New York

World Facts Index > United States > New York

New York City, arguably the world's most vibrant and sprawling metropolis, occupies five boroughs, each with its own distinct identity. After all, before the historic 1898 consolidation, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island were each independent municipalities. Consolidation only came after decades of wrangling. Brooklyn, to this day fiercely independent, nearly derailed the entire process.

Manhattan, home to the most recognizable sites and much of it laid out in the innovative grid plan, dominates popular perception of New York City. Its most famous districts are listed below.

Wall Street and the Financial District
New York's first district remains its most historic district. The stalwart investment banks of Wall Street coexist with landmarks like the Trinity Church. The hyper-ambitious, be-suited throngs chat on cell phones and take lunch at hot dog stands. Visitors ponder the beauty of skyscrapers and the quaintness of cobblestones. Battery Park draws New Yorkers from all boroughs for its panoramic views and excellent rollerblading.

Long the national epicenter of African-American culture, Harlem remains proud of its past accomplishments as it looks to the future. As home to America's most influential artistic, literary and cultural movement (The Harlem Renaissance), the district gained worldwide notoriety. A study in contrasts, Harlem has seen some of New York's worst poverty and quietly hidden some of its wealthiest citizens. Twenty years ago, many visitors feared Harlem. Today, as a multi-ethnic Harlem benefits from a booming economy, tourists clamor to visit the home of great jazz, great food and a deep-rooted history.

Greenwich Village
If the winding streets of this historic neighborhood could talk, they would speak of poverty and prosperity, free love and socialism, gay rights and reform. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Greenwich Village drew free spirits from around the nation. Writer Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote hedonistic poetry and Eugene O'Neill reinvented American Drama. As the years went on, rents inevitably rose. Now, the Villages' townhouses and apartments are some of the most expensive in the city. Meanwhile, New York University students capture the neighborhood's old spirit as they romp through Washington Square Park. A diverse array of shops, rowdy bars and music clubs vie for business along Bleecker Street.

East Village
Once a poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood, for the last twenty years artists, students and yuppies have gentrified the neighborhood. Gentrification did not come quickly or easily, leading to the Tompkins Square Park rent riots of the early nineties. Today, the turmoil has died down, the homeless live elsewhere and long-time residents bemoan the presence of newcomers. However, the artistic spirit that initially brought about the change remains evident. Urban gardens and art exhibits sit besides cafes, craft shops and vegetarian restaurants. Performance artists still emote and musicians still sing in the parks. Rents are high, but nose rings are acceptable.

Soho & Tribeca
Once home to massive factories, artists took over the spaces and transformed desolate industrial wasteland into bustling urban commerce. Galleries, designer shops, sophisticated restaurants and trendy bars followed soon after the artists. Today, galleries thrive among the chaos creating New York's world-class art scene. Alas, no more rent bargains exist ' the once raw lofts now command rents to match anything on Fifth Avenue.

Lower East Side
The latest neighborhood to receive the 'Soho' treatment, the city's worst slums once existed on these streets. Gradually, conditions improved but the neighborhood remained poor, often attracting new waves of (mostly Hispanic) immigrants. Today, rents are rising and the yuppies are arriving. The historic Orchard Street Shopping District operates among new, hip bars and nightclubs.

A misnomer, as every conceivable Asian ethnicity lives in Chinatown. Restaurants, grocery stores and trinket shops line the ever-crowded streets. One need not travel to Hong Kong to obtain a $10 Rolex watch; plenty are available here. Dim Sum and other favorites lure diners on practically every corner. Recently, some non-Asian hotspots have opened and created quite a stir.

Little Italy
Frank Sinatra, Italian Restaurants and kitsch draw tourists to this lively neighborhood. It is all that remains of a once proud (albeit poverty stricken) community of Italian immigrants. The San Gennaro Feast still welcomes its throngs, but Old St. Pat's now offers its services in Spanish and Chinese rather than Italian.

Gramercy and Flatiron
The majestic Flatiron Building lords over this beautiful, eclectic district marked by loft spaces to the west and pre-war residences to the east. More than a century after its construction, the apartment buildings and townhouses around Gramercy Park remain coveted addresses. The district's diverse shops and excellent restaurants draw New Yorkers day and night. The historic Pete's Tavern helps New York treasure its past while the numerous "Silicon Alley" internet companies bring the city into the future.

