What Makes New York City a Global and Generic City

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Table of Contents

  • Economic Forces that have shaped New York City
  • Political Forces that have shaped New York City
  • Conclusion

What is a generic city? In the words of renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas It is the city without history. it is big enough for everybody. It is easy. It does not need maintenance. If it gets too small it just expands. If it gets old it just self-destructs and renews. It is equally exciting — or unexciting — everywhere. It is “superficial”— like a Hollywood studio lot, it can produce a new identity every Monday morning’ I think this quote describes the generic city as an idea, which adapts to different needs and changes well, but as far as its roots has no real sense of independence or rich characteristics.

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In the latter part of the 19th century. New York was fast running out of land to build on, as more corporate companies came into the city requiring huge buildings and offices the only way to go was up towards the sky. When Thomas Edison lit up the street of Broadway between 14th and 26th street on the New Year Eve of 1879, it was the dawn of the electric age and gave a lifeline to New York that was badly needed.

Skyscrapers would not have been possible without electricity to light them, and also lifts to transport people to the top, without these inventions Skyscrapers would have been a one day wonder. As it was the first skyscraper to be built in New York was The Singer building at 700 ft it was the tallest building in the world. New technological improvements enabled the construction of fireproofed, iron-framed structures with very deep foundations. Most were commercial or office buildings although housing was also badly needed, so high rise apartment buildings were also built to help solve the housing problem. In 1913 the Woolworth building was erected at 1.729 feet tall, the wonderful skyline of New York had begun.

Its interesting that the corporate industry took preference over residential living in a Country with so much land. These huge buildings look nice in a photograph but can be quite claustrophobic when walking amongst them. The poor were still living in dark dreary ill ventilated and overcrowded tenements, many families, parents and children living and sleeping in one room. Many worked in the cramped sweatshops of the garment trade. working long hours for wages which were barely enough to keep them living.

Koolhaas believes that chaotic exponential development of cities, effectively erases all forms of historical value, and ultimately leads to a complete blackout of historical essence and knowledge. and doomed by the footsteps of pedestrianization. he also portrays a somewhat closed-minded view of skyscrapers being the ‘final definitive typology’. The aforementioned quote states that towers no longer stand together, but instead are spaced proportionally so that they don’t interact’. Is the idealisation and practicality of skyscrapers, and building high into the clouds, destroying the societal aspect of interaction? Is it destroying the differential factors that play the role of individualism? In her 1961 novel, The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. Canadian journalist and author Jane Jacobs stated her belief that cities were being disturbed by the automobile, not just the cars themselves but the parking lots, the gas stations, the drive-ins, Jane even referred to all of these characteristics as ‘Instruments of city destruction.

Generalised Characteristics A quote by columnist Aaron M. Renn of the Manhattan Institute states that ‘If cities want to succeed, they need to focus on what makes them distinct’ meaning that the current status quo for cities is simply to market and brand themselves as having things that you can find anywhere. and focusing less on their individuality. Let’s take New York, for example, a prepossessing city and one of the world’s frontal tourist attractions, yet still so generalised. Personally, I feel as though New York has become less and less about its individual attractions. and despite its undeniable elegance, more about the commercialised food chains, stores, and high big budget retailers that make the city what it is.

Another big part of city transportation is bike lanes. and although for many, the thought of cycling through a city may feel gut-wrenching, bike lanes are something which every city is expected to have. New York in particular I feel, has a much more intense cycle culture than a lot of the other major cities. It was Janette Sadik-khan who, when she became New York City’s chief transportation officer in 2007, set a clear mission to install more bike lanes for cyclists, which she did. more than 400 miles of on-street bike lanes, including one of the first parking-protected bike lanes in the United States. but as we’re in a day and age of the automobile, removing car parking for bicycle parking, couldn’t have been an easy task. It is Jane’s idea that making it easier to walk. cycle, or use public transportation, is the kind of recipe for success and the cities that make these kinds of investments, will ultimately reap the rewards within the next century. At the same time. the bicycle system needs to be reliable and safe. you can’t simply paint arrows on the street and expect the public to understand, or use the system as you plan.

