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Everyone knows that change is coming; no one knows how big or how bad it will be. At a crowded salad bar in midtown, a gloomy business editor tells me, "You won't recognise this city in six months." But pessimistic though he is, he doesn't foresee a return to the kind of stagnation that characterised New York in the recession years of the '70s. Then the city was not only bankrupt, but also wracked by endemic crime and disorder that drove businesses and middle-class people to flee. Some people have wondered whether crime will return if there's a long recession or a depression. However, the experience of both New York and London seems to indicate that there is little causal connection between economic distress and violent crime in societies in which no one starves. New York City enjoyed the lowest crime rates in its history during the '30s when unemployment was at its height. London, on the other hand, has suffered an explosion in violent crime in recent years even as its economy boomed.

Walking around Manhattan, it's easy to spot one major reason why people are less likely to be mugged or assaulted here than in London. In New York the state maintains a human presence that deters crime: CCTV cameras are rare, but police officers are everywhere and on foot. Seeing them on street corners, trains and buses, I was struck by how unpoliced London feels by contrast. Perhaps it's not surprising that RocknRolla, the new Guy Ritchie gangster film set in London, is both a critical and box-office success in New York, but was a failure in a home country where violent crime can feel very real.

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At dinner in the Rockaways, the New York City peninsula whose beaches are pounded by Atlantic surf, a building contractor tells me that a colleague of his has been offered apartments in lieu of pay by the cash-strapped, credit-starved owner of a half-completed new block. Since I was last in New York a year ago, dozens of new condominium buildings have gone up (Mayor Bloomberg is a good friend to the construction and property industries). It's not clear if all of them will be completed.

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Steve Beaman
November 20th, 2008
9:11 PM
Mr. Foreman, are you the same Jonathan Foreman that hung out with the scout platoon in Iraq in 2003?

Glenn Horowitz
November 1st, 2008
3:11 PM
The key unasked question in Mr.Foreman's elegant piece is: when the crisis concludes, as all crisis' must, will the traditional high income jobs NYC depends upon return in abundance or will enterprises avail themselves, finally, of new technologies to do what humans once did? The downtown may provide the space and time to implement the promises new technology has long held out for efficiency and speed.

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