Once a proud working class community, Chelsea recently became a posh address. As rents in Greenwich Village rose, the vibrant gay community moved upwards to occupy Chelsea's many brownstones and loft spaces. Others naturally followed and today's Chelsea reflects New York's ethnic and cultural diversity. Known for its many nightspots, club goers party at Cheetah, Twilo and Rebar.

Meat Packing District
Chelsea's energy was bound to spill downward into the industrial wasteland of the far west. Now, some of the city's hottest destinations occupy spaces once reserved for slaughtered meat. First, Hogs & Heifers made redneck chic. Then, alternative spots like Mother and the Cooler opened. Now, Fressen draws the city's most sophisticated and trendy crowds.

As the name implies, midtown is smack in the middle of everything. Nobody's sure where Midtown begins, but most agree it stops somewhere around Central Park. It probably begins somewhere in the thirties. Despite border confusion, most understand that EVERYTHING happens in midtown. Publishing houses, quite a few financial firms, import/export companies and fashion houses all do business here. The Trump Tower entices shoppers, along with Saks and all those glorious shops along Fifth Avenue. Skaters skate and tourists wave to the Today Show cast at Rockefeller Center. The spectacular St. Patrick's Cathedral offers serenity and spirituality. The city's most expensive restaurants serve fine food, and best of all, taxis are plentiful. From Midtown, you can get anywhere and see anything. You haven't seen New York if you haven't been here.

Times Square & Hell's Kitchen
Many New Yorkers miss the almost gone seediness of Times Square. Disney Stores have replaced the sex shops and nude dance clubs. Development swallowed up a few beloved newsstands and diners. However, most people begrudgingly admit that it's better this way. Free spending visitors, after all, adore everything from the souvenir shops to the enormous billboards of Victoria's Secret's models to the latest mega-musical. A few blocks west lies Hell's Kitchen, now serving as an oasis from the Times Square chaos. Once a slum, it's now a community on an upswing with eclectic restaurants, bars, shops.

Upper East Side
Park, Fifth and Madison have always been posh addresses. Whether in the gilded mansions of yesterday or the modern apartments of today, old money and high society have made their home here. Consequently, shops to serve them sprouted up and down Madison Avenue while the residents endowed museums and collected art. Today, the Baby Gap coexists with art galleries and antique shops. Further east, new money has overtaken the old Yorkville slum and yuppies share railroad apartments.

Upper West Side
When the co-ops of the East Side were freer to restrict residents, the Upper West Side became home to new money (and often Jewish money). Then, as "modernist" Eastsiders tore down their pre-war palaces, Upper West Side residents kept their old buildings. Thirty years later, renters value Upper West Side pre-war real estate, with its solid (often neo gothic or Victorian) architecture. Yuppies, successful artists and apartment-sharing twenty somethings flocked here. Today, the buildings along Central Park West house some of the city's most notoriously picky co-op boards (Jerry Seinfeld, approved; Madonna, denied). Meanwhile, bars and restaurants catering to Long Island and New Jersey folk (a.k.a Bridge and Tunnels) continue to sprout like weeds along Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

More famous in name than Manhattan, this massive borough stretches from the festive Coney Island to the elegant Brooklyn Heights. Wherever Brooklynites hail from, they are a proud lot. Proud of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Proud of the Bridge that bears the name Brooklyn. Proud of their Museum of Art and Children's Museum. Proud of Williamsburg and Park Slope, two neighborhoods seized from poverty. Proud of Peter Luger and Planet Thailand. Some are even proud of the accent.

From Flushing to Astoria to Long Island City, Queens is experiencing a quiet renaissance. Landlords continue to restore buildings as Manhattan rent refugees discover what this working-class borough offers its residents. Terrific, inexpensive ethnic restaurants pepper the entire borough, as does a deep community spirit. Queens is also home to the Kaufman Astoria Studio and the American Museum of the Moving Image.

