- Tourism in New York City has increased by 40% over the past ten years.
- Responding to soaring property prices, the city will build 1,500 units of affordable living and working space for artists.
- A new municipal ID card gives residents access to libraries and cultural institutions as well as city services.
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 1,214.40 sq. km
Total population: 8,175,133
Total national population living in the city: 2.6 %
Education level – with degree level or higher: 33.3 %
GDP per capita in 2008 (PPP): US$ 73,300
Creative industries employment: 8%
New York City is one of the greatest of the world cities, comparable only to London in its international connections and influence. Since the seventeenth century – when it was founded as a Dutch trading post – it has been a centre of trade and one of the main gateways for immigration to the United States.
One of the first megacities, its current population is 8.5 million – with more than 20 million in the metropolitan area. Today nearly 40% of New York City residents are foreign-born, and 67% non-white. It is also home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities.
In its early nineteenth century aspirations to rival Boston, and later the great cities of Europe, New York’s cultural life has long been seen as a symbol of the city’s wider vitality. From Carnegie Hall to MoMA, public-private partnerships linking civic ambition with wealthy philanthropists have endowed the city with world-class non-profit cultural institutions.
Yet the city of New York also continues to make substantial investments in its creative ‘ecology,’ recognising that its cultural life depends on a diverse mix of institutions and individuals. To that end, roughly half of the city’s cultural grants go to small organisations. New York City is currently developing its first cultural plan, to be launched in 2017.
As well as being the capital of finance and law in the United States, New York is a centre for the creative industries: fashion, design, art, advertising and more. For instance, 28% of the country’s fashion designers are based in New York. The creative industries have grown dramatically over the past decade, with employment in film and television increasing by 53% and performing arts by 26% at a time when employment in finance remained static. This is not all by chance: for example, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment has deployed tax incentives and marketing to attract film production to the city.
Its cultural diversity means that New York’s neighbourhoods have played a revolutionary role in many different art forms and genres. These include Yiddish theatre in the Lower East Side, hip hop and graffiti in the Bronx, pop art and punk rock in the East Village, the jazz and literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and the continued evolution of the Broadway theatre district – now enlivened by the new cultural hybridity of Lin Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop/rap musical Hamilton.
In 2015, nearly 60 million tourists visited New York, an increase of nearly 40% over a decade. International tourism, now representing one fifth of all visitors, has increased even more sharply. Culture is one of the main drivers of tourism, and the culture sector also benefits greatly from tourist spending. In 2013-14 tourists bought 70% of all Broadway tickets. They have also driven a 20% increase in visits to the city’s Cultural Institutions Group – including the Metropolitan Museum, Lincoln Center, and the Natural History Museum – between 2006 and 2014.
Known for its skyline of iconic twentieth-century skyscrapers, New York City’s built environment continues to evolve. One World Trade Center, the fourth tallest building in the world, replaced the Twin Towers after their destruction on 9/11. Closer to the ground, the High Line – a park created on an old, elevated railway line – is now attracting 5 million visitors per year, and has inspired imitation in other cities. Another railway-based development is The Shed, a new mixed-arts venue to open in 2018 as part of the Hudson Yards project.
New York City’s recent economic prosperity has led to dramatic gentrification, now feared to threaten the city’s distinctive character. Rents have increased dramatically in areas outside Manhattan that were traditionally more affordable – by 76% in Williamsburg between 2000 and 2012, for example and 47% in Bedford-Stuyvesant – meaning that most New Yorkers now considered ‘rent burdened.’ Cultural organisations are moving out of Manhattan in an attempt to find cheaper rents, with many arts spaces closing entirely.
As a way of responding to this crisis, the Mayor has committed to building 1,500 units of affordable living and working space for artists and 500 work spaces for artists over the next decade, to be available at below-market rates.
The city is also developing new approaches to cultural engagement. Its new municipal ID card – IDNYC – ensures that residents can access a range of city services, regardless of their legal immigration status. As well as functioning as a universal library card, it includes free membership at 33 cultural institutions, including performing arts centers, museums, botanical gardens, in all five boroughs.
Since its establishment in 2008, the New York City Panel on Climate Change has been working to increase the city’s resiliency. The devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – which led to a lengthy closure for the Statue of Liberty and parts of Ellis Island – has meant increasing public recognition of the need for action. In 2017 construction will begin on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, a flood protection system which may also become a major new public space along the lines of the High Line.
In the twenty-first century, New York City has kept its place as one of the world’s leading cities. Its economic power, openness to ideas and immigrants, and world-class cultural assets remain a potent combination. Now facing the new challenge of gentrification, the preservation of its cultural ecosystem will be a priority for the future.