More than 5 months removed from the first coronavirus-related shutdowns, the enormity of the damage it has done is hard to overstate. Nationally, we have lost more than 175,000+ Americans. More locally, while there are signs of “life returning to normal,” multiple businesses in White Plains have closed their doors permanently, and we now find ourselves less than a week away from September, without a clear sense of when school buildings will be able to open under even a “hybrid” model.
The damage seems almost overwhelming, but, thankfully, signs are emerging that there are opportunities which White Plains is uniquely positioned to take advantage of. Regarding commercial real estate, there is evidence that companies are starting to consider office space in the suburbs, motivated by the chance to get more space than is available to them in the city, at significantly cheaper rates. White Plains, with an abundance of existing quality commercial space, and multiple empty plots of land or vacated buildings where more could be built (to name a few: across from The Crowne Plaza, on Post Road near the Scarsdale border, on Westchester Avenue across from The Westchester, and at the site of the old Esplanade Hotel) should be situated to take advantage of the opportunity.
Similar to the developing trend in commercial real estate, suburban areas throughout the country are seeing a stronger-than-usual demand for single-family homes. The Tri-State area is no exception, as people who fled New York City during the early phase of the pandemic are coming to appreciate what the suburbs offer.
While real estate in suburbs like White Plains is becoming more attractive to both businesses and individuals, other trends work in favor of White Plains, as well. Polling released a few weeks ago shows that Americans largely want to see companies implement workplace policies that dismantle racism and advance racial equity, and want to see companies take concrete actions advancing racial equity and measure their progress along the way. If those attitudes extend from the workplace to the communities people live in, it is not much of a stretch to see an opportunity for White Plains. Our city has, for decades, reflected a racial diversity that is missing from many suburbs – including nearly all other communities in Westchester (with the notable exceptions of New Rochelle and Mamaroneck). Our School District can boast of being the first U.S. school system to voluntarily institute a racial desegregation plan. Many people who live in WP – myself included – are here specifically because we want to live in a diverse community. I certainly wouldn’t claim that WP has moved completely beyond racism. But, if it does happen that more Americans will seek to live in diverse communities, then White Plains should enjoy an advantage from having already established the type of diversity more people will be seeking.
Perhaps I’m a naïve optimist. Perhaps the months of sitting at home have me grasping for reasons to be hopeful about the future of White Plains. Perhaps. Or, perhaps there are real reasons to believe that we are entering into a “new world” that is changed dramatically from the world we all grew accustomed to. Perhaps White Plains is better situated to thrive in this new world than our neighboring cities, towns, and villages. I hope that’s the case, and, if it is, I hope we seize the opportunity.