New York, New York ……….

“Is not very nice really” is my conclusion after coming home from my third trip there last week. So much of what you see there fails to excite starting from the moment you try and leave JFK airport.

You would really think that one of the World’s biggest airports for one of the World’s biggest cities would have a speedy and efficient rail link to the centre wouldn’t you? Well the fact is there is no rail link. In fact the only public transport link is just one bus every half hour which connects all 8 terminals to the city and seats just 30 people. Compare it with Heathrow with a similar number of planes in and out and the same sort of distance from the same size of city. At Heathrow there is a fast train every 15 minutes and a slow train (underground) every 5 minutes. The fast train takes less than 20 minutes to get in and the underground takes about 45 minutes but may drop you off very close to your destination.

Going into the centre was easy for me but coming back to the airport was terrible. Poor stressed staff near Grand Central Station were trying to cope with huge demand with no facilities and precious little help. Eventually they were able to call up even smaller buses to add to capacity but there were bitter altercations to get on the buses when they arrived.

So what did the street scene look like as I waited for the bus? Shabby and unkempt is the only way to describe it. It was not that no-one was trying to keep it clean – I saw quite a few cleaners – but no-one was caring for the basic fabric of the street scene. Many road surfaces had potholes like the Grand Canyon. Pavements were dangerous and I saw two elderly people stumble badly on poor surfaces.

The way into the city however, was just plain dirty. No-one seemed to attend to the cleanliness of streets with weeds growing on pavements and the edge of roadways. Some areas clearly had not been swept for years.

The area around the UN was as bad as anywhere else. This week world leaders will be in town to attend the General Assembly. Not that you would know this from the appearance of the place. The roads and pavements were as bad there as anywhere else I saw. What had clearly been designed as a grand boulevard (First Avenue) felt totally uncared for. Just compare that with Whitehall and you would understand what I mean. Whitehall is always well cared for and is immaculate on most occasions. When visitors come to our nation we make a fuss of them just as we would when a guest comes to our home. In NY the attitude clearly was that they couldn’t care less.

The Post Office (a subject close to my heart) was no exception. There is a big
Post Office on (I think) 4th Avenue. The service was poor and surly. The queues were long with no clarity about where to go for what. It looked grubby and did not present a favourable view of the service. In fact the building could be an excellent one as it is full of character (and characters) but again it seemed that no-one really cared.

My hotel was overpriced. Fortunately I was it paying for it but the price was far more than similar hotels in London or Paris. The bedrooms were great and the views were stupendous but the reception area of a relatively new hotel looked like the entrance to a 1960s brothel (I am guessing this by the way!)

So have I anything positive to say about New York? Yes. The people who served us were extremely friendly and wanted to provide you with the best service that they could. Nothing was too much trouble for the people I met who really wanted to earn their money.

In two restaurants I had really good time. In one I had the best steak I have ever eaten and in a Turkish Restaurant I had the most authentic Turkish meal I have ever had outside Turkey itself.

Some of the buildings we superb. Not only the skyscrapers like the Empire State and Chrysler buildings but many other ones both public and private sector one could only be impressed by the central concourse of Grand Central Station. The office of the Indian Mission to the UN somehow managed to capture the feel of India in a modern building. Many apartment blocks managed to combine both high density and quality design to create elegant, cared for and popular buildings.

At the end of the day I felt that no-one really cared for the city. It reeked of private affluence and public poverty. I would be ashamed if people came to Liverpool and saw scenes like that never mind London. First impressions do count and the first impressions that many have, and I discussed this with other visitors, were the same as mine.

Those of us from the North of England say that London isn’t England. And I know that most Americans will say that NY isn’t America. In fact having been to both Arkansas and Boston recently I know that is the case. Very different, of course from NY they both exude a civic and public confidence that the Council in NY seems not to possess.

How New York conducts its business is of course the concern of the Mayor and Councillors of the city. But they should know that many people come to their city prepared to love Ito but leave with that love unconsummated! I am one of them.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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