First Published: January 4, 2014
Last Update: April 12, 2015
They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And though the headlines of news since the financial crisis constitute a torrent of seemingly endless destitution, that isn’t to say that the descendants of those whose first sight of America was the Statue of Liberty can’t, at least with a bit of luck, turn what little they have, into an empire. New York City has a long history of those with very little coming out on top. In fact, the city itself was a bit of a success story, at least for some Dutch settlers. But before they had arrived, the first European to discover the harbor was Giovanni da Verrazano from Florence, who in 1524, first claimed the surrounding area as part of France for whom he was exploring for. Today, his name lives on in the form of America‘s longest suspension bridge, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which links the boroughs of Staten Island to Brooklyn at the mouth of the New York Harbor. Since 1976, the bridge has marked the start of the New York City Marathon. From there, the Spanish and Portuguese had discovered even more beyond the harbor, helping in 1527 to create the first world map to show the North American east coast continuously. Dominicans were the first non-Natives to settle in what would eventually become New York City, and it was a Wallonian man named Peter Minuit who would make the famous 60 Guilder purchase for the island of Manhattan. Today, the 60 Guilder (now defunct because of the Euro) amount equates to roughly $1000 USD in today’s money, which, when compared to the $3 Trillion real estate value of the island currently, means that this was, and probably ever will be, the biggest one sided deal ever.
Once New Amsterdam had been settled, the city’s population boomed as a major trading port for the British. The area now forming modern day Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island, the largest battle in The American Revolutionary War. The development of the Erie Canal helped establish New York and the rest of what would later become New York State into a major economic center for the new nation, which, thanks to the high influx of immigrants, became the world’s largest urban area in 1920. Due to the Great Irish Famine, and various revolutions in Germany, Irish and German immigrants comprised 50% of New York’s population in 1860. New York City would ultimately become a major gateway for immigrants coming to America, which for many, would first make its appearance in the form of the Statue of Liberty. Furthermore, New York was a primary destination for many Black Americans making their way up from the south during the Great Migration. In 1916, New York had the largest African urban diaspora in America, and this helped spur the Harlem Renaissance during the 20s, which was characterized by a flourishing era of literary, musical, and cultural significance during Prohibition. Despite the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression, the early 1900s made its visual and physical impact on the city with its extremely large concentration of high rises, including all of world’s largest and tallest buildings at the time. These included 1909’s Met Life Tower, 1913’s Woolworth Building, 1930’s Manhattan Trust Building & the Chrysler Building, and of course, 1931’s Empire State Building, all of which were the tallest in the world at the time they were completed. The 103 storey Empire State Building, standing at 1,454 feet tall, held the title as the world’s tallest until the 1971 topping out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, less than three miles to the south.
The twentieth century meant nothing but tumultuous times for the city, which began in a more tragic way. In 1904, a steam ferry named the General Slocum caught fire and sank, taking the lives of more than 1,000 of its passengers. It remained the deadliest event in New York’s history for nearly a century. Seven years later, 146 garment workers died in the now famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, as a result of poor working conditions, a lack of adequate fire loss prevention, and the absence of available dedicated emergency egresses and stairwells. This, combined with the fact that the factory owners deliberately locked the doors to prevent the workers from taking unauthorized breaks, lead to new, improved global standards in workplace (especially factory) safety, as well as the creation of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Later, the city would experience unprecedented hardship in the form of the Great Depression, with swift changes in the political landscape following. The 40s, 50s, and 60s cemented New York’s place as a global megacity, with the construction of the UN Headquarters Building in 1952, and the rise in expressionist art which precipitated the city’s displacement of Paris as the world’s art capital. In 1969, the Stonewall Riots which took place in Greenwich Village, helped lead the fight for gay rights in both the city and the United States. Today, they are collectively considered the single most important event leading to LGBT rights in the US. The 1980s saw some of the highest crime rates in the city’s history, until changes in police strategies gradually ameliorated this throughout the 90s.
While the early 2000s brought a mix of Wall Street spikes and troughs, the world was changed forever when, on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda hijacked four jet airliners and deliberately crashed them into various sites in the Northeast, including both of the twin 110 storey buildings of the World Trade Center. 2,996 people were killed in the attack. The role of transportation & public security, the global political landscape, modern architectural engineering, broadcast news media, and the identity of New York City would never be the same. But even as a gaping reminder of the city’s own vulnerability would remain for years, the city and Lower Manhattan would eventually recover, with the official opening of 7 World Trade Center in May of 2006. Aside from this building, the overall reconstruction project would be as complicated socially and politically, as it would be expensive. Construction on the main parts of the complex wouldn’t begin until five years after the attacks, leaving 16 acres of the world’s financial center void of much needed recovery. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the new complex’s design, but eventually, an all-glass and steel array of contemporary and post-modern style high rises surrounding a newly constructed shopping mall, memorial, museum, and transportation hub was chosen. The new focal point of the complex, One World Trade Center, officially opened on November 3rd, 2014 after a building cost of $3.9 Billion, and 8 and a half years of slow, sometimes disrupted construction. It was the most expensive building in the world at the time of its opening. Standing at a symbolic 1,776 feet tall, the 104 Storey supertall skyscraper is the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. Construction of towers 2 and 5 are on hold until more tenants can be found, tower 4 was opened only ten days after tower 1, and tower 3 is underway and expected to be completed sometime in 2017.
