How To New York?
New York City, officially the City of New York, historically New Amsterdam, the Mayor, Alderman, and Commonality of the City of New York, and New Orange byname the Big Apple, city and port located at the mouth of the Hudson River, southeastern New York state, the northeastern U.S. It is the largest and most influential American metropolis, encompassing Manhattan and Staten islands, the western sections of Long Island, and a small portion of the New York state mainland to the north of Manhattan. New York City is in reality a collection of many neighborhoods scattered among the city’s five boroughs Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island each exhibiting its own lifestyle. Moving from one city neighborhood to the next may be like passing from one country to another. New York is the most populous and the most international city in the country. Its urban area extends into adjoining parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Located where the Hudson and East rivers empty into one of the world’s premier harbors, New York is both the gateway to the North American continent and its preferred exit to the oceans of the globe. Area 305 square miles (790 square km). Pop. (2010) 8,175,133; New York–White Plains–Wayne Metro Division, 11,576,251; New York-Northern New Jersey–Long Island Metro Area, 18,897,109; (2020) 8,804,190; New York–Jersey City–White Plains Metro Division, 12,449,348; New York–Newark–Jersey City Metro Area, 20,140,470.
The character of the city
New York is the most ethnically diverse, religiously varied, commercially driven, famously congested, and, in the eyes of many, the most attractive urban centre in the country. No other city has contributed more images to the collective consciousness of Americans: Wall Street means finance, Broadway is synonymous with theatre, Fifth Avenue is automatically paired with shopping, Madison Avenue means the advertising industry, Greenwich Village connotes bohemian lifestyles, Seventh Avenue signifies fashion, Tammany Hall defines machine politics, and Harlem evokes images of the Jazz Age, African American aspirations, and slums. The word tenement brings to mind both the miseries of urban life and the upward mobility of striving immigrant masses. New York has more Jews than Tel Aviv, more Irish than Dublin, more Italians than Naples, and more Puerto Ricans than San Juan. Its symbol is the Statue of Liberty, but the metropolis is itself an icon, the arena in which Emma Lazarus’s tempest-tost people of every nation are transformed into Americans and if they remain in the city, they become New Yorkers.
For the past two centuries, New York has been the largest and wealthiest American city. More than half the people and goods that ever entered the United States came through its port, and that stream of commerce has made a change a constant presence in city life. New York always meant possibility, for it was an urban center on its way to something better, a metropolis too busy to be solicitous of those who stood in the way of progress. New York while the most American of all the country’s cities thus also achieved a reputation as both foreign and fearsome, a place where turmoil, arrogance, incivility, and cruelty tested the stamina of everyone who entered it. The city was inhabited by strangers, but they were, as James Fenimore Cooper explained, essentially national in interest, position, and pursuits. No one thinks of the place as belonging to a particular state but to the United States. Once the capital of both its state and the country, New York surpassed such status to become a world city in both commerce and outlook, with the most famous skyline on earth. It also became a target for international terrorism most notably the destruction in 2001 of the World Trade Center, which for three decades had been the most prominent symbol of the city’s global prowess. However, New York remains for its residents a conglomeration of local neighborhoods that provide them with familiar cuisines, languages, and experiences. A city of stark contrasts and deep contradictions, New York is perhaps the most fitting representative of a diverse and powerful nation.
The city site
Sections of the granite bedrock of New York date to about 100 million years ago, but the topography of the present city is largely the product of the glacial recession that marked the end of the Wisconsin Glacial Stage about 10,000 years ago. Great erratic boulders in Manhattan’s Central Park, deep kettle depressions in Brooklyn and Queens, and the glacial moraine that remains in parts of the metropolitan area provide silent testimony to the enormous power of the ice. The glacial retreats also carved out the waterways around the city. The Hudson and East rivers, Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and Arthur Kill are, in reality, estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Hudson is tidal as far north as Troy. The approximately 600 miles (1,000 km) of the New York shoreline are locked in constant combat with the ocean, as it erodes the land and adds new sediments elsewhere. Although the harbor is constantly dredged, ship channels are continually filled with river silt and are too shallow for more modern deep-sea vessels.
South of the rockbound terrain of Manhattan stretches a sheltered deepwater anchorage offering easy access to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1524 the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to enter the harbor, which he named Santa Margarita, and he reported that the hills surrounding the vast expanse of New York Bay appeared to be rich in minerals; more than 90 species of precious stone and 170 of the world’s minerals have actually been found in New York. Verrazzano’s daring expedition was commemorated in 1964 when what was then the world’s longest suspension bridge was dedicated to spanning the Narrows at the entrance to Upper New York Bay.
Only the third largest American port at the time of the American Revolution, New York gradually achieved trade domination and by the mid-1800s handled more than half of the country’s oceangoing travelers and commercial trade. After 1900 New York was the world’s busiest port, a distinction it held until the 1950s. Cargo containerization, the obsolescence of its waterfront piers, and soaring labor costs shifted business to the New Jersey side of the river after the 1960s, but at the beginning of the 21st century, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey still dominated the water trade of the northeastern United States.
Climate and plant and animal life
The average temperature in January is about 31 °F (0 °C) and in June about 72 °F (22 °C), but recorded temperature extremes range from 15 to 106 °F (−26 to 41°C). Because of New York’s moderate climate, the harbor rarely freezes. The annual precipitation is 44 inches (1,120 mm).
The city’s flora and fauna are testimony to the rapid changes in the ecosystem imposed by urban settlement. In areas that once were hunting and fishing paradises for several bands of Native Americans, the most prevalent animals today are the cockroach and the Norway rat, both introduced to the city via trade with Europe. A wide variety of animal species are still found within the city, including 80 species of fish, scores of birds from the peregrine falcon to the pigeon, and such mammals as the raccoon and the occasional urban coyote. Wildlife refuges at Jamaica Bay and in Clove Lakes Staten Island and Alley Pond Queens parks provide sanctuaries for many species, allowing them to survive even within an unfavorable city environment. Vegetation has sufficient precipitation but has been reduced and destroyed with the advance of urban sprawl. The dominant characteristics of c
contemporary city plants are their ability to thrive despite acid rain and air that contains large components of ozone, vehicle emissions, and industrial by-products. However, the city’s two botanical gardens, one in the Bronx and the other in Brooklyn, are highly regarded throughout the country, and zoos in every borough enchant visitors of all ages.
The city layout
The city’s ancient bedrock provides the immovable foundation for hundreds of modern skyscrapers. New York has more of these awesome structures than any other world city. Architects may argue about the origin of the modern skyscraper, but most agree that Manhattan was where structures with steel skeletons were combined with the elevator to create a genre of buildings where great height could be reached practicably; the very word was coined in the 1880s to describe this New York phenomenon.
The earliest pathways for moving around Manhattan Island followed animal and Native American trails across difficult terrain; Broadway still follows one of these routes, which extended northward through the island. City planning was foreign to burghers in the 17th century, and roads were haphazardly authorized; only a few important ones to outlying agricultural communities were maintained, and it was not until 1798 that the city appointed a commissioner of streets. Colonial nonchalance is still visible in the meandering streets of Lower Manhattan. The optimistic spirit of the town is apparent in the street plan adopted in 1811, a grid of blocks, avenues, streets, and lots extending to the northern reaches of the island. City Hall, located now as then in Manhattan, was at that time so far removed from the centre of activity that its northern facade was left unfinished since few could imagine it would ever be seen. Although often modified in specific cases, the rectilinear patterns imposed upon Manhattan in its infancy have determined its developmental patterns, and other boroughs adopted the system after the creation of Greater New York in 1898. The building of Central Park interrupted the grid, and road construction there pioneered concepts of limited-access and transverse-running roadways. In the 20th century, parkways were incorporated into the traffic patterns of all boroughs, such as Eastern and Ocean parkways in Brooklyn, Riverside Drive Manhattan, the Grand Concourse the Bronx, and Queens Boulevard attests. Regardless of all its efforts, the modern city is infamous for the volume of traffic that clogs its well-laid-out street system.
The boroughs of New York City
The administrative structure of New York was shaped by the consolidation of the greater city in January 1898. Following the 19th-century pattern of urban imperialism, and in large part spurred by the challenge that Chicago posed to its primacy, modern New York was formed when the independent city of Brooklyn, the portion of Westchester county called the Bronx, Staten Island, and large parts of Queens county were added to Manhattan following a referendum. Although the population of the city expanded from about 2 million to 3.4 million, much of the new territory was still rural, and only two-fifths of all roads in the expanded city were paved. The five boroughs, which were all soon designated counties of New York state, became the basic municipal administrative units. The office of borough president was created to preserve local pride and affection, and its duties from 1901 to 1990 included service on the Board of Estimate, a central financial agency. Borough presidents now also serve as conduits of neighborhood concern to the mayor, the city’s chief administrator, and are responsible for appointing members of community boards, the City Planning Commission, and the Board of Education. These officials carry much of the burden in the continuous New York battle between strong mayors seeking central authority and local leaders aspiring to independent action.
In the early 20th century, when the population of Greater New York more than doubled, a major concern of city administrators was interlacing communication and transportation systems to create coherence within the metropolitan area. The first segment of the subway system opened in 1904, and soon all the boroughs were linked except Staten Island. In the 1930s and ’40s, the system often handled more than two billion passengers per year; the world’s most extensive subway system soon became the best way to move about the metropolis. An ever-growing number of bridges, tunnels, and highways, designed to facilitate commerce, now take, along with the subways, hordes of commuters into Manhattan in the morning and return them home at night. Hundreds of thousands of outer-borough residents and suburbanites work in and travel to Manhattan every day, in one of the great marvels of urban planning. Except for Staten Island, each of the boroughs considered independently would rank among the largest cities in the United States. Borough legislators constantly complain that their concerns are ignored, and many believe that local interests are usually sacrificed for the welfare of New York County Manhattan. This perception led Staten Island to contemplate seceding from New York City and becoming an independent city in the 1990s, although ultimately nothing came of the movement.
