What is New York?

Arriving in the city I was reminded of the reasons that New York is both my favorite and least favorite city. Like any place you can call home, you learn to both love and despise it, and somehow this drives the affective bonds of attachment even deeper. My mind is immediately drawn to the scene in Eddie Murphy’s classic “Coming to America” where he, as an African prince, moves to a run-down Queens neighborhood looking for a bride and upon arriving exclaims, “Imagine a country so free, one can throw glass on the streets!”. This kind of misplaced optimism and blissful disregard for common sense is so very common of New Yorkers and Americans in general. Whether it’s bottoming out the economy on crap finance or allowing the infrastructure to crumble, the average New Yorker and the city itself chugs along ever present, ever crowded, ever colorful, and ever dilapidated. However, there is something refreshing in this line of thinking. New York doesn’t hide its warts, the people aren’t the smartest, or the best dressed, or the wealthiest, however it’s a blind optimism and the disregard for common sense that has allowed New York to grow from a native settlement, to a Dutch village amidst a rotting swamp, to the 19th century immigrant city, to the 20th century juggernaut.

Today, New York seems like just another great city searching for its place in the world. We’ve learned this week how New York is looking to redirect itself into a start-up city. Many feel the traditional sectors that once dominated the city’s economy such as finance and services, and before that industrial manufacturing are the ways of the past. One thing we keep coming back to is the importance of diversifying the city economy. I think this trend is great news for the city. Small enterprises growing into ever larger ones are what have shaped this city, and if the future is based on creativity, regeneration, and small scale operations growing to larger scale businesses, through hustle and determination, I think New York can and will succeed.

At the Center for Urban Science and Progress, I learned how big data and innovative ways at looking at the ways cities function will transform New York. New York is a development oriented city with an aging infrastructure and crumbling buildings, how can the preservation of everything New Yorkers and visitors know and love about this hulking old place, its tarnished sidewalks, and its filthy subway can be reconciled with the kind of calculated and coldly engineered data and recommendations put forth by computerized models. New York is first and foremost a troubled, broken, but beautiful city.

It will be interesting to see where New York is in another ten years. I left the city in 2005 and it was then still very much the world capital. And, honestly I can say that the city looks much worse for wear ten years later. I look forward to seeing the city reborn. Because, despite its appearance and its problems there is no other big city on earth I’d rather be.


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