep recession and collapsing budget, depressingly bad, hard-to-access airports, and the trials of living or working in a place filled with aggressive panhandlers and dirty streets. “I go to New York twice a year for my business because it’s absolutely necessary,” the owner of a London furniture company told me. “But I have to admit I still find the city quite a fearful place.”
I remembered those days earlier this week, when I heard that world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, had chosen MetLife Stadium for the 2026 final of the world’s most-watched sporting event—the World Cup. Though the game will, of course, take place in New Jersey, FIFA president Gianni Infantino in announcing the selection spoke of the “cosmopolitan” nature of New York as a reason the group selected MetLife over venues in the U.S. that contended for hosting the final. One European sports journalist, Gabriele Marcotti, speaking about the selection, said that someone at FIFA had told him that many in the organization “genuinely believe there are only three cities in the United States: L.A., New York, and Miami.” That’s one reason the venue that many U.S. sports fans thought would win the final, AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas, fell short, despite being a bigger, better facility, with a roof and air-conditioning for a game that will be played in the mid-afternoon heat and humidity of July. To FIFA executives, however, Dallas is largely an unknown. As Marcotti said, Europeans ask of Dallas: “Wasn’t that a TV show?”
Meantime, the city that global soccer fans will visit in 2026 looks increasingly like the one that Dinkins struggled to promote back in 1992. Crime today is higher in New York than it has been in years. National retailers are abandoning the city amid the rising outmigration of people and businesses. New York’s streets are so embarrassingly dirty that the sanitation department stopped issuing its clean-streets rating. New York also faces a partially new challenge: tens of thousands of illegals and asylum-seekers straining the city’s budget and social order.
Three decades ago, New York leaders at least recognized the city’s problems and slowly made up their minds to do something about them. For all his shortcomings, Dinkins at least tried to restore order by hiring thousands of new cops, and Transit Police chief Bill Bratton was beginning to tame the subways. Dinkins tried to assure foreign executives that he wanted a safer, cleaner city. Today, by contrast, the whole notion of seeking to make Gotham welcoming and livable, to say nothing of visitable, is considered by some local leaders as bourgeois nonsense. Illegals assault city cops and get set free without bail. The NYPD’s share of the city budget has shrunk for years, but even with high crime, no political momentum exists for increasing the size of the police force. The municipal budget is overburdened by exploding social welfare costs, which since-abandoned reforms had once tamed.
Over the years, FIFA has shown an inclination to put its big games in other “world cities,” some with their own problems. London has hosted the World Cup final and, most recently, the European soccer championships. Paris, too, has held the big soccer match. Neither city has been exempt from an uptick in violence like the one New York has experienced. London has seen a spate of knife attacks recently, faced its share of violent street protests, and witnessed an alarming rise in sexual attacks on women. Paris and its suburbs have likewise seen a rise in gang violence and attacks on women and girls, especially by immigrants and refugees.
While foreigners may be unaware, most Americans are alert to the enormous shifts in population, business activity, and economic power taking place among cities and regions in the United States. Dallas isn’t just a city that happens to be close to a really good stadium. It’s one of the big winners in a demographic reshuffling that’s been draining Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles of people and resources in recent years. “Big D,” as it used to be called, is part of a trend that has already shifted economic might to Texas and six southeastern states, which now boast a higher combined GDP than the Northeast. Dallas is also home to the country’s fastest-growing financial sector, now second only to New York in size. There are many reasons for these shifts, but the fact that Dallas may be America’s safest big city is certainly a factor.
New York still has nearly two and a half years to right its ship before the Word Cup. Cities have often used big events to create momentum for change. Just a few weeks after Dinkins visited Europe in 1992, for example, New York hosted the Democratic National Convention. To ensure that all went well, the Dinkins administration flooded the city with extra police and spruced up the routes from the airports into Manhattan, which had been deteriorating for years. The city also cleared out the squeegee guys and aggressive panhandlers around Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention. Those were temporary fixes, but they showed what needed to be done, and how the city needed to change. Today, however, the political culture in New York has degenerated so badly that it’s not even possible to reach a consensus that reform is necessary—even as residents and visitors increasingly complain about the city’s decline. It’s not at all clear what kind of New York the world will come to visit in 2026.
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