Things to see and do - New York
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The City of New York
The City of New York
By far the most populous city in the US, New York is a world unto itself by virtue of its size, the density and diversity of its population, its dynamic economic activity and its vibrant cultural life. The New York area has the largest concentration of people, income, finance, industry and transportation of any urban area in the US. New York streets have long been synonymous with some of the city’s key industries: Wall Street with finance, Broadway with entertainment, Madison Avenue with advertising and Seventh Avenue with fashion. Today some 8 million people live in New York City, twice as many as in any other American city.
Situated on the East Coast of the US at 40° north latitude and 74° west longitude, New York City is bordered by the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The city occupies the western end of Long Island, all of two smaller islands (Manhattan and Staten Island) and a piece of the mainland to the north, adjacent to the Hudson River. The islands provide protection for one of the largest and safest harbors in the world, ideal for oceangoing vessels. Access to the ocean is through the Narrows, a passage between Staten Island and Long Island. More than 578mi of coastline, including some 14mi of beaches, rim the city.
In addition to its major islands, New York City also encompasses several small islands, notably Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty; Ellis Island, once the nation’s leading immigration center; Riker’s Island (located north of LaGuardia Airport), site of a large municipal prison; Governor’s Island, a former US Coast Guard site; and Roosevelt Island, once home to public health institutions, now middle-income residential.
The total area of the five boroughs that make up New York City is about 320sq mi; the longest distance between its boundaries, from the northeast to the southwest, is about 35mi. New York City’s height above sea level varies from 5ft (Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan) to 400ft (Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan). Its climate is continental.
The Five Boroughs
New York City as it exists today was created in 1898 when, under state charter, the city was expanded from its original confines of Manhattan to incorporate Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), the Bronx (Bronx County) and Staten Island (Richmond County).
The counties correspond to the original colonial administrative divisions, and the names still designate judicial districts. The five boroughs are not developed to the same extent: a few open spaces exist on the fringes of Brooklyn and Queens, and despite the construction of many new dwellings in the last decades, Staten Island remains the least urbanized.
Brooklyn, situated on the southwest tip of Long Island, is today the most populous of the five boroughs. Queens, to the northeast of Brooklyn, is the largest and fastest growing. The heavily developed Bronx, the only borough that is part of the mainland, forms the gateway from the city to the affluent suburbs in the north. Although it remains the least populated borough, Staten Island has been growing since the completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn in 1964. Manhattan, the smallest of the boroughs with an area of 22.7sq mi, constitutes the heart of the city. With a population of 1,620,867, it is the most densely populated county in the US. This tongue-shaped island is the center for much of New York’s cultural, financial and retail activity. Although the consolidation of the five boroughs took place over a century ago, residents of the so-called outer boroughs traveling to Manhattan still say they are “going to the city.”
The city’s vast metropolitan area, home to about 18,815,988 residents, encompasses 23 counties and planning regions extending more than 7,000sq mi.
Ten of these counties are in New York State, twelve in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania. In addition to New York City, the area includes Newark, New Jersey (pop. 281,402) and 10 other cities with more than 100,000 people. Organizations responsible for operating regional transportation facilities are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the 17-county area in those two states, and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.
The State of New York
The city gave its name to the state (the 11th of the original 13 states of the Union), which, by virtue of its economic expansion and political influence, became known as the “Empire State.” New York State extends from east of the Hudson River to the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls, and borders Canada on the north. The state is divided into counties, and its capital is Albany (New York City was the capital from 1784 to 1797).
New York’s $1.1 trillion economy would rank 15th among the nations of the world. The powerful economy employs more than 3.7 million people, and local real estate is worth more than $800 billion. The city is home to the headquarters of 43 Fortune 500 companies.