More than 30 million tourists visit New York annually, but most of these rarely see much beyond the 22.6 square miles (58.5 square km) of Manhattan island, the smallest city borough. Divided by 12 north-south avenues and crossed by 220 east-west streets, Manhattan is easily understood and infinitely alluring. It is the original New York, boasts the world’s largest collection of skyscrapers, and is overloaded with cultural institutions and places of enduring interest. Even to residents of the other boroughs, Manhattan is the city, the administrative, business, and financial center of the metropolis, and the basis of its renown. In no other part of New York are there such stark contrasts between rich and poor? The high-rise elegance of Park Avenue and the Upper East Side rapidly gives way to the teeming streets of Harlem to the north and to the crowded bohemian existence of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village to the south. This cruel modern dichotomy echoes the 19th-century city, where industrial millionaires lived in luxury in Fifth Avenue mansions now largely converted into cultural centers far from the immigrant masses on the Lower East Side whose sufferings the Tenement Museum now honors.
Within this formidable historical imbalance, Manhattan is really composed of neighborhoods that offer peaceful havens to contented residents. Many areas of the island are world famous, among them such ethnic enclaves as Chinatown, Yorkville, Little Italy, Spanish Harlem, and Black Harlem. In the streets snaking north from the ancient Dutch Battery, twisting lanes remind walkers that Manhattan was a trade center before Boston, Philadelphia, or Williamsburg existed. Wall Street, the financial center of the globe, was originally a Dutch fortification (1653) against feared British or Native American attacks that never came. The jumble of pre-Revolutionary streets continues up to Houston Street, where the grid pattern becomes dominant and continues up the island. Soho short for south of Houston covers much of the old immigrant East Side and now has been matched by a Noho neighborhood. To the west is Henry James’s Washington Square and beyond that Greenwich Village, formerly a haven for artists but today home to the affluent and professional classes.
In 2003 the first section of Hudson River Park opened. Covering some 550 acres (223 hectares) of renovated piers and waterfront land, the park runs along some 4 miles (6 km) of Manhattan’s West Side from Battery Park north to 59th Street. The West Side is also the site of the High Line, a 1.45-mile- (2.3-km-) long elevated park, which was established along an abandoned spur of the New York Central Railroad and which runs from just below 14th Street north to West 34th Street. Chelsea and Gramercy Park offer diverse attractions before one reaches Times Square, the Crossroads of the World, transformed at the end of the 20th century from a sleazy strip to a center of tourism. At Columbus, Circle visitors may enter Central Park, some 840 acres (340 hectares) of greenery created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the mid-19th century to serve as the “lungs” of the city and defended with vigor against all commercial encroachment.
The Upper West Side is filled with brownstone blocks and high-rise apartments and is home ground to the liberal Democratic Party politics long identified with the modern city. East Harlem is predominantly Hispanic, as is Washington Heights, but the two are separated by Black Harlem and the academic bastion of Columbia University on Morningside Heights. At the far north of the island where Manhattan actually spills into the Bronx Irish influence predominates. Only in the few blocks of Marble Hill is Manhattan part of the mainland United States.
No area of New York demonstrates change and dynamism as fully as Manhattan. Millions enter it daily to seek their fortunes, and additional millions come to marvel at their efforts. It is Manhattan that they label a great place, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Although it is chockablock with buildings with 50 or more floors, Manhattan has a storied past that can be partly recaptured by visiting South Street Seaport, riding the Staten Island Ferry, or walking through its distinctive neighborhoods. Manhattan means Tammany Hall, the archetype of the political machine, as well as the reformers that overthrew the Tiger. It is supremely cosmopolitan, boasting some of the world’s best restaurants and a myriad of cultural institutions, yet folksy enough to have block parties. Manhattan’s variety and pace make New York the number one tourist city in America.
The Bronx is the northernmost borough and except for a tiny sliver of Manhattan the only part of New York on the mainland. It was first settled by farmers and for centuries remained rural. Originally tied to Manhattan only by the King’s Bridge across the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, it was the scene of many conflicts during the American Revolution, but afterward it became the area where wealthy politicians and merchants established summer homes. In the late 19th century it was home to a racetrack where the Belmont Stakes were run until 1889. Railroads, additional bridges, and commerce gradually bound the Bronx to the lower city, and in 1874 the towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and Kingsbridge were annexed by Manhattan. Elevated rail lines soon entered two new wards of the city, and vast parks were authorized; the modern borough, 42 square miles (109 square km) in area, is still one-fourth parkland. When additional land from the Bronx was added to New York in the consolidation of 1898, the modern borough was created. Prior to 1910 subway lines snaked their way north to facilitate population growth in the former farmland. By the time Bronx county was established in 1914, it had large groups of Italians, Jews, Irish, and Armenians. Many found work on public works projects, such as those that built parks, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, or the Jerome Park Reservoir. Others labored on the uptown campus of New York University, which is home to the country’s first Hall of Fame (for Great Americans), expanded the subway system, or constructed Yankee Stadium (1923), the house that baseball legend Babe Ruth reputedly built. Fordham Road became a major shopping street, and the Grand Concourse won favor as one of the most prestigious addresses in the city. The borough still has the greatest number of Art Deco buildings in the world.
An old Broadway song informed Americans that the Bronx is up, but few areas of the country experienced as precipitous a drop from prosperity as the Bronx did. For roughly a decade after the mid-1960s, the Bronx became the scene of classic urban decay caused by widespread poverty, crime, drug dealers, renegade landlords, and the strain of accepting wave after wave of immigrants. As drug and gang wars robbed young people of their future, both the infrastructure and the quality of life for many in the underserved portions of the borough declined rapidly. Although fully linked to the metropolis by railroads and such bridges as the Robert F. Kennedy (1936; formerly called Triborough), Whitestone (1939), and Throgs Neck (1961), the South Bronx became a national symbol of urban blight and hopelessness. Frequent fires laid waste to large tracts of the neighborhood. Jewish residents fled the Grand Concourse to live in Co-op City, a housing complex near Eastchester Bay whose more than 15,000 apartments made it the largest such development in the country. In the eyes of some observers, the spread of deteriorating conditions northward from Mott Haven, Hunt’s Point, and Morrisania threatened to turn the entire borough into a blighted area.
During the last quarter of the 20th century, the tide of decay reversed, and the Bronx rebounded in remarkable fashion. Laws that limited insurance payouts sharply reduced acts of landlord arson and vacant lands were filled with single-family and row housing. Thousands of apartments were rehabilitated or restored with government funds, and hundreds more were saved by individuals who refused to give in to lawlessness. Tensions between competing populations eased. According to the 2020 census, the borough’s population was nearly 55 percent Hispanic, about 29 percent African American, nearly 9 percent white, and about 5 percent Asian. Crime and violence declined. At the same time, the Bronx, and the South Bronx in particular, became the birthplace of the hip-hop cultural movement, whose musical component probably originated with the huge sound system and twin turntables used at parties by the Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc.
By the mid-1990s the Bronx’s population was rising, and the upper-class enclaves of Riverdale and City Island once again ranked as sought-after housing areas for the city elite. By the 2010s portions of the South Bronx had become dramatically gentrified. The number of housing units in the borough rose from about 451,000 in 1980 to about 512,000 in 2010. But, though much of the focus of development and rehabilitation was on the creation of affordable housing, it was too costly for many of the citizens of the Bronx, which remained one of the most prominent centers of urban poverty in the United States as the 21st century progressed.
Brooklyn of New York City
The most populous borough of New York, Brooklyn occupies 81 square miles (210 square km) to the east of Manhattan on the western fringe of Long Island. Sections of the area were first settled by the Dutch in the 1630s, and six largely agricultural towns Brooklyn, Flatlands, Flatbush, New Utrecht, Bushwick, and Gravesend soon thrived. Consolidated as Kings county in 1683, the region grew modestly as an appendage of Manhattan. During the American Revolution, Brooklyn was the scene of the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776). After the British occupied New York, their notorious prison ships were anchored in Wallabout Bay; a memorial to the thousands who died stands in Fort Greene Park. Early in the 19th century, Brooklyn became the world’s first modern commuter suburb, and Brooklyn Heights was transformed into a wealthy residential community. Modern-day entrepreneurs have restored ferry service across the East River, and the esplanade along the heights rewards visitors with an unrivalled view of Manhattan’s shore and skyline.
To the chagrin of New York, Brooklyn became an independent city in 1834 and soon adopted the grid form of the street layout. By the 1880s it had about 20,000 industrial jobs and handled more waterborne tonnage than its rival; during the American Civil War, the Monitor had been constructed at the Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint. Brooklyn had its own Academy of Music (1859) and Historical Society (1863) and, in Prospect Park (1870s), an urban green space that represented a more mature version of Olmsted’s vision across the river; it ranked among the largest cities in the country in the last four decades of the 19th century. However, the construction of John Roebling and Washington Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan (completed 1883) doomed its independent existence, as business interests craved closer ties to the metropolis. Overcoming the opposition of the local Democratic machine, Brooklyn accepted consolidation by a margin of only 277 votes and became a part of Greater New York in 1898.
