A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story behind Their Unlikely Bond

A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story behind Their Unlikely Bond

A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story behind Their Unlikely Bond

A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story behind Their Unlikely Bond

Synopsis

For more than seven decades, New York City and the United Nations have shared the island of Manhattan, living and working together in a bond that has been likened to a long marriage—both tempestuous and supportive, quarrelsome and committed. A Worldly Affair tells the story of this hot and cold romance, from the 1940s when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was doggedly determined to bring the new world body to New York, to the UN’s flat rejection of the city’s offer, then its abrupt change of course in the face of a Rockefeller gift, and on to some tense, troubling decades that followed. Racial prejudice and anti-Communist passions challenged the young international institution. Spies, scofflaw diplomats, provocative foreign visitors, and controversial UN-member policy positions tested New Yorkers’ patience. And all the while, the UN’s growth—from its original 51 member states to 193 by 2017—placed demands on the surrounding metropolis for everything from more office space, to more security, to better housing and schools for the international community’s children. As the city worked to accommodate the world body’s needs—often in the face of competition from other locales vying to host at least parts of the UN entity—New Yorkers at times grew to resent its encroachment on their neighborhoods, and at times even its very presence. It was a constituent sentiment that provoked more than one New York mayor to be less than hospitable in dealing with the city’s international guests. Yet, as the UN moves into its eighth decade in New York—with its headquarters complex freshly renovated and the city proudly proclaiming that the organization adds nearly $4 billion to the New York economy each year—it seems clear the decades-old marriage will last. Whatever the inevitable spats and clashes along the way, the worldly affair is here to stay.

Excerpt

Since the mid-1970s, East Midtown Manhattan has been my home. It’s a neighborhood I originally chose because it was within easy walking distance of my office, then on Park Avenue in the Forties. the fact that the United Nations’ world headquarters was a mere block from my apartment never struck me as particularly remarkable. and while I had always been a believer in the un and its ideals, my interest in the un as a neighbor centered mostly around the pleasure of taking a walk in its landscaped North Lawn, in those days open to the public.

Then in the early 2000s, my perspective started to change. I became more active in local community affairs, and in 2007 wrote a book about the history of Manhattan’s East Midtown, the area called Turtle Bay. It was then that I began to better appreciate the fact that the eighteen acres of international land in the center of one of the world’s largest and most multicultural cities was truly unique, and not without some controversy. and I came to recognize that the decades-long relationship between New York and the un speaks volumes about the greatness of the city. That the world’s huge peace organization, with its thousands of international workers, diplomats, and visiting foreign dignitaries, has carried on its business in the middle of Manhattan without overwhelming even its nearby surroundings seemed to me a wonder. I was curious to know more about the history of the bond between the two.

I might have been satisfied to simply read a book on the subject. But I found that no book had been written that addresses the decades-long interconnection between New York and the un. So I began to research . . .

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