Summer In The City: The Tourist Trade-Off

If Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, Independence Day is the unofficial start of the summer vacation season. With the school year over at last, families are getting ready for their long-planned holidays. Other New Yorkers are fleeing to the Hamptons, Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore for weekend respites from the city’s stale air and oppressive humidity.

The city will not, of course, be vacant come August. In place of those who have relocated to Southampton or Martha’s Vineyard for the summer will come tourists by the millions. For them, the start of summer vacation season means Broadway, the Met, Lincoln Center, the Statue of Liberty and all those other centers of art and culture that the rest of us pass without notice nearly every day.

New Yorkers who stay at home over the next few weeks no doubt will find the presence of these invaders, with their little guide books in hand, more than a little annoying. They make it even harder to navigate Times Square, they bunch up in little knots outside landmarks we take for granted, and they only add to the wait outside the Shake Shack.

Let’s remember, however, these visitors are making a conscious choice to spend their vacation dollars in New York. The city’s economy would be a good deal slower without them, which means that services are better and taxes lower as a result of their presence on our turf. Remember, too, that the city’s investment in public safety, mass transportation and other services makes this bonanza possible. Tourists come to New York because of the city’s world-class attractions—but don’t think for a minute that they’d continue to come by the millions if they thought the city was unsafe, or dirty, or inconvenient.

New York has remade itself into a tourist-friendly city to the benefit of all those who live here. Professional iconoclasts claim to prefer the bad old days of Times Square, with its porn shops, litter and sense of menace, but those days are gone for good. Times Square and so many other safe public spaces represent the city’s new attitude toward visitors. Keeping the streets safe and hospitable isn’t cheap. But it’s well worth the investment.