New York’s sheltered, ice-free harbor and 750mi of shoreline are easily accessible to the Atlantic. The port is the nation’s third largest, although the advent of containership technology has forced most active piers from crowded Manhattan to roomier sites in Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey, where the world’s largest container terminal is at Port Newark/Elizabeth. More than 60 shipping lines serve the port. In 2007 the harbor handled $166 billion worth of cargo.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey manages the harbor’s general cargo and containership terminals; six tunnels and bridges connecting the city with New Jersey; the region’s major bus terminal on West 42nd Street; the Port Authority TransHudson (PATH) rapid-transit rail system; three major airports; and a heliport. The Port Authority built and owned the World Trade Center; it retains ownership of the site and is playing an important role in determining its future.
New York is one of the world’s pre-eminent financial centers. Domestic and foreign financial institutions maintaining a presence here include 197 foreign banks, many of them the top foreign branches of international banks.
More than 85 percent of US-based stock trades are conducted here, notably on Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange, the largest stock exchange in the world by dollar volume.
The 3,507 companies listed by the NYSE had a combined value of $10.1 trillion in October 2008.
With nearly 345,000 jobs in the financial services sector as of 2007, New York was particularly hard hit by the global economic downturn of 2008, which brought the demise of several industry titans and the US government bailout of others. As commercial and investment banks, insurance companies, personal finance firms and brokerage houses retool for economic recovery, industry analysts predict that, at least in the near future, a smaller percentage of the city’s jobs will relate directly or indirectly to the financial industry.
New York is the only US city accessible by three major airports (John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty), which annually handle more than 100 million passengers. Travelers also arrive via a rail and bus network that brings in a million people daily, mostly commuters.
The streets of New York are served by some 12,000 taxicabs and more than 6,000 buses. The subway system, stretching from Coney Island to the North Bronx, with 468 stations and 26 lines, ranks among the largest in the world and serves 4.9 million passengers a day. The free Staten Island Ferry takes more than 100 trips a day, conveying 65,000 passengers.
New York also reaches out to the world through communications. The city is home to four major television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) and numerous cable channels (MTV, HBO, Biography). Its film industry is the largest in the US after Hollywood, employing 100,000 New Yorkers and generating $5 billion for the city’s economy each year.
The city is also the nation’s print capital. New York churns out some 315 consumer magazines and is home to Time/Life, Hearst and Condé Nast, among other Midtown magazine empires.
Major publishing houses McGraw-Hill and Random House also have headquarters in the area. Four of the ten largest newspapers in the United States are based in New York: the New York Times, Post, Daily News, and the Wall Street Journal. Madison Avenue is still the nation’s advertising capital.
The city’s high-tech industry is growing rapidly: telecom and cable companies, together with Internet service providers and publishers, employed 316,500 city residents in 2006, topping former industry leader, California’s Silicon Valley.
In a move that augurs well for the future of the new-media sector, in 2006 Google chose New York’s Chelsea neighborhood for its largest engineering complex outside of company headquarters in Mountain View, California. Today more than two thousand people are employed by Google in New York.
Manufacturing’s share of the economy has long been declining—from 900,000 jobs in 1950 to 500,000 today; first-generation immigrants account for 64 percent of these workers. Still, New York’s highly diverse industrial sector base comprises nearly 10,000 establishments, many relying on a reservoir of specialized labor skills. Food processing is a $5 billion industry that employs 19,000 residents. Apparel manufacturing, employing about 60,000 people, brings about $3 billion to the city annually.
Tourism and Culture
Visitors to New York are drawn by the city’s glamour, fine dining and shopping, and cultural attractions. In 2008, New York welcomed nearly 46.9 million visitors, who spent more than $26 billion. Internationally, Great Britain sends the most visitors to the city, followed by Canada and Germany.
Theater attendance reached more than 12.27 million during the 2007-2008 season. Fine art in New York is both an attraction to visitors and an industry in itself. Some 500 art galleries can be found in the city; more than 300 of these are in Chelsea, with smaller clusters of galleries in SoHo and TriBeCa, as well as in Williamsburg and DUMBO (District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn. One hundred and forty-two museums make their home in New York.
