Excerpt from The City and The City and Coronavirus by Kevin Rogan in Failed Architecture.
“Withdrawal from city life is a luxury. For the upper classes, the quarantine is an opportunity to relax (punctuated by Zoom meetings), and even fetishize the collapse: look no further than the New York Times photoseries, “The Great Empty” (with an introduction, naturally, by Michael Kimmelman). Public emptiness becomes a dystopic object of contemplation, evoking “the romance of ruins” or a colonial coming across the “remains of a lost civilization”. But out of sight (or maybe just out of mind), “essential workers” must continue life as before, with the additional risk of contracting disease. There is no solidarity, no ruined spiritual landscape here. There is no single, overarching “way of life”. There is no “human family”. Commitment to these fabrications belies a comfortable position at the top of things.
Beyond this, in New York City, the streets remain relatively lively outside of tourist epicenters, as people continue to commute to work, or find social distancing impossible in cramped apartments. But for the comfortable, there is a feeling that the city has been lost. This is not true—it’s just that the disparity at the heart of urban life is now unavoidable, so blindingly obvious that even Kimmelman is forced to notice it.
There is a stark difference, for example, between the writer safely ensconced in their apartment, whose biggest risk is a trip to the grocery store or the pharmacy, and the worker for whom there is no luxury of working from home. Consider the employees at the DBK1 Amazon warehouse in Queens, where a positive coronavirus case was recorded on March 18th. Amazon workers were notified of the positive case via text message and yet still expected to show up for their shifts, echoing Amazon’s behavior at their European warehouses. The pathetic “hazard pay” offered by Amazon—a mere $2 extra—is a pittance, a slap in the face of workers that continue to risk their lives to fill orders of new books and furniture. Amazon’s calculus is simple: workers are simply grist for the mill. As one general manager has been cited as saying, “you have to understand that orders have to be fulfilled”.