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Why London bests NYC in quality of life

It was possible to walk around central London and not feel a big difference from Manhattan five years ago: New York was rougher, louder and dirtier, but you felt safe and comfortable in both places.

No more. Even as New York has descended into open-air dystopia, post-COVID London, though pandemic-worn, is upholding standards for public spaces.

New York and London, with similar-sized populations, have followed similar trajectories over a half-century.

Both lost residents in the 1970s as the suburbs pulled the middle class away from crime and grime.

Both experienced booms and population gains beginning in the ’80s as a financial-market expansion attracted native-born young people, and the roaring economy, in turn, attracted immigrants.

London has an even bigger excuse than New York to be doing poorly now: Brexit has harmed its financial markets, and the (justified) loss of rich Russians has harmed the property market.

On the ground, though, London is faring better.

If you take public transportation, like progressives want you to do, the last thing you see in New York before entering airport-land — and therefore the first thing you see if you’re a tourist to New York — is a homeless encampment at the JFK AirTrain terminal, one that didn’t exist before COVID.

Half a dozen men, in mental or drug-induced distress, wander about; one “helps” people with AirTrain tickets.

Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at a Hotel Trades Council event.
Gabriella Bass

The deli inside the terminal has erected a no-man’s maze of barriers to keep vagrants from accosting customers.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, through the Port Authority, controls this space — or fails to control it.

Seven hours later, on the London side, jet-lagged customers don’t have to deal with a phalanx of people asking for money as they navigate transit.

You’ve got a choice of the new subway or older rail service, and both are clean, secure spaces.

You can’t loiter in London’s transit system.

As the news from New York is yet another subway homicide, passengers can ride the Tube without encountering open-air drug use or aggressive begging.

New York transit riders have experienced numerous violent subway encounters.
Getty Images

Pandemic scars are visible in London: empty stores and restaurants, empty nameplates in office-building lobbies, more homeless people in doorways.

But: You can go into a drugstore in Piccadilly and marvel at shelf after shelf of toothpaste, right in the open; even razor blades are free from lock and key.

You can sit in Trafalgar Square and not be accosted for money or witness drug use or fights.

You can walk around at 11 p.m. feeling safe.

You can amble all over and not once smell marijuana, let alone see someone shooting up.

And the city isn’t covered in shabby scaffolding.

New York and London have similar-sized populations.
Paul Martinka

London has crime. But the murder level didn’t rise during COVID; the city’s 109 homicides last year were 12% lower than the average of 124 between 2015 and 2019.

In New York, murders, at 438 last year, are 37% higher than they were between 2015 and 2019.

London has one advantage over New York in preventing crime — national control over guns. But that was true in 2019.

And no, the safety net isn’t much better in London.

Including state and local taxes, the highest tax rate in New York, 52%, is higher than London’s rate of 45%.

There is no universal right to shelter in London.

New York has a large homeless population roaming around.
Paul Martinka

There is better mental-health care. British law allows for six-month involuntary hospitalizations for people with severe problems – but New York also allows for involuntary commitments, and the number of people in London mental institutions isn’t high, with about 12,000 “detentions” per year.

Better mental care isn’t a question of fiscal resources for New York but competence and ideology.

New York has 7,500 mental-health beds, most of them in the city; it’s not a Herculean task to add more, but we keep saying we will and don’t.

Progressives object to Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to increase involuntary hospitalizations.

And with a new study tying one-third of schizophrenia cases in young men to marijuana, we’re making more mentally ill people.

London has 4% more jobs than it did before COVID — while New York has only just recovered pre-pandemic jobs.

Much of this isn’t about serious crime or serious mental illness but what behavior is acceptable in public spaces.

Nobody forced New York to legalize — and encourage — universal pot use.

We will get the level of public disorder we accept — and we accept much more than we did half a decade ago.

What does that mean, long term? London, despite Brexit and the Russian war, has 4% more jobs than it did before COVID — while New York has only just recovered pre-pandemic jobs.

Despite myriad challenges, the maxim for successful cities holds: Quality of life creates opportunity.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

This story originally appeared on NYPost

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