Additional access to Manhattan came with the construction of the Williamsburg (1903) and Manhattan (1909) bridges and later through Battery Tunnel (1950). In the 1920s full subway service was extended as far as Coney Island, and in 1931 the borough became home to New York’s first airport, Floyd Bennett Field (now part of Gateway National Recreation Area). Brooklyn had something that Manhattan could never match, a beloved baseball team, the Dodgers, playing in a wonderfully intimate ballpark, Ebbets Field; many hearts were broken when the team decamped to California in 1957, and the field was subsequently demolished. Even without the Dodgers, Brooklyn celebrated its independent nature. It had its own shopping mecca around Flatbush Avenue, a Civic Center, and even a Chinatown in Sunset Park. It also remained famous for its multiplicity of houses of worship serving neighborhoods as varied as Brighton Beach and Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and Ridgewood, and Canarsie and Cobble Hill.
In the late 20th century, the industrial, largely working-class character of Brooklyn began changing. Neighborhoods such as Park Slope are gentrified. Its renovated brownstone homes offered young professionals and families a more affordable low-key alternative to living in Manhattan. An influx of artists turned Williamsburg into a hip bohemian enclave. As manufacturing jobs rapidly began disappearing from the borough, changing Brooklyn neighborhoods increasingly the site of bars, coffee shops, innovative restaurants, boutiques, and galleries became a magnet for young workers in the evolving knowledge economy of the 21st century. Technology-based enterprises took the place of factories. Greenpoint and Bushwick, in north Brooklyn, became home to the same creative types who had flooded Williamsburg; DUMBO Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass emerged as one of New York’s best-known arts districts. Neighborhoods throughout the borough became more upscale. In 2012 the NBA’s New Jersey Nets relocated to Brooklyn, eventually taking up residence in the brand new Barclays Center. Even Bedford-Stuyvesant, long a locus of poverty and urban blight, witnessed the arrival of a diverse group of upwardly mobile residents. Still, even as high-rise condominiums, apartments, and office buildings sprouted on the Williamsburg waterfront and in downtown Brooklyn, portions of Brooklyn remained mired in poverty.
Queens county would constitute a major American city were it not a part of New York. Its 120 square miles (311 square km), more than one-third of the city, feature a primarily middle-class population owning private homes, although in such areas as Forest Hills apartments predominate. During colonial times a significant battle for religious freedom, the Flushing Remonstrance (1657), was fought in Queens; it was the first victory for the tolerance necessary in an urban center. In the 19th century, Queens had several racetracks and two shorelines that attracted the wealthy, and it served as the final resting place for deceased New Yorkers. Its Calvary Cemetery is still the largest in the nation, while 7,000 veterans of the American Civil War are buried in Cypress Hills on its border with Brooklyn. The Long Island Rail Road (1836), originally intended to shorten the trip from New York to the Boston ferry, traversed land that was largely agricultural. That situation changed after 1870 when what essentially were company towns were established by William Englehardt Steinway pianos and Conrad Poppenhusen rubber; the later development of the Newtown Creek area brought heavy industry and drew many immigrant workers into the county.
In 1894 the communities of western Queens endorsed the creation of Greater New York, but parts of its eastern territory ultimately became Nassau county. The borough grew rapidly once the Queensboro Bridge opened (1909) and the Long Island Rail Road was connected to Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station (1910), and a subway service was established soon thereafter. A pleasing mix of the urban and the rural, Queens was the center of the silent-film industry until displaced by Hollywood in the late 1920s. The growing borough had more than a million people even before it was lashed to the Bronx by three bridges and to Manhattan by the Midtown Tunnel (1940). Pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss flew from Albany to New York City in a little less than three hours in 1910, thus issuing in the age of domestic aviation, and the flat, open spaces of Queens became popular for airfields. It became an international arrival center when La Guardia Airport opened in 1939 and Idlewild International Airport in 1948, the latter subsequently renamed to honor U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy in 1963. Access to transportation and a lower-density population made Flushing Meadows in Queens a natural site for the two world’s fairs held in New York City in 1939–40 and 1964–65. The borough also annually hosts the United States Open Tennis Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Rockaway Beach, on Queens’s southern peninsula, is the only place in New York City where it is legal to surf. Among the borough’s cultural attractions are the Queens Zoo, the Queens Museum, the New York Hall of Science, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and the Queens Botanical Garden.
In a diverse and cosmopolitan city, Queens ranks as the most ethnically varied of all the boroughs, and its percentage of immigrants ranks among the highest of any county in the United States. Individuals from as many as 120 countries call Queens home. In the 20th century, observers sometimes referred to Irish Woodside, Greek Astoria, Polish-Lithuanian Maspeth, or Italian Corona, and for a long time, those ethnic groups predominated in those neighborhoods. Today the largest immigrant populations are found in the Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing, Forest Hills, Jackson Heights, and South Ozone Park neighborhoods. People from China and Latin America constitute the borough’s largest immigrant groups. According to the 2020 census, nearly 28 per cent of Queens’s population was Hispanic, more than 27 percent was Asian, nearly 23 percent was white, and nearly 16 percent was Black.
Geographically isolated at the juncture of Upper and Lower New York Bays, Staten Island is 5 miles (8 km) removed from Manhattan by ferry and a mile from Brooklyn across the Narrows. It’s 60 square miles (155 square km) are still the least densely populated, most rural part of the city. When the English conquered New York in 1664, they decided that Staten Island would remain part of that province despite its proximity to New Jersey. A century later, in 1776, British troops launched their conquest of the city from the island. After independence, Richmond borough later Staten Island held forts to protect access to New York, quarantine stations for sick immigrants, homes for aged seamen and orphans, and railroad terminals for Manhattan’s freight. When its voters chose to become part of the greater city, its population was slightly more than 65,000.
After 1900 a civic center and borough hall were constructed in St. George near the ferry ramps. Water-system real estate speculators attempted to start a boom when Richmond was connected to the city, but the prospect faded away once direct subway access failed to materialize. Until the 1930s the borough experienced slow industrial and population growth, and only after the Goethals (1928), Outerbridge Crossing (1928), and Bayonne (1931) bridges were built did stagnation cease. Construction of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (1964) finally opened the borough to rapid development and made it a functional part of city life, but the Staten Island Ferry, which traverses New York Harbour between the island and Manhattan, remains Staten Island’s most direct connection with the rest of New York City. By the end of the 20th century, truck farming had ended and factories had closed on the island, but borough residents have managed to retain the integrity of their nearly 3,000-acre (1,200-hectare) park, the Greenbelt, the largest such amenity in the metropolis.
Staten Island is the most homogeneous borough in New York: it has the lowest proportion of ethnic minorities and is the most politically conservative. Pointing to its limited public transportation and lack of a public hospital, some of its politicians characterize Staten Island as underserved and call it the forgotten borough. Residents long resented being home to New York’s largest garbage disposal site, the Fresh Kills landfill, but it closed for good in 2001, and the site is slated to be transformed into a large park. In 1993 Staten Islanders voted to secede from New York City. Although the action was blocked by the state assembly, the idea of secession has occasionally resurfaced.
Planning the modern metropolis
Before the creation of Greater New York, city leaders dealt with the needs of citizens less than systematically. Administrations in the 19th century created the street grid, regulated the port and immigration, provided water and sewers, authorized transportation lines, and built parks. No one pretended that Manhattan offered a picture of rational planning, but with a consolidated population of more than three million, a more orderly approach was necessary. Uncontrolled buildings and atrocious housing conditions were among the primary concerns of progressive thinkers, and their first achievement was the Tenement House Law (1901) which required the installation of fire escapes and toilets in existing old law structures. City officials became the overseers of new law construction of six-story buildings with dumbwaiters, cooking facilities, hot water, and no inside rooms without windows—and within 15 years an additional 200,000 apartments were built. Progressivism’s greatest accomplishment was the city zoning ordinance of 1916, the first attempt by any city to control density, regulate land use, and guarantee light and air to the streets by reshaping structures. By that time, Manhattan was already famed for its skyscrapers, and their height had escalated from the idiotic 11 floors of the Tower Building (1889) to the 20 of the Flatiron (1902) and finally to the unprecedented 792-foot (241-metre) Woolworth Building, the cathedral of commerce (1913). The new zoning code mandated building setbacks to permit daylight to reach the streets and altered the shape of future construction, and under its restrictions, the Chrysler (1930) and Empire State (1931) buildings were completed. Those structures still have two of the most famous silhouettes on earth. After World War II, a crystal corridor of buildings was constructed along Park Avenue that has been called the architectural heart of the 20th century. In 1961 the zoning code was altered to encourage developers to add public amenities to their building plans in return for variances. The revision proved less than successful, and in 1990 the City Planning Commission established new building districts in an attempt to decrease the flood of new buildings in Manhattan.
In 1921 the Port of New York Authority (PA) was formed to deal with regional transportation issues, and it quickly initiated a series of massive construction projects that still serve the city. Widely accused of favoring the automobile over mass transit, the PA added the George Washington Bridge (1931), Lincoln Tunnel (1937), bus and Port Authority Trans-Hudson terminals, satellite communication centers, and the World Trade Center (1970–72; destroyed 2001) to the urban mix. Officials from the PA deferred to the judgments of Robert Moses, the dominant city planner from 1934 until the 1960s, who provided the city with 13 major bridges, more than 400 miles (650 km) of high-speed highways, and hundreds of parks and playgrounds. He also led New York’s efforts at clearance of blighted neighborhoods, urban renewal, and public housing. More than any other single individual, Moses shaped the contemporary city.
But not even Moses could totally control the chaos of development characteristic of New York. His career perfectly illustrates the adage, that New York will be a great town if they ever finish it. In truth, aside from a few farmhouses, little remains from the colonial era, and the construction boom after 1945 consumed 19th-century structures at a rapid pace. As Walt Whitman described it, the city had the pull-down and build-over-again spirit, which became a New York tradition. However, in 1963, when Pennsylvania Station went under the wrecking ball, outrage led to the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (1965), whose purview was soon extended to interiors and to scenic landmarks. The commission has established historic districts, designated more than 1,000 individual landmarks, and preserved a past that has become increasingly important to New Yorkers. Restoration, preservation, and walking tours have become growth industries within the metropolis.
