Like many families with a young child in New York City, my husband and I have been sheltering in place since mid-March with our infant son. And I’m sure like many families, without our beloved library, we’ve been reading the same books to our child over and over again.
Despite the repetition, there’s one book that – even in the midst of quarantine – still makes me tear up. It’s the story of a young squirrel looking for her home. At the end of her perilous journey, the story ends with: “Now Squirrel is right where she should be, napping in her favorite tree.”
Even this cold-hearted New Yorker gets weepy, every time. What a beautiful idea: that you are exactly where you are meant to be in life, in your favorite place, with your favorite squirrels.
These days, we’ve been reading a lot about families making the difficult decision to leave New York City, perhaps to find someplace that’s more removed from the threats of COVID-19, or perhaps offers more space than your one bedroom apartment for a family of four.
I get it. With unemployment being at a historic high, museums, playgrounds, and our favorite restaurants closed, and the threat of infection every time you pass an unmasked stranger on what feels like an ever-narrowing sidewalk, it’s easy to see why you might want to leave the City and find some other tree to call home.
But this squirrel is staying here, and I hope you do too. Yes, things are bad right now and it’s probably going to take a long time to get better. But I want to remind you that there’s still a lot of good stuff here worth sticking around for.
It’s true that many of the things we love most about New York – the parks and playgrounds, and the small businesses, to name a few – are either closed or going to be very different. And it’s true there’s still so much unknown about how or if essential functions of life like work, daycare, and school will ever be as it was before. However, this pandemic has also shown just how precious parts of our city life are, and we have an opportunity to fight not just for the return of what was, but for more of what we love.
What I’ve learned from walking along the East River Esplanade, Carl Schurz Park, and the now open street at East End Avenue is that our open space is absolutely critical to New York City living. All it takes is one look at the joy in the little girl riding her bike, the elderly couple walking side-by-side, and the teen walking his dog to see that open space can connect us, even while staying socially distant. We should be making meaningful investments in the open spaces and parks that we still have and looking for areas throughout our community to expand the open streets program, even after the threat of COVID-19 subsides.
And although many of our small businesses have shut their doors, there are still thousands out there who have found a way to survive and need our help more than ever. I’m not just talking about ordering out for Delizia pizza or Mansion burgers or Conmigo tacos (although I hope you do – they’re all open and delicious). I’m also talking about picking up the phone and calling our elected officials to pass legislation that delivers real rent relief, eases up on regulations on sidewalk cafes, and creates new opportunities for cash flow.
As the City begins the arduous task of reopening, there are so many critical conversations going on about the institutions that most intimately affect our families: school and daycare. These conversations are important and we need real families living through this experience at the table. We need your voice to advocate for increased access to technology, expanded 3K, universal daycare, additional mental health services, and comprehensive cleaning and safety protocols.
Finally, the events of the past week have shown with even greater clarity the importance of showing up for our neighbors and standing up – or taking a knee – for change that is long-overdue and desperately needed. With the tragic death of yet another Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of law enforcement, we find ourselves in the midst of another public health crisis: the health and prosperity of Black people in America. No matter your race, income, or zip code, the justice issues that are being championed by the protesters across the country are issues of human rights, and it is everyone’s responsibility to demand change.
I don’t know when this pandemic will end, but I know that the only way forward is to stay and fight for the future our families deserve.
So here we are – exactly where we should be. I know that for many, this isn’t as easy a choice, and I realize that some will be forced to leave because they cannot afford to stay. But for those who can, I hope you will stay and help us build something special together. This tree is worth fighting for, from one squirrel to another.
Tricia Shimamura is a candidate for New York City Council District 5. You can learn more about Tricia at TriciaforNY.nyc and find her on Twitter at @ShimamuraTricia.