It’s evening rush hour in the nation’s capital, and the McPherson Square Metro station on a September Tuesday is all but empty. Thousands once squeezed at this time onto the trains departing from the heart of downtown Washington, two blocks north of the White House. Now, the descending escalator steps only carry the shards of a broken bottle of Power Malt.
Above ground the scene is no less eerie: No honking horns or screams from sprinting commuters trying to flag down the Circulator bus. In what seven months ago would have seemed a suspension of the laws of physics and urban planning, jaywalking is possible at the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW.
From Los Angeles and Chicago to Boston and New York, central business districts find themselves deserted in the seventh month of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and left millions unemployed. And as hopes of a quick recovery sputter, fear is rising that a long-term collapse of downtown economies could soon become irreversible.