In 1969 city planners offered a massive regional plan for development, but it failed to win approval. Instead, successive amendments to the city charter in 1975 and 1989 have been used to broaden popular input into city projects. Borough presidents whose planning responsibilities formerly were largely ignored and local community boards have now become involved in the preparation of new initiatives. In a city as complex as New York, architectural change is constant, and the total transformation of the Times Square district illuminates the power of design to alter the city. In the 1990s it went from being the national symbol of urban decadence and seediness to a center of corporate consumerism that now draws families of tourists to its attractions. Elsewhere in the city, prominent real estate developers including future U.S. president Donald Trump often won approval for vast projects, but planning officials and local communities have often blocked what they saw as unsuitable land use.
Ethnic and religious diversity
In a city that embraces change as its primary tradition, the shifting population base of New York remains its most dramatic story. At the end of the 20th century, it was claimed that representatives of some 200 national groups were counted among its people. According to the 2020 census, people of European ancestry and white non-Hispanic made up about 31 percent of the population, Hispanics/Latinx accounted for about 28 percent, and African Americans constituted about 20 percent. The fastest-growing component of the population was Asia, which had risen from a tiny proportion in 1970 to more than 15 percent. During the 2010s most foreign migrants to New York City came from Latin America and Asia (40 percent and 38 percent, respectively, between 2014 and 2018). In terms of nationality, Dominicans constituted the largest foreign-born contingent, followed by Chinese, Mexicans, Jamaicans, Guyanese, and Ecuadoran people yearning to make it. The Statue of Liberty, more than a century after its dedication in the harbor (1886), continues to be the most powerful symbol of New York, as it welcomes newcomers into the city’s golden door.
People from each ethnic group have climbed the ladder of acculturation, achieved their goals to a greater or lesser extent, and then, in turn, found fault with the masses that followed them to the promised city. As early as 1643, Father (later Saint) Isaac Jogues cataloged 18 languages that were being used on the streets of New Amsterdam, and that cosmopolitan atmosphere was retained when Dutch control ended and Britain assumed power. Jews, Roman Catholics, and numerous ethnic groups lived in Manhattan before the end of the 17th century, but political control remained in the hands of the established merchant elite. When the American Revolution began, more prominent Dutch families the Van Cortlandt, De Peyster’s, and Schuylers supported the cause than did their English counterparts. One unanticipated result of the fighting was that many enslaved persons, perhaps one-fifth of the city population in 1776, won freedom. One of the first history books of New York was a satiric look at the merchant elite and the city’s Dutch past written in 1809 by Diedrich Knickerbocker Washington Irving. Spoken Dutch was heard on city streets until the late 19th century when such families as the Roosevelts and the Vanderbilts were important members of Manhattan’s elite.
The dedication of the first St. Patrick’s Cathedral between Mott and Mulberry streets in 1815 signaled the rising prominence of the Irish. By 1844, 15 parishes served more than 80,000 Irish Roman Catholics, and it was clear even before the Great Famine immigration of 1845–49 that New York was becoming predominantly Irish. More than 24,000 Germans also lived in Manhattan, a number that vastly increased following the failed revolutions of the 1840s. Irish workers had to contend with signs warning No Irish need to apply, and their poor circumstances soon created one of New York’s most notorious slums, the Five Points District. Germans, who were largely Protestant or Jewish, were more middle-class and perhaps had a slightly easier acclimation; they created the Kleindeutschland Little Germany neighborhood east of the Bowery. So great was the pressure of immigration that Castle Garden, near the Battery, was converted into a reception center, a role it fulfilled from 1855 to 1890. By the time of the American Civil War, Irish, Germans, and several other ethnic groups made the city’s population more than half foreign-born.
The arrival of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe after 1880 again changed Manhattan. The Irish and Germans, who by then held a vast proportion of political and economic power, deeply resented the Italians, Greeks, Russians, Hungarians, and Poles crowding into their city. Ellis Island, a new immigrant reception station, was built in 1892 to deal with the unprecedented numbers of newcomers, and by 1900 the Lower East Side recorded one of the greatest population densities in world history. Ellis Island processed about 12,000 people per day, and in 1907 some 1.2 million entered the United States through the port. The austere New York Times wrote that cleanliness is an unknown quality to these people. They cannot be lifted to a higher plane because they do not want to be. Tuberculosis became the Jewish disease, and New York’s police commissioner played the demagogue in 1909 when he asserted that half of all city crime was committed by Russian Jews. Nevertheless, Jews were to transform labor and education in the city, while Italians would become the largest ethnic group. Yet so varied was the city that every large group remained only a minority, and toleration of the other became a New York virtue.
An often ignored force of change in New York is the constant internal migration it attracts. Over the years a large proportion of America’s brightest and most ambitious and driven individuals have been drawn to Manhattan. New York displaced Boston as the national cultural center as early as the mid-19th century, as its newspapers, magazines, and artistic freedom lured the different-minded. By 1900 both Mark Twain and William Dean Howells had found it necessary to live in New York, and Greenwich Village emerged as a haven for nonconformity before World War I. Modern sculpture, Beat poetry, and Abstract Expressionism are only three of the 20th-century artistic movements that trace their origins to the Village scene.
After 1900 the largest group of internal refugees were African Americans fleeing the restrictions of life in the rural South. New York was one of their preferred destinations, and the growth of Harlem as the Black metropolis was the unintended result. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Afro-American Realty Company began to rent homes to Black Americans in what was then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and the churches they attended downtown soon relocated to the north. Growing ethnic and economic hostility led to a white exodus, although East Harlem did remain largely Italian, and by 1930 more than 200,000 Black Americans lived in Harlem. Their artistic talents led to the Harlem Renaissance, and their musicians were leaders of the Jazz Age, but the reality remained that the Harlem they dominated was becoming the largest disadvantaged neighborhood in the city. The Great Depression destroyed economic opportunity, and high rents forced the subdivision of apartments. Harlem endured a long decline from which it did not emerge until the 1990s.
Some white ethnics found no difficulty in deciding that African Americans were ignorant, lazy, and prone to engage in criminal activities. As the first large group entitled to the social reforms of the New Deal era, African Americans were accused of being parasitic users of the welfare system. Similar accusations were later directed at Puerto Ricans, long a presence in the city but whose numbers soared after World War II. However, within a generation, the influx of Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, and, more recently, Mexicans and Ecuadorans altered the fabric of New York in an unexpected manner. In the 1990s the Hispanic population of the city grew by about 400,000; between 2010 and 2020 that component of the city’s population expanded by more than 150,000. Today some 2.5 million New Yorkers of Hispanic origin constitute the largest single group in the city, and it is estimated that nearly one-fourth of the city speaks Spanish at home. At times there have been tensions between Black Americans and Latinx, reflecting the tendency of one wave of early migrants to disdain those who come later.
The seal of the city of New York, adopted in 1686, includes the beaver and the flour barrel, images that document the first major phase of Manhattan’s economic history. New Amsterdam was important to the Dutch because it offered access to the immensely valuable fur trade of a continent. One of the richest men in 19th-century New York was John Jacob Astor, whose fortune was based on fur before he became a real estate speculator. After the British conquest in 1664, the city won a monopoly to grind and pack grain and sent its flour to all world markets. Merchant incomes soared as commerce, both legitimate and via smuggling, became the lifeblood of New York. Any threat to city prosperity was harshly dealt with, and William Kidd’s turn from privateering to piracy led him to the gallows in London in 1701.
Shipping and transportation
The shipping enterprise has always characterized New York. Its Dutch-English merchant class dominated the colonial assembly and after 1756 controlled the annual salary grant awarded to the royal governor. A group of 20 merchants organized the country’s first chamber of commerce (1768) at a time when small manufacturing establishments cloth, timber processing, ropes, and sails—were becoming more common. Rapidly overcoming years of British occupation during the American Revolution, the city filled Caribbean, European, and coastal ports with its vessels within a decade of independence. New Yorkers were the ones who sent the Empress of China on its historic first voyage to East Asia in 1784, and Manhattan was the national leader in both exports and imports by the late 1790s. When inventor Robert Fulton’s steamboat, the Clermont, made its first trip to Albany in 32 hours in 1807, it revolutionized transportation. New York launched the first scheduled shipping to Europe, and its thriving boatyards constructed every type of vessel from harbor lighters to inland steamers to transatlantic passenger ships. Walt Whitman was enthralled by the tall masts that turned South Street into a forest. The yacht America (1851), the first winner of the race henceforth called America’s Cup, was built there as were many of the fabled clipper ships, the fastest sailing vessels in history. From 1830 until the 1950s New York ranked as the busiest port in the world.
Banking and finance
Commercial banking began in Manhattan in 1784 when the Bank of New York opened for business. It was soon joined by a branch of the First Bank of the United States (1792) and the Manhattan Company (1799), the ancestor of what is now The Chase Manhattan Corporation. The origins of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) can be traced to the Buttonwood Agreement of 1792, although the Exchange Board itself was not organized until 1817. After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, banking services became even more centered in the city, and when its merchants entered the cotton trade the commerce of the entire nation flowed into the port. Several financial waves of panic in the 19th century could not prevent the city from dominating the national money markets. Investors and banks from the metropolis provided much of the capital that financed the industrialization of the United States. So great was the influence of New York that the country’s largest firms found it expedient to locate their headquarters there even though as with Carnegie Steel, American Tobacco, and Standard Oil the focus of their manufacturing was elsewhere.
