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New York - Capital of the Modern World

New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport
and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single
compact arena the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter,
the actor, the trader and the merchant.

"Here is New York" - By E. B. White, 1949

 
     
 

What makes New York the capital of the modern world? What is the common thread that runs through the fabric of the city? What explains the convergence and concentration and diversity of peoples, talents, ambitions and egos? Of leadership, internationalism, culture, education, business, finance, medicine, trade, transportation?

We assert that the common thread is creativity.  People with ideas, energy and entrepreneurship need proximity and opportunities for interaction, by plan and by chance, with others like themselves.  They feed off each other, and achieve.  Each achievement challenges the creators to achieve further.  Thus, the dynamism of the city.  And the high rents.  The renters - commercial and residential - are paying for proximity to creativity and energy.  Joseph Schumpeter may not have had New York in mind when he coined the term "creative destruction," but he certainly would have applied it to this city.

This compendium of data, facts and figures over a wide range of fields quantifies many aspects of New York City and, in some cases, the metropolitan region.  There is no index of creativity, or of energy or ambition.  Those are implied in the results and the data.  But first, a summary statement.  A good one -- perhaps the best -- was written by E.L.Doctorow, the noted American writer, as part of the introduction to Gotham Comes of Age, a publication of the Museum of the City of New York, 1999.  He said, in part:

New York is a port, we mustn't forget that, a publishing hub, an electronics and communications center.  It is a magnet for university intellects.  It is the destination of the ambitious youth of the country.  It is the capital of art, theater, literature, social pretension and subway tunnel home life.  It is the capital of Napoleonic real estate mongers, grandiose rag merchants, self-important sports reporters, and statesmen who retire here to rewrite their lamentable accomplishments.  It is the capital of people who make immense amounts of money without producing anything.  It is the capital of people who work very hard and end up broke and grey.  It is the capital of boroughs of vast neighborhoods of nameless drab apartment houses where genius is born ever day.  It is the capital of the contentious urban American mind that has never succumbed to a demagogue, a superpatriot, or a cleric who too confidently claims to speak for God.  It is the capital of all music.  It is the capital of exhausted trees.

But it is also the capital of the dreams of the wretched of the earth.  The problem New York poses for the rest of the country has finally to do with its cosmopolitan nature as contact city with the world's cultures, the challenge it is as an immigrant-infused megalopolis, to the creeds and complacencies that stultify our inland communities.  New York is now, as it has been since the 1850s, a global city, the archetype city of everyone's future.  People in every continent reason that if they can just reach our shore, they can scrabble up to a better life, or a more fighting kind of life where initiative can count for something.  They will run newsstands or bodegas, or drive cabs, or peddle hot dogs, they will be janitors or security guards, whatever it takes.

An integral part of the energy and creativity of New York City is the diversity.  After all, New York is the least American of American cities.  The resident population (U.S. Census 2012 estimates) is approximately 8.3 million people.  However, fewer than half (44 percent) speak only English at home.  Another 22 percent speak Spanish or Spanish Creole.  Then the concentration thins: 5 percent speak Chinese; just over 2 percent speak Russian; fewer than 2 percent, Italian and French.  The number of languages spoken at home is well over 40; we don't know how many separate languages are captured in Census categories labeled "Other Indo-European," "Other Pacific Island," "Other Asian" and "Unspecified."

Large numbers of these foreign language speaking residents were born abroad -- approximately 38 percent.  They arrived from over 80 countries.  (Here, too, the precise number is not known because Census has catch-all categories that include several countries, such as "Middle Africa," "Northern Africa," "Caribbean" and so on.)  The largest immigrant group is from the Dominican Republic, followed by China and Mexico.  These cultural groups are served by many foreign language and ethnic newspapers -- daily, semi-weekly, bi-weekly and monthly.  And the foreign born and the American born freely practice their respective religions -- virtually every creed in the world -- in countless houses of worship.  Countless because some ceremonies and religious meetings take place in private homes, or rooms at community centers that might also serve as support groups for alcoholics, battered women, terminally ill.

Diversity is an inherent component of the City's history.  Unlike the other early eastern United States settlements, New York was not settled by religious zealots or prisoners.  It was established in 1624, by the Dutch West India Company to serve as a trading and commercial center for New Netherlands. Accordingly, all comers were welcome.  Their success here depended on their own work, effort and creativity.  "Gentlemen need not apply."  And so it has been since.

Of course there are business centers in New York -- commercial, financial, shipping and transportation, entertainment and media, manufacturing and so on.  But the people who work in New York live in neighborhoods.  There are 304 recognized neighborhoods within the five boroughs (counties).  Most of these began as small settlements or villages which were eventually swallowed up by the City.

So, we invite you to browse through this compendium of data.  Satisfy your curiosity.  Marvel at the phenomenon that is New York City.

 
 

Eugene J. Sherman
Fellow
Weissman Center For International Business
 
     
     
 

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