The Bronx
Home to the Yankees, one of the nation's finest zoos, and an extraordinary botanical garden, the Bronx offers much to visitors and citizens alike. Alas, the poverty of some of its districts often overshadows the positive aspects of this multi-ethnic borough. Recently, areas such as the South Bronx have shown signs of benefiting from the current economic boom.

Staten Island
Once primarily farmland, Staten Island continues to be New York City's most understated district. A thriving middle and working class suburb, thousands of Staten Islanders ride the famous ferry to work in Manhattan. They proudly declare that Staten Island gives them the best of New York combined with all the conveniences of the suburbs. Staten Island offers its own museum, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and charming zoo.

History of New York

New York, a city of staggering contrasts, diversity and culture, occupies a unique place among world's great cities. Standing equal with, if not surpassing, today's great metropolises (Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London) New York also ranks among the great trade and cultural centers of history (Rome, Cordoba, Beijing, Athens).

From Wall Street to the The United Nations, the world's most powerful and influential men and women prize success in New York above all other places. Nevertheless, the top echelons of New York City society make up only a small part of its essence. The city's population hails from every country on the globe, bringing variety of culture and viewpoints. Despite these differences, most all share a common goal of economic self-betterment. Critics say that while Boston was settled to escape religious persecution and Philadelphia was founded as a City of Brotherly love, New York has always been about money. That, however, is the small picture; the big picture is ambition. Immigrants are as likely to be from Ohio as from the Caribbean or Eastern Europe. They come for Wall Street, for Broadway, to work for the world's great fashion houses, publishing companies and broadcast networks. From the Korean grocer who will deliver an apple at 11pm to Donald Trump, New Yorkers work hard, challenge themselves and strive to be better.

Europe's first contact with the land that became New York occurred with the arrival of an Italian, Giovanni de Verrazano, sailing for the king of France. In April of 1524, his ship, the Dauphine, viewed New York from Narrows where the Lower Bay and Upper Bay meet. What would become Brooklyn was on the right, Staten Island on the left and straight-ahead, Manhattan. He named the land Angouleme, the title held by the king before his ascension to the throne. The name didn't stick, but the bridge that would later cross the Narrows took its name from the explorer.

The following year a Portuguese black explorer sailing for King Charles of Spain, Esteban Gomez, reached the Hudson River. The day was January 17th, the feast of San Antonio, so Gomez named the river the San Antonio.

Despite these early encounters, the Dutch settled New York first, after explorer Henry Hudson lent his name to the world's largest tidal river. He sailed up to present day Albany and his report would spur his Dutch employers to colonize the land from New York City to Albany. The early colonists recognized Manhattan's value as a watering station on the way north. In 1625 six farms called "bouweries" were started, and a handful of streets - Pearl, Broad, Beaver and Whitehall - were laid out. Broadway already existed, as a trading path, before the arrival of the Europeans.

The next year, Peter Minuet, the first governor, arrived and purchased Manhattan for the bargain price of $24 worth of trinkets. The Native American sellers too, were happy with the price, as they didn't live there. In fact, no Native Americans lived on Manhattan, though tribes from neighboring lands used Manhattan as a hunting ground and a place to meet for trade.

In 1640, the predominately Dutch New Amsterdam, as it was then named, was teeming with the diversity of the New World. Travelers could hear eighteen European languages spoken in the city. The tolerant Dutch welcomed all, eventually allowing the New World's first Jewish congregation to form. At this early date, Manhattan boasted its first tavern (now paved under for parking at City Hall) and its first recorded lady of the night (Griet Reyniers). Dutch colonists would settle the surrounding lands that would make up New York's boroughs, parts of Long Island and much of New York State. In 1647, the Dutch appointed the stern Peter Stuyvesant as Director General in an effort to bring order to the city's chaos. Stuyvesant was successful and the city thrived under his rule, but his efforts were not enough to stop the inevitable dominance of the English.

Rapid expansion coupled with perceived immorality soon pitted early Manhattanites against the English Puritans of New England, who had migrated south to the Dutch colony. Less than tolerant, the Puritans had banned bowling and shuffleboard and even the celebration of Christmas. They shocked New Yorkers with fines for singing and public whippings for more serious offenses. While initially seen as outsiders, the prosperous and hardworking Puritans soon had the political and economic upper hand. In 1663, an enormous meteor was seen in the sky, the city suffered earthquakes from February to August and unusually warm weather until January. These strange portents preceded the end of New Amsterdam as an Anglo-Dutch treaty handed the city over to the English the following year.