In the 19C and at the beginning of the 20C, recent immigrants, referred to as “hyphenated citizens” (such as Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans and so on), were often denied social status by the ‘‘aristocracy” of British and Dutch origin.
However, the pyramid of New York society was unable to withstand the forces of change, and today these multicultural strands, together with the more recent waves of immigrants, make up the very fabric of New York’s population; indeed 36.7 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born.
Nearly half a million New Yorkers are of Irish descent, many emigrating to the city during the Irish potato famine in 1846. From the beginning the Irish were drawn to public affairs and city government. Carrying on the religious tradition of their homeland, they have contributed significantly to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the US. Irish-Americans are famous for their exuberant celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, to honor their patron saint.
New York’s 700,000 Italians make up the second-largest ethnic group in the city. Large-scale immigration, mainly of laborers and peasants from southern Italy and Sicily, started only after 1870. Many Italian immigrants started out in the building industry, where they worked under the heavy hands of padroni (construction bosses); however, over the years, hard work and enterprise often combined to establish small family businesses, especially in restaurants, contracting and trucking. Italian convivial spirit and love of great food can still be found in Manhattan’s Little Italy and on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
More than 250,000 New Yorkers claim German ancestry. More than six million Germans arrived in New York between the failed 1848-49 revolution in Germany and World War I. Many settled mostly around Tompkins Square in the East Village, later moving farther uptown. Most Germans rapidly assimilated into New York society, but some German atmosphere can still be found in Yorkville on the Upper East Side.
Chinese and south Asian
Coming to the US in the mid-19C to work on railroad lines and in mines, Chinese immigrants hailed mainly from Canton. The most recent newcomers, primarily from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan, have swelled their numbers to more than 360,000, with the greatest concentration living in steadily expanding Chinatowns in Manhattan and Flushing, Queens. In addition, there are approximately 275,000 immigrants from India (226,587), Pakistan (34,310), Bangladesh (18,825), and Sri Lanka (1,094) living in New York.
Before World War I, the massive waves of immigrants from the old Russian empire were not made up of Russians, but mostly of members of various minority nationalities – Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians and others. The 1917 Revolution brought only a trickle of so-called White Russians to New York as compared to the large numbers who immigrated to European capitals. Many Ukrainians and Russians, however, were among the displaced persons who settled in New York in the wake of World War II. The former Soviet Union has been a major source of new immigrants to New York. The city’s Romanian community is the largest in North America, numbering about 160,000.
New York City’s population of 972,000 Jews is the largest Jewish population outside of Israel though only half of what it was in 1957, when one-fourth of New Yorkers were Jewish. The decline is mainly attributed to the dispersion of the population to the suburbs but has been tempered by the influx in the 1990s of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Sephardic Jews, originally from Spain and Portugal, had come to New York in the 17C, mostly via Holland and Latin America, though today most New York Jews are of Ashkenazi descent. Manhattan’s Lower East Side was the first home for 1.5 million Jews who entered America between 1880 and 1910; a great number also settled in Brooklyn communities.
New York has more African Americans than any other US city, totaling about 2 million. Initial black migration came from the American South. In the past two decades, migration from the Caribbean has resulted in a new Caribbean community in upper Manhattan and Brooklyn. The black community has produced distinguished writers, playwrights and performers, and the influence of “rhythm and blues” and jazz has greatly impacted the American musical scene. During recent decades many blacks have availed themselves of educational and economic opportunities offered in New York, though the disparity between black and white New Yorkers in almost all indices—education, income, heath and infant mortality—is still striking.
New York City’s Puerto Rican population once numbered over a million; now at 778,628, it is still the largest outside of Puerto Rico. All told, the Latino population, including Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Cubans, Colombians and Ecuadorians, forms more than one-fourth of the city’s population, numbering an estimated 2.5 million in 2007. The major concentration of the Puerto Rican population is in the Bronx, but the heart of New York’s Puerto Rican community is East Harlem, better known as El Barrio. Mindful of their culture, Latinos have emerged as a vital community, lending a distinctive flavor to the city.