The development of industry and trade
Shipping and finance secured New York’s international standing, but manufacturing provided jobs for its teeming population. A multitude of small businesses was centered in Manhattan by the 1850s, and the clothing, furniture, pianos, cigars, and dozens of other products they created boosted city exports. By mid-century New York was the printing center of the United States with more than 1,000 establishments; in the period 1865–85, the number of magazines published in the city quintupled to 3,300. The influx of skilled Jewish immigrants transformed an already dominant clothing industry into a gargantuan one, employing nearly half of all city workers by 1910. Thus, the interaction of capital, cheap labor, access to raw materials, entrepreneurial initiative, and transportation facilities made New York the ideal place for business. It quickly developed advertising, insurance, and legal services to deal with the needs of its burgeoning manufacturing sector.
The center of business
By the beginning of the 20th century, New York was the headquarters for more than two-thirds of the top 100 American corporations, and its 25,000 factories manufactured several hundred different industrial products. It led the nation in total factory workers, number of factories, capital valuation, and product value. New York held its leadership position for another three generations and provided nearly one million industrial jobs into the 1950s. From 1960–75 the city lost more than 600,000 of these jobs, as its old economy collapsed and an information age took shape. Banking and financial services became the new engine of development abetted by the traditional print and advertising sectors of the economy while white-collar workers with computer skills replaced most of the blue-collar laborers of the past. In the early 2020s, 45 Fortune 500 companies called New York home, and the city contained a talent pool of some 330,000 financial workers. Although much has been made of the move of clothing production out of New York, more fashion design and retail firms are based in New York than in any other American city. Moreover, the roughly 180,000 individuals who worked in the industry in the second decade of the 21st century constituted about 6 percent of the city’s workers.
The 1970s represented a low point for New York. Its national reputation collapsed as the government experienced virtual bankruptcy. High rents, congestion, arson, and crime led to an exodus of businesses and the middle class even after the city began the rebuilding process. Industrial parks, where businesses were given cheaper rents, better utilities, and safety, were authorized in response to the crisis, and major tax incentives were granted to those corporations that remained in the city. The NYSE even threatened to leave, but in the late 1990s, it agreed to remain in Manhattan and construct a new facility. By constantly enhancing its key economic advantages, New York has remained prosperous even as it underwent a change, its strength lying in its diversity.
The Port of New York and New Jersey, where facilities were outmoded and corruption endemic, converted its docks for containerized shipping and dredged deeper channels. Old piers were dismantled or converted to other uses, such as amusement centers. Although the port lost some percentage of its shipping to other cities, it is still the busiest port on the East Coast and the third largest in the United States. It generates billions of dollars of revenue and creates thousands of jobs. Major container terminals are located on Staten Island and in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Red Hook and Manhattan also have major passenger ship terminals.
While the ready-made clothing industry remains important in New York, other traditional manufacturers have declined significantly. However, they have been replaced by a growing number of advanced manufacturing companies that use new technologies from 3D printing to robotic automation to produce a wide range of products in new or revamped and repurposed production hubs such as the Brooklyn Army Terminal. As the knowledge economy took hold in the 21st century, New York evolved into one of the country’s leading centers for technology-based start-up companies many of them software producers, and it has retained its prime position as a site for creative businesses such as advertising, motion picture and video production, sound recording, and all varieties of design. New York is also one of the countries leading centers of health care and medical and scientific research, boasting a number of major academic medical centers, including Weill Cornell Medical College, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the medical schools of New York and Columbia universities.
The city’s continuing financial supremacy was apparent in the 1990s, a decade in which the Dow Jones average quadrupled, and profits for the members of the NYSE soared. New York marketed its monetary expertise to the globe. Its banks dealt with the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s as well as the Asian financial meltdown of the late 1990s, and in the process, the city became the economic capital of the world. Even after the catastrophic financial crisis that gave rise to the Great Recession of 2007–09, New York City remained the epicenter of international finance. The vast numbers of bars, restaurants, hotels, health clubs, and theatres across New York that care for and feed the millions of visitors who come to the city annually underwent their own existential crisis during the economic lockdown imposed to combat the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic, the first cases of which had been reported in China in December 2019.
Administration and social conditions
New York City is administered by a mayor who chooses department heads and criminal-court justices and prepares the annual budget. Mayors hold considerable power but are constantly involved in legislative battles with the 51 members of the City Council. Both mayor and council members serve a maximum of three four-year terms. In general, beginning with Fiorello La Guardia in the 1930s, the mayors usually led their own parties and have been stronger than other party leaders.
Two themes are constant in the administrative history of New York: the tension between the city leadership and the superior authority of the state in the struggle for home rule, and the municipality’s desire to contain the decentralizing tendencies caused by its component elements. In the Dutch colonial period, the director general of New Netherland was a city resident who ruled both province and burgh, but after 1664 England’s provincial governor named a mayor. In the 1680s Gov. Thomas Dongan granted New York its first municipal charter and permitted the election of aldermen, but he retained the right to appoint the mayor, recorder, clerk, and sheriff. Effective control remained in the hands of the governors until it was wrested away by the city aristocracy after 1740. Despite divided authority, the city grew rapidly, and by the 1730s it possessed two newspapers, an almshouse, a night watch, and a network of volunteer firemen.
During the time of the American Revolution, New York suffered from a long British occupation and two fires that destroyed one-third of its buildings. Federalist Mayor James Duane, whose own home had been burned to the ground, supervised rebuilding efforts in the 1780s, and his successor Richard Varick completed the reconstruction of the city and government. Their efforts, abetted by those of DeWitt Clinton after 1803, established the foundations for New York’s national dominance. After 1800 New York was the nation’s largest city, a commercial dynamo that worked efficiently even as the city became a great melting pot of different peoples. Yet New Yorkers still lacked the right to elect their own mayor; only in 1834 did Jacksonian Cornelius Lawrence initiate democratic control, which subsequently has been characteristic of the metropolis. One area in which voters of all classes agreed was the need to improve city services, and in April 1835 they approved the creation of a new water supply. New York’s Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, inaugurating a century of city efforts to tap regional water resources and provide citizens with some of the nation’s best-quality drinking water; this better water was also vital in ending the epidemics that periodically struck the city. Manhattan’s desire for home rule was often at odds with the plans of upstate legislators, and in 1857 Albany authorized the Metropolitan Police District to cover four urban counties. Involvement by the state created two competing police forces, and their subsequent battles were ended only by the intervention of the state militia. Not until 1870 after massive bribery by Boss William Magyar Tweed was local police power restored. Tweed’s charter increased the authority of the office of mayor in governance matters and after the Tweed ring was overthrown in 1871, a reform charter added power to the office of comptroller. The Board of Estimate and City Council also were established to direct city development.
New York in the 19th century, while primarily under the control of the Tammany Hall political machine, constructed Manhattan’s basic water, sewer, fire, police, transportation, and park facilities. There was, naturally, some corruption and a great deal of what insiders like George Washington Plunkitt called an honest graft, but the experience gained in building Manhattan permitted the greater city to construct an infrastructure capable of serving a far denser population. In 1899 social reformer Jacob Riis described a metropolis barely yet out of its knickerbockers yet poised for greatness; Riis believed its enduring challenge would be to care for the poor. Novelist Theodore Dreiser agreed, for in New York the strong are so very strong, and the weak so very, very, weak and so very, very, many. The wealth generated by economic success in New York was never totally subservient to the demands of the affluent.
Compassion is hardly part of the city’s cold image, but caring for its less fortunate citizens has been a major theme of its modern history. In this most capitalist of all American cities, a strong element of socialist ideology fostered the creation of the nation’s largest municipal hospital and university systems, vast areas of public housing, and generous welfare benefits for the poor. City programs exist in uneasy proximity to a remarkable collection of the world’s best private hospitals, some of its most expensive apartments, and dozens of private universities. Social initiatives first attempted in New York became precursors of New Deal programs in the 1930s, while the city’s American Labor and Liberal parties constantly advanced an agenda of public responsibility. Although the Democratic Party organization served many constituencies, it held political power because it never forgot the poorest citizens, who also voted. The enormous wealth of the city funded a wide range of altruistic programs without major difficulty until the 1960s when welfare rolls exceeded one million people and crime rates soared. The vast decline in manufacturing and the taxes it provided also undermined the city economy, and New York suddenly became a metropolis out of control. Mayor John Lindsay never mastered the crisis; he attempted to create superagencies to deal with human resources, the environment, health, housing, and parks even as the borough presidents and community groups demanded greater local control. Lindsay’s long feud with the state government eventually led to the loss of central control over the school system in 1969. By 1975 the city nearly fell into bankruptcy, its finances were administered from Albany, and its social compact appeared on the verge of anarchy.
In the last decades of the 20th century, New York’s rebirth was spectacular. Mayor Edward I. Koch restored fiscal security to the city, and his administration began the slow task of restoring lost confidence. Koch’s trademark question, “How’m I doing?” became identified with city revival; as the national economy rebounded so, too, did New York. Commercial construction boomed, and multibillion-dollar refurbishing programs of subsidized housing and transportation systems were instigated. Not even the great stock disaster of October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones average dropped by more than one-fifth halted the turnabout. The 1990s were a decade of unprecedented wealth accumulation in the country’s richest city, but poverty and homelessness endured as societal realities.