Under British rule, the renamed New York City saw its population grow from 6,000 to 20,000 by the end of the seventeenth century. Already burdened with its overwhelming growth and a culturally diverse population, events in Europe brought turmoil to the city. Religious wars brought enmity among Christians, and a man named Jacob Leisler led the city into revolt against James II of England and Catholics in general. For a brief time, he controlled the city and expelled Catholics. Eventually defeated, his rule ended with him and his son-in-law being hung at what is now the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge. The same religious wars gave birth to privateering, or legalized piracy, that allowed the likes of Wall Street resident William Kidd go to sea intending to capture enemy ships. Not content with just enemy booty, Kidd seized English ships as well and eventually found himself at the end of a rope.

During this time, New York City tolerated (and in some circles encouraged) the slave trade; a large and prosperous slave market was located on Wall Street. Black Africans had first arrived on Dutch ships, and thus they became the city's second major ethnic group. Both the English and the Dutch freed many slaves, but those free blacks often lived in fear of harassment, worked menial jobs and struggled in poverty. Many other blacks remained in bondage.

Inevitable tension built up over many years and led to a series of atrocities against New York's black population. In 1712 a vicious slave uprising and an equally vicious reprisal compounded already present hostility towards and fear of blacks. In 1741 non-black citizens blamed a series of petty thefts then a rash of fires on both freed and enslaved blacks. The lieutenant governor offered a bounty for evidence against offenders: 40 pounds sterling for freed blacks, 20 pounds for slaves. Evidence, the majority of it false, mounted quickly. New York's version of the Salem Witch Trials saw many blacks hung, burned at the stake, jailed and deported.

As the eighteenth century wore on, England's passage of restrictive acts of trade and imposition of tariffs brought about protest and ultimately revolution. New York City was strategically vital during the American Revolutionary War. Early on, from Brooklyn to Harlem, General George Washington's army suffered a series of defeats and barely escaped capture. The British took the city and stationed itself there in an attempt to divide the colonies. At the end of the war, the victorious Washington was sworn in as the first president on the steps of New York's Federal Hall.

New York's stint as the United States capital was short lived. Political wrangling dictated the newly created District of Columbia would be the new nation's capital. However, the 1792 founding of the New York Stock Exchange and the prospering of Alexander Hamilton's Bank of New York launched the city as a financial capital. At this time immigrant Jacob Astor made his first real estate deal, predicting that New York City would quickly move up Manhattan.

The explosive expansion and revolutionary invention of the nineteenth century forever transformed New York City. The Erie Canal, in its day the world's greatest engineering feat, had New York's ports at its terminus and strengthened the city's position as a national trade center. Later, the city commissioned Central Park, designed and planned to save breathing space as the population boom moved uptown.

The American Civil war brought much sorrow and misery to New York, but also great prosperity as war profits soared. By this time New York had outlawed slavery and was a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. Yet, New York's status as a Union stronghold became threatened with the passage of the nation's first conscription act. Poor immigrants, angered that the wealthy could buy their way out of the draft, rioted violently ' often targeting the city's blacks, whom they blamed for the war. The riots were put down, but some demands were met, proving that immigrants had become a strong political force in New York. When President Lincoln was assassinated, devastated New Yorkers of all races and classes turned out in record numbers to view his casket.

As the century passed, New York displayed more technological marvels. A workforce thousands strong constructed The Brooklyn Bridge, then the tallest and longest in the world. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and with JP Morgan's backing built a power plant that would bring electric streetlights to lower Manhattan. Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone and Wall Street had its first in 1879. The Statue of Liberty was given by France, shipped in crates and re-erected near the Battery. The present St. Patrick's Cathedral and an early incarnation of Madison Square Garden were built. At the turn of the nineteenth century, a string of palatial mansions rose along New York's Fifth Avenue, with half of the nation's millionaires living in New York.