Economic Forces that have shaped New York City

Being at the forefront of evolution, in a generation of UBER, Amazon. and Google, new york’s economy is ever-changing. and with its unemployment rates falling from 4.4% as of October 2017 to 3.9%October 2018, there is hope that New York’s economy is only moving onwards and upwards. Being the leader of banking, finance, and communication, Manhattan is also the home of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. In her 2007 book. ‘The Warhol Economy’ author Elizabeth Currid argued that creative industries such as fashion, art. and music, drive New York’s economy much more prominently than finance. real estate and law do.

In New York City, creativity and creative people are able to succeed’ writes Elizabeth Currid, storytelling and documenting in the first chapter of her novel, some of New York’s finest artists

Jean-Michel Basquiat. and Andy Warhol, two definitive figures in New York’s art history. Currid begins her book by explaining the difference in economy in New York during the 1970’s and 1980’s, telling of how thousands of kids would run through subway tunnels deep in the night, running away from police. and spray painting graffiti on the sides of subway cars. signature logos or names, which would then run through the city. giving the graffiti artists exposure all around the city. Currid tells the story of how Basquiat gained recognition for his graffiti artwork. and began working with Warhol, his art, which was selling for well over $20,000 at the time, got recognition from gallery owner Mary Boone, and how he also landed the cover of New York Times Magazine.

So why is New York’s economy sustained itself? The increase in the price of rent, and the higher the competition for employment, especially in the creative industry, so what are the social and economic factors that allow New York to maintain its dominant status. Economist and Nobel-Prize winner Robert Lewis stated, that the reason why great cities draw people in is that of human beings need and desire to be around each other, even in a noisy and overpopulated metropolis. The culture of Art & Design is often looked at as different entities, fashion, film, art. music. But often these entities can intertwine, one example being graffiti artist Eric Haze, who has had multiple collaboration with major fashion brand Nike. This isn’t new for Nike, they often collaborate with artists, for example. artist Brian Donnelly who works under the alias (Kaws) has had multiple collaborations with the brand.

Referring back to a quote from Rem Koolhaas states It is strange that those with the least money inhabit the most expensive commodity earth; those who pay, what is free air’ in relation to new york city, a high majority of residence is apartment buildings. and it is Koolhaas’s view that it is strange to be paying more money for an apartment off of the ground, which has no immediate relation to the earth.

Political Forces that have shaped New York City

In 1653 a crude wooden posted wall was built across Manhattan island to protect the still small town of New Amsterdam. the street next to it was called Wall Street, which would become the most famous trading street in the world. It was in 1664 where the British seized the Dutch land of New Amsterdam and would rename it New York City, and over the next century. the New York City population grew larger and more diverse. The population included migrants from the Netherlands, England, Germany. and France alike, including servants and African slaves. New York City did actually serve as the capital of the United States from 1785 to 1790.

Between 1892-1954, Ellis Island was the port of entry for millions of European immigrants which would help forge the political force which has shaped New York. Over 12 million men, women and children entered the United States through a small island in the New York harbour, Ellis Island. It is located in the upper bay, just off of the Jersey Coast, within the shadow of the

Statue of Liberty. This gateway was enlarged significantly through the years and was designated as of the first federal immigration station by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century where New York became the city we know it as today. When residents of the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn voted to “consolidate” along with Manhattan, ultimately forming a five borough of The Greater New York”.

The 20th century was an era of major struggle for many American cities, New York was no different. The construction of the interstate highway, prior to World War II, aided in encouraging people to migrate out of the city, this combined with deindustrialization and other aspects such as the diminishing of public services, helped for more out-migration from the city.

For a city that has not voted for a Republican president since 1924 (Calvin Coolidge), the Democratic party holds the majority of the public offices. With the exception of a highly republican stance in Staten Island and the more wealthier parts of Brooklyn and Queens. 4568. The political stance in the United States alone is one that could definitely be regarded as unorthodox, from the 1981 candidacy of former actor, turned corporate spokesman, turned politician Ronald Reagan who served two terms as America’s 40th President, from this to the administration of Donald Trump, goes to show just how much the United States politics ideology, is just as materialistic as its economy.