Today the city continues to be a leading global center for art, media, real estate, cuisine, finance, technology, transportation, architecture, advertising, fashion, music, retail, and education. Its entertainment industry is headlined by the world famous Broadway theaters in Midtown, of which over forty contain at least 500 seats, while Brooklyn continues to be an alternative and indie culture crossroads. Over 500 art galleries bring color and expression to the city, and the city has over 4,000 mobile food vendors in addition to its 24,000 health inspected restaurants. New York Holds the distinction of being one of the only five cities to have won championships in all four major professional sports leagues, and only one of two cities to have also won a major soccer title as well (Chicago being the other). Four of the ten most expensive stadiums ever built lie within the New York Metropolitan area, and the city is home to more major professional teams than any other city with the Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Giants, Jets, Yankees, Mets, Nets, and Knicks all within the area. The city is also home to many of the world’s most famous politicians, sports figures, actors, musicians, and other celebrities. And aside from the glitz and glamour of the city being what it is, New York is also home to many large and small Breweries which distribute their products via many of the country’s best beer bars that exist within the city. New York’s night life and bar scene is a separate world on its own, but on the quieter, non-club side, people who find themselves in the neighborhoods of Astoria, Atlantic Yards, the Financial District, the East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, and Greenpoint will be especially happy with the craft beer options offered on tap.
America’s largest metropolitan area has a GMP of roughly $1.5 Trillion, which is outranked by the GDPs of only 11 nations around the world. Everything in New York is like everything in many other major cities… but bigger. Taller buildings, inflated egos, fatter tourists, wider streets, higher prices, louder voices, and a more immense rapid transit system. The largest city in America is largely transported on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) famous New York City Subway system. The network has been delivering passengers to four of New York’s five boroughs (Staten Island has its own train run by the MTA, but is not physically connected to the rest of the system) since it first opened as a railway network on October 9th, 1863. With over 1.7 billion annual rides, the MTA Subway is the busiest rapid transit system in the Americas and the seventh busiest in the world. It is one of the only systems with 24 hour service and, with 468 stations currently in operation, the system is the largest in the world by that metric. The network runs along 34 lines with a total 842 miles of standard gauge track, and is serviced by 6,384 cars. The quintessential unpainted silver subway cars, the old stations, the elevated sections of 40% of the system’s track, and sprawling map used to navigate it all, make the subway an iconic landmark in its own right among the dynamic New York landscape. Currently under construction is the $17+ Billion Second Avenue Subway, which will add 8.5 miles of dual track across 16 new stations on the east side of Manhattan. This map will be updated once the line is operational.
The subway uses other rail connections to access the three major airports of the Greater New York area, as well as all of the major sports venues of the city, including the new Atlantic Yards’ Barclays Center, home of the New York Islanders and the Brooklyn Nets. The arena was constructed on top of the Atlantic Yards Station, named for the numerous train tracks there, and serves as the transport hub for the A, C, G, F, D, N, R, 2, B, Q, 5, 4, 3 subway lines, and the LIRR. Over the years, the subway has gained a reputation for art, especially music, which often fills the long corridors of the system’s busiest stations. Since 1987, the MTA has sponsored the “Music Under New York” initiative, where both established as well as aspiring artists enter a competitive contest in order to gain access to perform and practice in high traffic areas. On a given week, 100+ MUNY associated musical acts will participate in over 150 performances at 25 high traffic locations throughout the system. There are certain regulations and rules concerning the safety and content of the performances, but overall, any artist is free to perform as long as they are not interfering with general transit activities, regardless of whether they are affiliated with the MTA’s MUNY program. The rolling stock is comprised of a potpourri of trains of various sizes and cars as old as 1964, and as new as 2015. The cars themselves are mostly unpainted exposed stainless steel, except in certain ceremonial or historic cases. In 2012, the MTA placed a $599 Million order for 300 new cars from Canadian Manufacturer Bombardier, with the first test train of ten cars arriving in 2015. It will also be announced later in the decade that hundreds of newer cars will be ordered to replace many of the outdated fleet as well as expand the current fleet for the upcoming Second Avenue Subway. Despite historical issues with crime, litter, an outdated infrastructure, flooding, and noise complaints, the New York City Subway is considered to be one of the most complicated, expensive, and impressive human engineering endeavors of all time.