The Tourists Come to Town

Anybody who has spent even a few minutes in Times Square, or along Central Park South, or outside the United Nations headquarters, will not be surprised to learn that New York is one of the hottest tourist attractions on the planet. Every New Yorker has anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon: favorite restaurants filled with out-of-towners; tour buses lined up near Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall; people with strange accents asking directions to the wonders the rest of us take for granted.

To support the anecdotes, we now have cold, hard facts: Tourism grew by 11 percent in New York last year. Some 36.7 million people visited here in 1999, making New York the second-most-popular tourist attraction in the United States. The city now trails only Orlando, that “no there there” subdivision that owes its bland existence to a cartoon character and his market-savvy creator.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called the numbers “staggering” and noted that the tourism business creates or supports tens of thousands of jobs throughout the five boroughs. According to statistics compiled by NYC & Company, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, tourists spend about $15.6 billion last year, proving that tourism is hardly a Mickey Mouse business.

Beyond the jobs and the money, the explosion in tourism means that New York has regained its special place in the hearts of other Americans and those from across the seas. For too long a time in the 1970′s, 1980′s and early 1990′s, the city was the punch line of many a late-night comic, and the city itself seemed to stand for all that had gone wrong with society since the 1960′s. Folks who lived west of the Hudson, north of the Bronx and south of Staten Island seemed to take inordinate pleasure in the city’s troubles.

Now, however, the city is thriving, crime is down and New York–based television shows are earning wide audiences. Americans, and citizens around the world, are laughing with us, not at us, as they open their hearts and wallets to this magnificent metropolis.

We’re happy to have them, happy to take their money, and happy that they seem ready to admit that maybe they had it all wrong about New York, back in the bad old days.

A Safir City

After stabilizing matters at One Police Plaza following the turbulent, and astoundingly successful, era of Bill Bratton, Howard Safir has announced his retirement as Police Commissioner at the end of August. He’ll be missed, not only by the Mayor he served dutifully, but by a public that has grown accustomed to startling victories in the war on crime.

He was not a colorful character, like Mr. Bratton was (and is). He didn’t have the street-smart experience and outreach of Mr. Bratton’s underrated predecessor, Raymond Kelly. He didn’t know how to get a great table at Elaine’s. But he did understand how to run a vast bureaucracy, and he refused to allow his ego to get in the way of his performance. He understood that he worked for Rudolph Giuliani, a man who owed his political career to crime-fighting. So he knew it would be pointless to draw attention to himself; instead, he carried out the Mayor’s mandates, built on the successes of Mr. Bratton and let the cops do their jobs.

Critics will note that it was under Mr. Safir’s watch that police officers killed two unarmed black men-Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond. Those killings were tragic. But they were not emblematic of Howard Safir’s four-year term as the city’s top cop. In fact, under Mr. Safir, New York’s Finest have resorted to deadly force far less than under previous Commissioners and Mayors. The Commissioner also helped maintain New York cops’ admirable record of discharging their weapons far less often than police officers in other cities.

He was far more innovative than he was given credit for: He eagerly grasped the importance of DNA evidence, and he toughened the department’s anti-drug efforts. And just as politicians win acclaim for presiding over good economies, a police commissioner deserves public praise when crime falls. History will note that Howard Safir was in charge of the NYPD when, in 1998, murders fell to a 34-year low.

He has had his share of clumsy moments, as when he missed a City Council hearing on crime because he was at the Academy Awards. But he leaves the city far better off for his service. New Yorkers owe him thanks for a job well done.

Stressful Happiness

New Yorkers have never been particularly good at being happy, and they tend to like it that way. Masters of melancholia? Virtuosos of anxiety? Connoisseurs of compulsion? Hey, those are New York trademarks. But happiness tends to raise suspicions. Now science may have found a way to make happiness palatable even to New Yorkers: Researchers at Ohio State University report that happiness may actually increase stress.

What better arena in which to study happiness and stress than marriage? Researchers at Ohio State began a study 10 years ago in which they asked 90 newlywed couples to talk about the ups and downs of their marriages, while doctors drew blood at 30-minute intervals. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology, recently reviewed the data and discovered that when the subjects spoke about happy moments, such as courtship, mutual attraction and the decision to marry, many of them-25 percent-showed elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, an indicator of stress. And the stress was real: Over the past decade, those women who showed increased stress when talking about the happy moments in their marriage ended up being twice as likely to divorce as the other women in the study.

So if you catch yourself in a happy mood, New York, don’t feel too good about it. You might have been better off depressed.