Just below New England is the vibrant city of New York, which today is actually pretty safe and has become transformed by the former transport commissioner with far less road traffic and congestion (read her book Handbook for an Urban Revolution to learn how she did it).
New York is one of the world’s most vibrant cities, home to 800 languages (and the largest community of Puerto Ricans on earth, along with the world’s largest population of Asians and Jewish people outside Asia and Israel). It also houses the second largest library on earth, and numerous symphony orchestras. However, it’s not all urban city. Central Park is home to 800 North American species of birds, alongside the 8 million population (making it roughly the same population as London). It does (like London) have a huge rich-poor divide, being home to many struggling ghettos, yet more billionaires than anywhere in the world.
the 5 boroughs of New York city
New York is a huge city (like London) that instead of our 32 ‘villages’ instead has 5 boroughs, each one divided into its own towns.
Manhattan is the one that most of us are familiar with: this is Times Square and Central Park, 5th Avenue and the Statue of Liberty. It’s actually one of the smallest boroughs but also one of the richest (Trump Tower etc). Skyscrapers galore (including the Empire State Building) and yellow cabs zooming all over the place. It’s actually an island, with the Upper East Side (and Upper West Side) the ‘posh part’ (a bit like London’s Kensington & Chelsea, with a wealth of high-fee private schools). Also here is Greenwich Village (it had quite a hippy reputation back in the day but today is more an area of restaurants and commuter homes).
Brooklyn is located by going over Brooklyn Bridge and is also quite a wealthy area, but more for arty types (think again comparing to London – the actors who live in Camden). It has beautiful parks and a lower population. Many artisan makers and indie shop owners live in Williamsburg. Young affluent people also enjoy living at Prospect Heights and Park Slope.
The Bronx is home to New York’s biggest parks, and is the home of ‘hip-hop’ music and is quite a way from the centre of New York. It’s far cheaper to live here, so very popular for students. Although Riverdale is a more wealthy area of this borough.
Queens is the largest New York borough and likely one of the quietest, not too far from Manhattan but far more affordable.
Staten Island is reachable by ferry to Manhattan, so again many people who can’t afford to live in the latter, move here.
moving out to New York state
Outside of the city, New York state is home to 19 million people, and borders many New England states. The stunning nature includes an outstanding 400feet waterfall in Taughannock Falls State Park to the Catskill Mountains where a lot of the fresh produce for farmers’ markets is grown (the native wildlife here includes around 2000 black bears).
On the border with Canada there are ‘1000 islands’ that stretch for 50 miles to Ontario. Some are 40 square miles, but the ‘Just Room Enough Island’ is just 3300 square feet, with room for just one house! Also on the border are the world-famous Niagara Falls (three waterfalls that produce 4 million kilowatts of electricity, shared between the US and Canada). The capital of New York State is Albany, an elegant city of just 100,000 people (which still has not escaped American consumerism in being home to the largest Walmart supermarket in the USA).
One town known worldwide by environmentalists is Ithaca. Home to a prestigious university, it has its own currency and one local teacher for many years was ‘poet with a knife Sandra Steingraber (a biologist and ecologist), who got the same cancer as her mother – yet she was adopted. This sent her off on a mission to find links between cancer and environmental pollution. Ithaca is also know for having ‘100 waterfalls within 10 miles’ and is thought to be the inspiration behind L Frank Baum’s book ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as when he visited to see his future wife, the local roads were paved with yellow bricks.
a thriving community garden movement
Popular here is the community garden movement, where volunteers grow free fresh food for others, fostering friendship and getting outdoor exercise. New York Restoration Project was founded by the ‘divine’ Bette Midler, where volunteers turn disused urban spaces into beautiful green spaces, using telescopic poles to remove snagged plastic bags from rivers and trees.
If planting green spaces alongside animal friends, learn how to make gardens safe for pets (includes indoor plants to avoid). Avoid facing indoor foliage to gardens, to help stop birds flying into windows.
GrowNYC has built over 160 community gardens and gardens in public housing developments and senior centres, and builds around 10 new gardens a year, and renovations another 25 or so. Green Guerillas has been helping local people grow community gardeners for the last 50 years, through a combination of providing supplies and having a Council of Gardeners that advocates for those involved in growing community gardens to provide free food for local people.
moving on from horse-drawn carriages
One area of contention in New York City is the horses used to give carriage rides in Central Park. Although it looks a nice ‘memory’, many horses are spooked by traffic, and several have been killed or injured in car accidents. A local nonprofit wants the horses to go to sanctuaries and have created a beautiful vintage-style electric car that is cheap and clean to run, and would give more profits to drivers, for a nice tourist ride, but no risk to animals.
the iconic yellow NYC taxis
Just like London has its black cabs, New York has yellow cabs which you often see whizzing around the city. Each of the 13,000 or so taxis makes 800 trips each month, helping to take many private cars off the road. The job is pretty safe now, but before initiatives to make New York a much more secure city a few years ago, taxi drivers actually had more chance of violence than a New York cop.
Just 4% of NYC cab drivers were born in the USA. This is the reason why the New York Taxi Workers Alliance actually stopped rides for one hour in protest at President Trump’s immigration order (a ban on refugees and citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries), saying ‘We cannot be silent. We go to work to welcome people to a land that once welcomed us. We will not be divided. By sanctioning bigotry, the President is putting professional drivers in more danger’.
books to learn more about New York
New York Block By Block reveals the best of the city by artist Cierra Block – from secret leafy streets to inspiring bookstores and world-class museums, accompanied by 40 vibrant maps including where to walk and what to do. Wander around Brooklyn like a local, grab the best bagels in town or see priceless masterpieces.
New York City Like a Local is a travel guide written by people who call it home. It won’t feature sightseeing trends like the Statue of Liberty, more off-broadway theatres putting on quirky productions and speakeasies hosting secret parties. Find 6 themed walking tours taking in flea markets and movie theatres, and hidden spots to suit your mood.