Economic conditions in Europe brought massive immigration to New York City, primarily consisting of Irish, German, Italian and Eastern Europeans. Immigrants arrived penniless, worked long hours under harsh conditions for minimal pay, and lived in unhealthy tenements and crime ridden neighborhoods. Labor Unions formed, with the most militant branches often made up of factory girls who spoke no English. In 1910, 20,000 female shirtwaist workers staged a massive strike for better working conditions.

Reformers, galvanized by the success of the abolitionist movement as well as the gaining momentum of the suffragist and temperance movements, actively joined the fight to assist the immigrant poor. Writer and photographer Jacob Riis focused attention on the unspeakable filth of the tenements, and his work helped push the city's first housing laws through the legislature. Irish politician Al Smith, himself a product of the Irish slums, would strive to improve the lot of the immigrant worker. Writer Elizabeth Cady Stanton agitated for suffrage, and Margaret Sanger fought to make birth control legal.

Despite the labor movement's strikes and talk of reform, it took tragedy to bring about change. In 1911, 146 people died horribly when the Triangle Shirtwaist Company caught fire. Most of the victims were teenage girls. The doors had been locked to prevent the entrance of union organizers. The factory owners' trial and subsequent acquittal galvanized the legislature (led by Al Smith) to pass numerous labor laws.

By the 1920s all of Manhattan was populated. Harlem, which had started as a Dutch farm, and later became a Jewish neighborhood, now attracted New York blacks as well as blacks migrating North from the South. Jazz and blues and Prohibition-era speakeasies made the neighborhood an entertainment mecca for all races. Black musicians, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and a fertile crop of black artists and writers, including Langston Hughes, together formed a movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

On Broadway Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and George and Ira Gershwin led the popular music industry. Meanwhile, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Roundtable grew famous for urbane wit and wisecracks. On Broadway, the Marx Brothers set a high standard for lowbrow humor and became darlings of New York society.

The hedonistic decade of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, however, ended with a crash on Wall Street and ushered in the Great Depression. Construction on the Triborough Bridge was halted because of lack of funds, the number of active taxicabs dropped in half, homes were repossessed, and Ph.D.'s became elevator operators.

A backlash against corrupt politics ushered Fiorella LaGuardia into the mayor's office. Only five feet tall, La Guardia brought a New York toughness to the job. One minute after being sworn in, he ordered gangster Lucky Luciano arrested and began cleaning up corruption. The city began to work its way out of the depression. Robert Moses built parks and the Rockefellers built Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. The New York World's Fair marked the end of the decade. At its grand opening Mayor LaGuardia declared that the greatest exhibition was New York City itself.

New York emerged from the Depression and World War II with a new fervor for industry and building. The United Nations complex started the post-war Boom and was completed in the 1950s. The World Trade Center was built between 1966 and 1973 at a cost of $700 million. What to do with 1 million cubic yards of dirt unearthed for the foundation? Fill in the harbor to build nearby Battery Park City.

As New Yorkers face the new millennium, much has changed and much remains the same. Fifth Avenue is still a bastion of New York's wealthy, and numerous other neighborhoods are home to yet another wave of immigration, from Columbia and Guatemala, the Far East and Eastern Europe. New York still attracts ambitious people, clamoring to improve their lot in life. Historian Peter Quinn, commenting on New York's nature, said the city that started with Peter Minuet's $24 purchase is still the same, and if possible, even more so; "Donald Trump would have tried to pay $22."

The real spirit, in spite of the cynics, can be seen in a person wishing to make her mark, or to make his living. From the new New Yorkers like Mario Batali of Pó and Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu who came to New York to showcase their talents to Bronx-born Jennifer Lopez and Brooklyn-born Jerry Seinfeld who bring their talents to the world. And to the 7 million others who were born here or came here to do better, reach higher or just to marvel at the capital of the world.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 38 40 48 60 70 78 84 84 76 65 54 42
Avg. Low 25 26 34 44 54 64 68 67 60 48 41 30
Mean 32 34 42 52 62 71 77 76 68 58 48 37
Avg. Precip. 3.3 in 3.2 in 3.8 in 4.1 in 4.2 in 3.6 in 4.2 in 4.0 in 4.0 in 3.1 in 4.0 in 3.6 in


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