Overview of Manhattan, New York

Manhattan life can be described in two words: diverse and dynamic. The flux and flow of the borough has been present since history first records the early Native American tribes who farmed and fished on the island. The diversity came little-by-little, until you can literally walk to any ethnic part of the world just by strolling around the neighborhoods of Manhattan. Each runs together from one end of the island to the other.

What is a 'borough' anyway? The metro area of NYC isn't confined to the island of Manhattan. It spans five different boroughs (very much like a county, but much smaller than those in other states). Drawn from the same word that tacks 'burgh', 'burg' and 'bury' onto many location names in the world, the boroughs in New York City are the seats of life and politics across the metro area.

The borough of Manhattan encompasses the entire island of Manhattan, 13 miles x 2.5 miles packed wall-to-Wall Street with small, eclectic neighborhoods. In a lot of ways, it is an island filled with small towns that gradually melded together into one large organism, but each keeping its own flavor and personality. Just saying which part of Manhattan you live in will evoke mental images for other Manhattanites.

Just a little historical background about Manhattan. Being ideally located on the coast, with the large Hudson River flowing inland, it made sense that Dutch traders made it a home base as they plied their wares. Initially lower Manhattan was settled, and in due time the Native American population was forced off the island. In the early 1600s, the Wall Street and Chinatown areas became New Amsterdam.

Not to be left out, the British also came to the island, and once the patriots established themselves during the war of independence, it was deemed 1st capital of the United States. You'll find thousands of firsts sprinkled through the history of New York City.

The Irish came after the potato famine and then people from all parts of Europe. Each with a language and cultural heritage and talents that helped hone the edgy personality of Manhattan. Chinatown was established, then other smaller areas of ethnic communities from all parts of Asia. African Americans came to Manhattan looking to find work and freedom for the prejudices they were experiencing in the south. As the population grew and different ethnic groups arrived, districts for business, meatpacking, garment working, and other areas of commerce sprang up.

All of these influences are what makes living in Manhattan now absolutely unique and amazing. If you are moving to Manhattan, you are following a long historical trend. And you bring parts of your past and own personal history and culture into a city that welcomes this. If you are reinventing yourself by having moved to Manhattan, then you are merely reflecting what the city has been doing over and over since the Dutch first arrived in the 1600s.

The neighborhoods of the borough of Manhattan aren't static. Chelsea is a good example of this with what was once a rundown area of factories and wharfs now using the old warehouses for lots, night clubs, funky shops and restaurants, studios and offices. Newer buildings often incorporate memorable items from the early days of New York, so that the history blends old into the new.

By all rights the island surely should sink, with over a million and a half people making the borough of Manhattan home. Thousands more commute into the city daily to work, and add thousands more tourists and business travelers to the mix. Not a numbers person? Then all you need to consider is that the entire state of Montana doesn't have a population of a million. That gives you the gist of the cacophony of sights, sounds, scents and sensibilities of Manhattan.

Like a family trying to share a small bungalow, Manhattanites are rubbing elbows with each other constantly. What is amazing is the overall politeness that you experience in the city. Where did the stereotype of the rude New York cabbie come from? You just don't find it. Outspoken, yes. Totally devoted to their 'hometown' - absolutely. Living in Manhattan means that you take your coffee to the neighborhood park, and you get to know the faces of many of your neighbors, even if you don't know them by nature. You see the same people at your local bookstore, gym, grocery, or church... all of these places within a few blocks.

A million different people with a million different ideas, needs, wants. And you have to pick a mayor? Who'd want that job? But politics is at hand no matter where you live. And the issues that living in Manhattan fosters aren't so different from other places. Economics, jobs, transportation, trying to promote a green lifestyle in such a heavily populated area, and making things better for our children.

Yes, now that's something to think about. Transplants to Manhattan may have grown up anywhere from rural to suburb. But Manhattan-born kids have a totally unique perspective. They have dim sum early and ride their trikes up the sidewalk alongside dad, who is heading up to the local Hungarian bakery. Pocket parks are on just about every block to play in, or hop a bus to Central Park. You can live your entire life never owning a car or needing to mow a lawn. You never have to order anything because you can find it somewhere in the city. The world comes to you.

Living in Manhattan means you live a small-town life and at the same time are a city-dweller. It is a place and a life ripe with contrasts and filled with paradox. And above all, it's worth it!


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Living in New York | ©2017 Kirsty Henderson