The pandemic was already wearing on Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a children’s book author and translator who lives in the East Village.
“My husband and I love New York City,” she said. “We sacrificed a lot to live here.”
But it wasn’t until the curfews and talk of the National Guard entering the city started that she considered leaving her home.
For Ms. Miller-Lachmann, 63, the chaos of the past week has “shown us that freedoms we’ve come to take for granted in this country may not be there for us,” she said. “We’re watching the warning signs.”
New Yorkers have been fleeing for months. But the fear some residents have of the violent reactions to the protests here is adding a new challenge to those asking themselves whether they can hack the city. Many are deciding not to return.
It’s a decision that must be made individually and privately, one that some 420,000 New Yorkers with the resources to do so had already made between March and May in reaction to the pandemic, according to cellphone data analyzed by the Times.
But it’s also a decision that has fueled collective judgment. If you say you love New York, city patriots reckon, how could you leave it when the going gets tough?
Debating the topic, of course, is practically a blood sport. There is an essay genre devoted to “Leaving New York.” But the city has a long history of flight and resurgence. It came back after the 1970s recession and after Sept. 11. It has survived power outages and hurricanes.
The pandemic alone, however, poses new challenges for a city that thrives on, and is packed with, people. It also comes at a time when New York is pricing out those who are perfectly capable of working elsewhere remotely.
Rebekah Rosler, a therapist and doula, decided to leave, even though her family history in New York goes back to the 1870s, she said. Her parents are in Manhattan and her grandparents lived on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn. “I love, love, love the city more than anything,” Ms. Rosler, 40, said.
But on March 24, she fled her two-bedroom home in Stuyvesant Town with her husband and their children, a 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins.
“I had never felt an energy like that before, like the city was on the brink of something, and I don’t know what it is,” she said. “I was like, ‘We need to get out of here right now.’”
The Roslers broke their lease and are searching for a new home in Connecticut. They hired a company to pack up their apartment and ship their goods to a storage unit in Danbury.
She said that the recent violence in the city and subsequent curfews only validate her decision. “I live near Union Square, and it was terrifying to watch what was happening,” she said. “It made me realize what a relief not being there is right now.” She added that she supported the protests but was in “full-on mama bear mode.”
But there are also plenty of New York loyalists. Many have seen the city in crisis before, and are proudly staying put.
“I hate to admit it, but I do feel like if you don’t want to be here, ‘So long, I wish you the best of luck and goodbye,’” said Joseph Holmes, a photographer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who moved to New York City in 1984.
“These times of crisis, when things get tough in the city, it’s where I want to be, it’s where my neighbors are,” said Mr. Holmes, 66. He especially takes offense to people saying they don’t want to be in the city if the museums, galleries, bars and restaurants are closed.
“I really don’t understand that whole attitude that says, ‘The attractions are shut down, why would I want to be here?’ he said. “These are people who already had one foot out the door. I’ve been walking around and exploring, and the city is becoming even more fascinating during a time like this.” That includes the protests. “I’m glad to live at the center of that kind of action.”
For Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, the art curator of the Wythe Hotel and a painter, the pandemic was reason enough to relocate, although the decision was still fraught. In mid-March, Ms. Kline, along with her toddler daughter and husband, traded in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, for Nashville.
Ms. Kline wasn’t exactly excited about moving back to Tennessee, where she spent an uncomfortable childhood. In the 1980s, her family fled Iran to avoid religious persecution and ended up as refugees in Nashville.
“I experienced so much racism growing up, and I never ever saw myself going back,” Ms. Kline said. “My fourth-grade teacher dressed our entire class up in blackface for Halloween.”
Still, she warmed up to the idea of staying when a close friend showed her a plot of land in East Nashville, a more progressive part of the city, which was next door to his house. “The second we stood on it, my husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is what we should do next,’” she said. They are now building a house, which she is designing.
Mr. Holmes, the photographer, believes many New Yorkers who left the city at the beginning of the outbreak didn’t give it a chance to address the crisis, stabilize and become livable again.
“In March, I had a hard time leaving the house. My philosophy then was paranoia is prudence,” Mr. Holmes said. “Now we know a lot more about the risk of transmission, and I feel safe going into a store, or walking outside, or sitting on a stoop.”
He also has faith, he said, that the current unrest in New York will not go on forever. “I don’t understand people who would consider leaving the city because of events that happen once every few decades and last for a matter of days,” he said.
Stephanie Hodge, who owns a townhouse in Long Island City, Queens, has two tenants. One, a young couple, is leaving New York for good.
“I am getting the sense that this has been a big shock for young people,” said Ms. Hodge, 53, who works in environmental policy. “Their decisions are different from someone who has been through disasters in New York City, and we’ve had plenty. We’ve had Sept. 11 and we had the blackout in 2003 and then we had Sandy.”
While some middle-aged New Yorkers might be weary of going through another transition, she said she is energized by the possibilities. “Oh, my God, I can’t wait to see what the next phase for New York is,” she said. “Just to see how work transitions will be fun. Our townhouse looks at a big glass wall of small apartments, and everyone is at their desk working from home.”
But these transitions, especially when it comes to remote work, might be the exact reasons that many New Yorkers are leaving. If schmoozing isn’t required anymore, why pay so much to live here?
Darragh Dandurand, 28, a creative director and brand strategist who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has long wanted to move to Philadelphia, close to where her family lives.
Before the pandemic it seemed impossible, because her clients, mostly in technology and fashion, wanted to meet in person. Now that they’ve warmed up to remote meetings, she sees that a life in Philadelphia might be doable.
“I don’t have to be in New York City to do all the concepting and creative work I normally do,” she said.
Imran Hafiz, who works in marketing, figured he could just take the perks of the city with him, when he left Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for Buffalo. He said that Zoom and other video apps will keep him connected to his old social life.
“The best part of the city is the people, and right now all the people are online,” Mr. Hafiz, 28, said. “If we can have a digital New York experience, that can allow so many young people like me to start getting a better quality of life,” he explained. “We can get more space, get on the property ladder and not spend so much money on rent. And we can all just hang online.”
But that concept doesn’t really compute for Maeve Cunningham, 38, who has been resolute about staying in New York. She said that even at the peak of the pandemic, she found a fulfilling, booming social scene, with real people.
“You just need to be a bit more creative about your socializing,” said Ms. Cunningham, who works for a bank and is originally from Ireland. “We cycle in the park, walk on the Westside Highway.” On Fridays, she and her friends grab takeaway cocktails and sit in the park. She recently took part in a protest.
Ms. Cunningham was also grateful for her friends who brought over home-cooked meals and groceries when she fell sick with pneumonia in March. (Doctors couldn’t conclusively give her a Covid-19 diagnosis.)
“Friends called around and sat on pillars outside the building and I talked to them out the window,” said Ms. Cunningham, who added that she kept in touch with loved ones over Zoom as well. “But it was so different and comforting to see friends in person, even if it was from my window.”
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