In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that New York’s government system, which gave equal representation to populous Brooklyn and underdeveloped Staten Island, violated the one man, one vote mandate of the Constitution. The Board of Estimate was to be abolished, and a November referendum decided that the City Council would be expanded to 51 members in order to enhance the power of minorities. Council authority over the budget, land use, zoning, and franchises was increased, and a new planning commission was established. The renovated council remained under Democratic control but now had the potential to oppose mayoral initiatives; when voters elected Republican Rudolph Giuliani as mayor in 1993, the urban political scene became confrontational. Battles over educational leadership, city planning, and spending projections marked Giuliani’s administration, even as it successfully reduced city crime in all categories and pruned welfare rolls. By the late 1990s, the city’s murder rate had fallen to the lowest level in 35 years. Aggressively preventive tactics pioneered in New York substantially reduced the national crime rate, while the quality of life policing made citizens feel safe on the streets. Acting in concert with national welfare reform, Giuliani’s administration established the country’s largest workfare program while slashing welfare rolls by more than 400,000. In 2001, near the end of his administration, Giuliani reversed the earlier perception that he had turned his back on the city’s tradition of compassion by leading the vast rescue and recovery effort at the site of the World Trade Center disaster.
In 2002 billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg replaced Giuliani as mayor. During Bloomberg’s tenure (2002–13) the stop-and-frisk policy which permitted police officers to stop, interrogate, and search New Yorkers solely on the basis of reasonable suspicion may have contributed to a significant drop in crime, but it also engendered a firestorm of controversy. Critics of the policy argued that it both violated Fourth Amendment protections and resulted in racial profiling between 2004 and 2012 about 80 percent of those stopped by police were Black or Hispanic. Bloomberg’s successor, Democrat Bill de Blasio (2014–21), campaigned on a commitment to reform the stop-and-frisk program, and under him, there was a decline in the use of the policy as well as a reduction in crime. Both Bloomberg and de Blasio were unsuccessful candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Giuliani failed to gain the Republican nomination in 2008 and later played a controversial role as a spokesperson and lawyer for U.S. Pres. Donald Trump. De Blasio’s replacement as mayor in 2022 was Eric Adams, a Black American former policeman who had served as the Brooklyn borough president from 2013 to 2024.
Education of New York City
Primary and secondary systems
Ever since the first school opened in New Amsterdam in the 1630s, New York has sought fine schools, but until after the American Revolution education was largely handled by tutors. Public funds for education became available after 1795, and in Manhattan, a Free School Society was formed to disperse the state money. The growing numbers of New York Roman Catholics were distressed by what they interpreted to be Protestant indoctrination within the school system. In the 1840s Archbishop John Hughes was instrumental in establishing a Catholic parochial school system, which has continued to offer an alternative to public education. Neither system ever achieved universal attendance during the 19th century, however, not until 1874 was a compulsory attendance law for the primary grades enacted; new immigration subsequently overloaded all city schools. After consolidation, Greater New York launched a massive public building program to provide schools where a half-million eligible students could be educated each year. Secondary education was not even offered to its children until the late 19th century, but by 1920 massive construction made primary education, along with both ordinary and specialized high schools, available for everyone. Several New York high schools Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Performing Arts have retained national reputations for excellence, and the school system has also provided evening classes in adult education and practical skills for the city’s large immigrant population.
In the late 1990s, New York administered the nation’s largest public school system; more than one million students attend in excess of a thousand public schools. Unionization of city teachers began in 1916; the American Federation of Teachers is now the bargaining agent for the present-day staff. In the last decades of the 20th century, education became a sphere of unending controversy. The postwar white exodus to suburbia drained students from public schools and transformed them into minority-dominated institutions most of whose instructors were white and Jewish. During the 1960s a series of strikes and ugly racial confrontations caused disorder in the city, and in 1969 the state legislature divided the city into 32 districts. Henceforth primary education was to be controlled by elected governing boards so that educational goals could be established by local communities. Each board would select its superintendent, but resources would still be allocated by a chancellor of the entire school system, who was named by a mayor-dominated Board of Education.
The unwieldy system worked only sporadically, and by the 1990s its failures were apparent. In some districts, allies of the teachers union dominated elections that were largely ignored by voters. In others, coalitions of minority residents installed poor administrators who made the schools vehicles for patronage and corruption. Wage levels declined relative to those of suburban systems, racial segregation in schools caused by housing patterns and economic stratification increased, and many tenured teachers were accused of ignoring the special needs of minority students. Dropouts increased, performance levels fell precipitously, and violence in schools appeared endemic. Colleges and businesses alike complained bitterly that schools turn out functional illiterates. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the system was led by a dozen chancellors, and the mayor’s role in their selection became as highly politicized as the district appointment of school principals. In 1996 the state legislature once again intervened, ending local authority to name principals and attempting to remove party and ethnic politics from the system. In 1999 principals agreed to surrender their tenure rights in return for larger wage increases. The long decline of a once-praised system has benefited parochial and private schools in New York, although the cost of a nonpublic education has escalated considerably.
The metropolitan area has more than 80 colleges, including such nationally famed institutions as Columbia (1754), New York (1831), Fordham (1841), Rockefeller (1901) universities, Cooper Union (1859), and the New School (originally New School for Social Research, 1919). Its vast municipal system, the City University of New York (CUNY), traces its origin to City College (1847) and has some 25 units: 11 senior colleges and seven community colleges along with William E. Macaulay Honors College, CUNY Graduate Center, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies, and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. With schools ranging from Ivy League to community colleges, New York is one of the nation’s premier university towns, its streets pulsating with student life.
As real as the bedrock beneath Manhattan is the cultural attraction generated by New York. For more than a century, talented but unrecognized artists, as well as ambitious wannabes from every part of the globe and nation, have gravitated to a city they feel is their spiritual home. A steady stream of the cultural elite flows toward the metropolis and creates an electric atmosphere. In virtually every artistic field theatre, music, dance, painting, literature, fashion, film, print, and sports the city is the place to go to see if you can make it. No environment offers a harsher test of one’s abilities. Literary figures as diverse as Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, the members of the Algonquin Round Table, Rex Stout, Ed McBain Evan Hunter, and Joseph O’Neill have all attempted to explain the allure and the dangers of the city; all succeeded and failed, to some degree. In the 19th century, Manhattan was home to the Hudson River school of Artists, and the Tenth Street Studio in Greenwich Village and its surrounding area shaped the national imagination. Willa Cather, who grew up in Nebraska, came to write of the West on Bank Street in the Village, while Jackson Pollock came from the West to create Abstract Expressionism and help change the direction of modern art. But perhaps the greatest proof of New York’s dynamic appeal is the millions of annual visitors who come to experience its vibes, variety, and vitality. Whether artist, visitor, or resident, all seem united in the belief that New York is, as writer Joan Didion described it, an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious mixture of all love, money, and power, the shining and perishable dream.
Undoubtedly culture is big business in New York, and no city in the country has more institutions and people dedicated to serving its demands. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870) is probably the best known and most visited of the city museums, but the metropolis has scores of concert halls, schools of art, music and acting, restaurants, and galleries, as well as agents, promoters, and hucksters of every type. It is the city of promoter P.T. Barnum, philanthropist James Diamond Jim Brady, and financier Malcolm Forbes. It can fulfill every desire, from photography to pornography to publicity. The Cloisters (1938), part of the Metropolitan Museum, specializes in medieval art, while the avant-garde sensibility is catered to at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA; 1929) and at the Whitney (1930) and Guggenheim (1939) museums. Natural sciences and the shape of the skies can be studied at the American Museum of Natural History (1869), while those who seek the best pre-Columbian or Egyptian art should journey to the Brooklyn Museum of Art (1823). Those interested in Native Americans, the tenement house, dolls, or African art will find institutions specific to their needs. Great stone lions, dubbed Patience and Fortitude by Mayor La Guardia, guard the New York Public Library (1895), whose mammoth holdings include the Schomburg Center of African American history and are exceeded in the nation only by the Library of Congress. Researchers are also drawn to the Morgan Library notably for medieval and Renaissance Europe and Ellis Island immigration. Whether the crowds who come to New York expect Fun City, the Big Apple, or Gotham, the city can fulfill every expectation of an admiring public.
The arts of New York City
Ever since the 1890s Broadway has reigned as the Great White Way, the major theatrical center of the country. New York produces, casts, and consumes the legitimate plays and musical extravaganzas that Americans desire as well as thousands of other shows that only true supporters come to see. Theatre in New York’s fabulous invalid, periodically near death and at other times revived, and Variety (1905) is the news magazine that informs the world of its health. The city’s Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway venues are where experimental theatre apprentices playwrights, actors, dancers, and directors. In the last decades of the 20th century, major new stages in Times Square, skyscrapers, and a suddenly chic 42nd Street drew new audiences, and the increased price of tickets showed wider interest. For bargain seekers, Manhattan also offers free Shakespeare in Central Park, while cut-rate tickets to current productions are always available. In every borough, local groups offer more performances than anyone can attend.
Completed in the 1960s, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a mecca for the arts patron. It is home to the Metropolitan Opera Association; the New York Philharmonic performs in Avery Fisher Hall; and the New York State Theater offers a variety of attractions, including the New York City Ballet, which has the highest reputation of any troupe in the country. The finest concerts in a very musical city are heard in Carnegie Hall (1891); the two million dollars donated by Andrew Carnegie for its construction have perhaps given more pleasure per dollar than any other philanthropic endowment. Town Hall in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the latter the oldest performing arts center in the nation, offer viable alternatives. Performance art is always available, varies from extortionately expensive to amateur free events, and is enjoyed by a complete range of audiences.
No city is as recognizable to other Americans as is New York; its glittering nightlife and its gritty neighborhoods are equally part of the national consciousness. Film directors love to use the city as their set, and city administrations have increasingly encouraged the practice. Until World War I, Queens was the center of the early film industry, and afterward, New York remained vital to documentary and independent film production. Astoria regained its position as a studio center in the 1980s. It is also fitting that the city that transmitted the first television signals became the setting for many of the most successful TV shows, from I Love Lucy to All in the Family to Seinfeld to Sex and the City to Mad Men to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The Paley Center for Media (1975) in Manhattan allows anyone to recapture famous episodes from this somewhat fictionalized yet also very real New York, and the Museum of the Moving Image (1988) in Queens advances the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media.