Cultural Forces that have shaped New York City New York may be known for its famous artists, musicians and designers, but the creative industry isn’t essential in its amount of jobs, which simply cannot compare to the amount in finance and law, New York’s true calling card. The creative industry is simply the “icing on the cake” written by Elizabeth Currid. When the bank of New York was founded in 1784, trading in stocks and shares took place informally in and around Wall Street, this was the start of New York’s famous financial culture. In 1792, 24 of the United States most prominent brokers signed the Buttonwood agreement, which outlined the common commission based form of trading securities. Some of the first securities trades were dealing with banking stocks such as First Bank of the United States, Bank of New York and Bank of North America also War Bonds. In fact, it was the Civil war between 1861 and 1865 that actually helped the financial district to get going.

Up until 1807. New York had advanced in a haphazard way with no real planning or configuration. A commision was appointed to draw up plans for the city, the plan proposed that new streets should be laid out with a grid-like structure. There would be 12 avenues running north and south and 155 streets running east and west. As the new city grew the grid-pattern spread north across Manhattan. By 1820 New York had become the USA’s largest city with a population of 123,000 which continued to grow rapidly. The New York University was founded in 1831 and the New York City Police Force in 1845.

In 1973 the World Trade Centre/Twin Towers were opened, they lay 417 and 415 metres tall, making them the tallest buildings in the world. In September of 1962, it was announced that Minoru Yamasaki was to be the lead architect for The World Trade Centre. The World Trade Centre played a large part in the culture of New York City, and the structure was intended to promote international trade and catalyze economic prosperity in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region. After experiencing a fire in 1975, a bombing in 1993, and a bank robbery in 1998, before the fatal end to the structures when they were the target of a terrorist attack in 2001.

After receiving a letter from the New York Port Authority in 1962. asking if he was interested in pursuing a project with an estimated $280,000,000 budget, Yamasaki assumed that they had accidentally added an extra zero, with an office of 55 people. Yamasaki thought it would be impossible to complete the project, which was originally to be 80 stories, but would end up being over 100. The city has still, however, remained a major financial capital, as well as a thriving tourist favourite. Today, more than 8 million New Yorkers live in the five boroughs. with more than one-third of the population born outside of the United States. If anything, the diversity of its occupants goes to showcase how vibrant and intellectually thriving the city remains.

During the first world war the immigration eased off and things improved for many people. Then the economic boom of the 1920s came, share prices were rising rapidly people on paper were made millionaires overnight. Such was the frenzy of Wall Street that people who would never have thought of buying shares started to invest their savings. Many of the small shareholders were the working classes who put their precious savings into buying shares without having the proper knowledge about how the stock market works and can be manipulated. With every boom there follows a burst and that is exactly what happened in 1929 when the Wall Street stock market crashed. It’s true that some people went to bed on Monday, October 28th millionaires and awoke on Tuesday. October 29th penniless and some committed suicide, jumping out of their office windows. It was in the main through the working and middle classes, the small investors who had kept their life savings in the bank or invested it in the stock market who suffered the

most. The real wealthy could afford to overcome the losses but the working and middle classes could not, many lost not only their money but also their jobs and homes.


What is a generic city So what is ‘The Generic City?’, for me personally, I believe the generic city is more about today’s day and age, the acquisitive society. Rem Kooihaas identified early on how global capitalism was creating a highly dynamic and speculative urban condition that was forever changing contemporary cities. I believe that the generic city’s roots are embedded in its history, but this history is overlooked by modern day society’s need for both the materialistic and contemporary. Richard Prouty writes “the paradigmatic urbanite will no longer be a latte-sipping hipster but the weary sales rep who never completely unpacks his suitcase”forgetting if he is in New York or New Delhi. I believe generic urbanism lacks identity, the generic city does not simply pay homage to its history or its residents but rather responds to urban stereotypes, the here, the now, then what’s popular.

The normal characteristics of a strong city, the uniqueness, the vibrant architecture, becomes outshone in a generic city by global, modern-day trends. While still far from a generic city in terms of it being vibrant with energy, I do believe that the way New York has reformulated into a more acquisitive metropolis is by today’s more consumerist society. Far from boring and ordinary, yet I believe if you look at everyday pictures of New York through Instagram/ social media, or the internet, you’re much more likely to see a plethora of pedestrians carrying bags from their favourite outlets, Macy’s, Gucci etc, and fewer people smiling, taking pictures, appreciating the architecture of the great city.

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