New York never ignores the needs of its ordinary people. Since the colonial period, parades and festivals have been part of city life and the Halloween and Thanksgiving Day parades of modern times illustrate the strength of the tradition; in the 19th-century parades also provided occasions for Roman Catholic and Protestant Irish to battle in the streets. Yiddish theatre was born on the Lower East Side, while vaudeville and burlesque were invented to draw audiences to more earthy delights. After 1898 the greater city understood that it had obligation to create green space beyond the expanses of Central and Prospect Parks, so gardens, along with zoos in every borough, were provided for residents. New York has hundreds of parks, but its myriad of other entertainment possibilities include a miniature reproduction of the metropolis constructed in the Queens Museum, a restored Staten Island village at Richmondtown, or the jewel-like Orchard Beach in the Bronx; the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx Park is one of the country’s leading centers of botanical research. No other public beach is as famous as Coney Island, and thousands of bathers often crowd there close to the sea; it’s Cyclone Roller Coaster became a national landmark in 1988. Almost as many find the same experience available at Rockaway Beach in Queens. Amusement parks at both sites provide thrills for generations of New Yorkers.
Many professional, as well as recreational sports, are popular in the metropolis, but probably no sport is as closely identified with New York as baseball. In 1903 a professional baseball club, the Highlanders, moved from Baltimore to New York and was renamed the Yankees in 1913. The team has since played in every borough except Staten Island, won more than two dozen world championships, and become history’s most dominant sports franchise. Manhattan also loved its Giants baseball team, before the club’s departure for San Francisco in 1957; Brooklyn lived for the next year with the Dodgers; and Queens (since 1962) has been home to the New York Mets. New York’s high-profile professional teams include the National Football League’s Jets and Giants both of whom actually play their home games in New Jersey, the National Basketball Association’s Knicks and Nets, the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Liberty, the National Hockey League’s Rangers, and Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club. Madison Square Garden, now in its fourth incarnation, has been the site of many championship boxing matches, innumerable other sporting matches, musical events, and political conventions and may well be the most storied indoor arena in American history. Whether in watching sports, picnicking in the parks, visiting museums, attending the theatre, capitalizing on the city’s rich array of eateries from ethnic delis and sidewalk carts to five-star restaurants, or simply watching its street life, the quality of cultural activities available in New York is unsurpassed.
The colonial city
As every schoolchild knows, Europe’s desire to open trade with the East inspired the explorations that discovered the New World. Giovanni da Verrazzano (1524) and Henry Hudson (1609) were part of that long effort, and they were among the first Europeans to visit and gaze at the vast expanse of New York harbor. The primary result of Hudson’s voyage, and his report of a protected anchorage near good farmland, was the Dutch West India Company’s decision to place a trading post on the southern shore of Manna-hata Island; by 1626 a settlement called New Amsterdam was established. It was not the first Dutch settlement in North America, but the advantages of its location made it immensely valuable. In May 1626 Peter Minuit arrived with orders to secure title to the land. He quickly negotiated the real estate deal of the millennium, purchasing the area from a band of Native Americans who probably did not own it for trade goods worth the equivalent of 60 guilders converted to the legendary $24. Minuit and his successor governors knew that expanding Dutch access to furs and trade were their primary tasks, and commerce fueled city development. In 1638 a new governor reported that one-fourth of all buildings were grog shops devoted to sailor demands. Despite revelries and intermittent clashes with local Native American tribes, the settlement gradually moved northward, laid out farms, and expanded trade with New England and the world.
The most famous governor of the Dutch period was Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland from 1647–64. Stuyvesant’s military background enabled him to spruce up the disorderly town, and he soon granted it recognition as an independent city (1653). The religious orthodoxy he attempted to impose on his already multicultural domain, however, soon led him to clash with the Quaker population of Flushing (1657). Ultimately, Stuyvesant was ordered by his superiors to shut his eyes to dissenters so long as they did not disrupt society or trade. The governor found such official blindness difficult, and his imperious nature continued to alienate town burghers. When a British fleet sent by James, Duke of York the future James II, appeared off Gravesend in August 1664, Stuyvesant discovered that no one would fight for his colony. Old Peg Leg was forced to surrender on September 8 without even firing a shot. Interestingly, he chose to take an oath of allegiance to the English crown and lived out his life in the city. Despite a brief Dutch reoccupation in 1673–74, the destiny of the colony which had been renamed in honor of James had shifted to London. Within the conquered city, resident Dutch and incoming English merchants got along quite well, and representatives of both groups constituted a city elite into the 19th century.
A series of English governors ruled New York and hoped that its commerce would make them rich. New York held the flour-bolting monopoly for the area (1680), it was declared the sole port of entry for the colony, and its active community of merchants carried on world trade. Thomas Dongan, a Roman Catholic governor, granted a royal charter of incorporation to the city in 1686 and furthered religious toleration and representative government within the colony. Following the Glorious Revolution in England (1688–89), the brief tenure of Jacob Leisler marked a period of intolerance new to the city and left a heritage of class factionalism that endured for several decades after his execution for treason in 1691. By 1700 the city had nearly 5,000 residents and was connected to the mainland for the first time by the construction of the King’s Bridge to the Bronx.
Tensions between merchant aristocrats, who sought to avoid imperial trade regulations, and venal governors, who were willing to turn a blind eye if they were suitably rewarded, were abundant. Class and ethnic conflict were present, and in 1712 and 1741 public fear of African Americans led to repression and numerous executions. Indicative of a growing spirit of independence was the libel case of John Peter Zenger, a journalist whose weekly journal criticized the political machinations and cupidity of Gov. William Cosby. In 1735 a jury of his peers found Zenger not guilty, determining that he had published the truth. The decision was a signal victory for freedom of the press and demonstrated growing civic disobedience within New York during the pre-Revolutionary decades. By 1756 assembly leaders humbled royal governors by forcing them to accept annual salary appropriations. The city hosted the Stamp Act Congress (1765), and the Sons of Liberty used violence to prevent the use of excise-tax stamps. New York’s merchant community led the nonimportation program that forced the repeal of the measure in 1766, even as the assembly refused to deliver food and cider to British soldiers quartered in the city. Clashes between the Sons of Liberty and soldiers were unending, and the first battle of the American Revolution was fought on Golden Hill south of present City Hall in January 1770. New York’s tea party took place in April 1774, months after Boston’s famous depredations, but it was held in daylight and without any disguises. New York issued the proclamation calling for a Continental Congress, and its citizens forced the resident royal governor to take refuge on a ship in the harbor long before independence was declared.
Almost one-third of all the battles in the Revolution occurred in New York state, but the city’s role was less than heroic. George Washington recognized the infinite importance of strategic New York, but in battles between August and October 1776, he was unable to defend the city. For seven years the city was occupied, during which its population declined and two fires destroyed many of its structures. Washington eventually returned to New York after the British evacuation in 1783. Quickly rebuilt, the city served both as the state capital until 1797) and as the capital of the Confederation (1785–90); it hosted the inauguration of Washington as president, in April 1789. As the first capital of the United States, New York entertained the first meeting of Congress and the first sessions of the Supreme Court. When the capital was moved to Philadelphia for political reasons, Abigail Adams left the city in despair, for her new home would not be Broadway.
Growth of the metropolis
Despite the loss of the national government, New York’s population skyrocketed in 1781–1800, and it became America’s largest city. Once again trade grew rapidly, and not even the War of 1812 hindered development; an auction system for surplus British merchandise dumped in New York solidified the city’s economic position after 1816. Even before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York enjoyed commercial primacy, but, as trade from the interior of the continent flowed onto its piers, the city also attained legal, insurance, and manufacturing primacy. Steamships, cheap transportation by rail and canal, abundant labor, and professional expertise made New York increasingly dominant. By the mid-1800s it handled more goods and people than all the other American ports combined. So secure was its position that in 1861 Mayor Fernando Wood suggested it become a free city rather than fight against the South. New York instead provided more soldiers to the Union than any other city and survived the turbulent, violent Draft Riot of 1863. Despite the financial panics between 1837 and 1893, the city remained an economic juggernaut, and by 1900 it was the busiest port and one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
Prosperity in Manhattan was not shared by everyone. Two centuries of domination by the merchant elite ended in the city as the Democratic Party gradually assumed control of political power. Tammany Hall, a fraternal organization that formed in 1789, had been transformed into a party vehicle by Aaron Burr before the early 19th century; the group supported such popular reforms as universal male suffrage, the end of imprisonment for indebtedness, and lien laws. Most important, Tammany opposed the anti-Catholic attitudes of the elite and ministered to the needs of impoverished immigrants entering the city. By the 1850s it was able to count on their votes, and the resulting power base lasted for more than a century.
During the American Civil War, the city was shaken by its worst riots. For four days in July 1863 many thousands of rioters, mostly impoverished Irish immigrants who were infuriated by the new draft law that permitted a draftee to buy his way out of service, swept the city, looting, burning, and killing. African Americans were hanged from the streetlights and trees. Warships trained guns on the city, as rioters clashed repeatedly with the police, national guardsmen, and the army. At least 2,000 people were killed and thousands more wounded, and all business halted in the face of the armed conflict.
After the war, there was a steady clamor in the city for a merger with Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. The strongest resistance came from Brooklyn, a city in its own right; with good reason, it feared the enormous corruption so evident in Tammany Hall under the first recognized political boss, William Magyar Tweedwho never rose higher in the city hierarchy than supervisor but who controlled mayors, governors, and legislatures and later Richard Croker, would be extended to Brooklyn through any consolidation. Tweed ring corruption siphoned tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars into private hands until, in 1871, a coalition of reformers overthrew the boss. Tweed’s successor as county leader, John Kelly, was a more astute politician, who transformed the undisciplined hordes of Tammany into an army. Regimentation down to the block level replaced greed as a ruling party principle, although the organization always remained a source of food, legal help, and jobs for its faithful supporters. So long as corruption was held in check, the Tammany Tiger could happily chant, To hell with reform.
Greater New York
The Democratic machine reigned, its excesses became apparent, reformers arose and were temporarily triumphant, and then voters restored a chastened Tammany to power. A generation after Tweed fell, the Croker regime was successfully challenged by reformers who elected Mayor William Strong. Once consolidation won voter support, the addition of nearly 1.5 million people to the city and the opportunity to expand Tammany’s patronage base lured Croker back to Manhattan. After January 1, 1898, the machine ruled Greater New York, its power constantly enhanced by new waves of arriving immigrants. As always, the machine added to urban infrastructure: the subways with their fixed five-cent fare, new bridges, and an expanded park system brought the boroughs together and added to its authority. The booming garment industry, ceaseless construction, and extensive manufacturing provided jobs for the strong, while an excellent educational system trained millions for the white-collar and civil-service jobs that would become increasingly preponderant after the mid-20th century. In the good years before World War I and in the Roaring Twenties that followed the war, Tammany, under the leadership of Charles Murphy, generally held sway.
In the mid-1920s and early 1930s a series of municipal scandals, which led to another wave of reform, was perhaps the result of Mayor James Walker. A playboy addicted to the wonders of city nightlife, Walker left the mechanics of governing to Tammany. Despite the ravages of the Great Depression and the hardships of World War II, Fiorello La Guardia’s administration represented a high point in the city’s history. Enormous amounts of New Deal funding enabled the city to complete vast construction and other projects; the Tammany Tiger was caged, the government was centralized and modernized, and the subway system was completed and unified. La Guardia dominated the news, cracked down on crime, and even read comic strips to children during a newspaper strike. Only when he chose to retire did Tammany regain control.
Postwar New York experienced an era in which alarming structural problems in urban society became ever more apparent. New York port lost its dominance, manufacturing began its long decline, massive city debt made it increasingly difficult to fund expensive services, and levels of municipal bureaucracy proliferated. In the 1950s Robert Wagner initiated major housing programs and granted collective bargaining rights to city unions but was often accused of ignoring long-term problems. Ultimately, he found it expedient to publicly break with a Tammany Hall that had twice gotten him elected. Wagner destroyed the power of the machine and its last boss, Carmine De Sapio. He was able to install his own Manhattan county leader and undermine Tammany’s influence in the outer boroughs, but he did little to deal with the looming problems. Wagner prepared the electorate for another reform administration, as Republican-Liberal candidate John Lindsay unexpectedly won the election in 1965.
During Lindsay’s two terms, New York’s downward spiral accelerated as he attempted to impose administrative order. A massive transit strike coincided with his inauguration and was settled only with the first of several very generous union contracts. Lindsay’s attempt to further undermine the power of the machine by merging departments and creating superagencies only added new levels of bureaucratic structure. His efforts to decentralize the school system and broaden minority participation in government led to greater ethnic animosity. Above all, he failed to gain control of a soaring municipal budget, even though he increased taxes. Denied renomination in 1969 by outraged Republicans, Lindsay won reelection as a Liberal-Independent candidate, because the old Democratic machine had been gutted. His subsequent feud with a Republican governor led him to become a Democrat, but he had become a leader without followers. During his last years in office, the metropolis continued to deteriorate financially.
The election of Abraham Beame in 1973 was the last gasp of old-style politics in New York. Beame was a product of the organization, and as the first Jewish mayor he represented the ethnic succession to power that Irish and Italians had previously achieved. Conditions had changed, and Beame’s term was dominated by the fiscal disaster. In every way but formally the city went bankrupt, and in 1975 budgetary control was assumed by state agencies. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission later condemned Beame’s fiscal policies. Much of the country, always suspicious of New York’s foreignness and arrogance, cheered as the Big Apple was shown to be full of worms. Many believed it would be years before it could recover from the debacle.
In the late 1970s, Edward Koch restored fiscal health to the city in a single term. By working closely with state officials, rigorously controlling expenditures, and instituting a modern accounting system, Koch once again marketed city notes. His extraordinary feat won him nomination by both major parties in 1981, a unique accomplishment but also clear proof that politics in the metropolis had changed. Democratic nominations were soon negotiated by five relatively equal borough organizations that had to be media-friendly. The Republicans were so powerless that they amassed fewer votes than the Liberal Party in the election of 1985. Koch was outspoken, intolerant of opposition, frequently capricious, and prone to see himself as above politics. Fittingly, his third term became a public relations nightmare when some of his important appointees and elected Democrats were involved in municipal scandals. His attempt to become the first four-term mayor ended when he lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins, the borough president of Manhattan. Some saw Dinkins, an African American, as fulfilling the theme of ethnic succession, but he proved to be a poor administrator and was so dependent on African American votes that he alienated other parts of the coalition that elected him. Both ethnic tensions and crime statistics increased during his term, and he became the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city to be denied reelection.
Race and competence, not party affiliation, were the major factors that led to the election of Republican Rudolph Giuliani in 1993. A successful career prosecutor, he pledged to reduce taxes, improve or privatize city services, and regain control of the streets from criminals. His great successes in reducing crime won him national fame. Giuliani nurtured his reputation as an angry man indifferent to criticism. Although New York reduced its welfare caseload and instituted a vast workfare alternative, the mayor was unable to eliminate other parts of the social safety net. Courts consistently limited his initiatives in cases involving free speech, land use, and the rights of the homeless, and many observers held him responsible for instances in which the city’s police department reportedly used excessive force in its war on crime. His elections could perhaps best be interpreted not as Republican triumphs but as mandates for a stern teacher empowered to deal with a disorderly classroom.
In the 1990s New York experienced sustained growth in both population and financial stability. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were added to its population, while a sustained boom on Wall Street invigorated the economy of every borough. In addition, major renovations of its infrastructure were completed, such as the restoration of Grand Central Station.
Because of its prominence and its central role in world commerce, however, the city also remained vulnerable to acts of terrorism, most notably two attacks on the World Trade Center complex. In 1993 a bomb planted in one of the complex’s twin towers killed several people and injured some 1,000. A far more devastating attack the deadliest terrorist act in American history occurred on September 11, 2001, when hijackers intentionally flew two airliners into the towers, destroying them and adjacent buildings and killing some 3,000 people.
Once the immediate shock of the disaster had worn off, New Yorkers did what they always do: picked themselves up and got back to work. The massive pile of debris from the towers was painstakingly cleared, and visiting the site which came to be known as Ground Zero to observe the work there became a pilgrimage destination for countless out-of-towners and New Yorkers alike. After a lengthy process, plans were announced for a new World Trade Center complex at the location that was to include several new skyscrapers centered on a 104-story tower called One World Trade Center. Construction on the building began in 2006. The gaping crater left by the destroyed twin towers was developed into a memorial to the disaster and was opened to the public on September 12, 2011.
Thus, New York’s importance did not wane and, if anything, increased in the early 21st century. The host city of the United Nations, it continued to be the country’s most international metropolis and one of the world’s foremost tourist destinations. Building construction continued into the new century. In addition to the work in the World Trade Center area, several new large skyscrapers were erected in Midtown Manhattan, notably the 55-story Bank of America Tower (completed 2009) and the New York Times Building (2007). The 2010s ushered in the era of the construction of supertalls defined as buildings 984 feet 300 meters or taller, including a number of luxurious residential towers around 57th Street in an area that became known as Billionaires’ Row. Among the other notable supertall structures that sprouted in Manhattan were the 1,776-foot (541-meter) One World Trade Center, the 93-story One Vanderbilt building, and 103-story 30 Hudson Yards building. New York’s financial sector boomed at the outset of the 21st century until the recession in the last years of the decade brought down several prominent banks and trading institutions and shook the foundations of Wall Street.
In September 2011, inspired by the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring earlier that year, a disparate group of protesters calling themselves Occupy Wall Street took up residence in Zuccotti Park which they renamed Liberty Square in the financial district. They sought to call attention to what they saw as a variety of injustices, including their belief that major corporations particularly banks and other financial institutions needed to be held more accountable for risky practices. The protests, which sparked a nationwide movement, continued for months.
New York’s economy was recovering slowly when another major disaster struck the city, this time a natural one. On the night of October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed directly into the Greater New York region, with high winds and an unprecedentedly high storm surge that inundated low-lying areas, flooded subway and road tunnels in and around Lower Manhattan, precipitated widespread power outages and property damage, and sparked a massive fire in Queens that burned down more than 100 houses. Several dozen people were killed citywide, notably on Staten Island, which was particularly hard hit by the storm.
In early 2020 New York City, like most of the rest of the world, was afflicted with a different kind of catastrophe, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic. On March 1 the first New Yorker to test positive for the virus the first cases of which had been reported in China in December 2019 was isolated in her Manhattan home. Soon an avalanche of cases overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and health care system as the metropolitan area became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States during its early stages. By April 14 more than 10,000 New Yorkers had died of causes related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. A lockdown of businesses, schools, and of great symbolic importance Broadway was imposed, along with mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily pandemic-related press conferences became must-see viewing. As the spread of the virus surged and subsided, along with the relaxation and reimposition of safety protocols, during subsequent waves of the pandemic, New Yorkers embraced the new normal and soldiered on.