The air felt thinner in New York the day after Trump was elected. People walked the streets in a daze. No one made eye contact on the subway. We all seemed to be on the verge of tears with the thousand-yard stares you see on top of mountains or in the bottom of a pit. Throughout the campaign, we were personally attacked, called snowflakes and accused of living in our own bubble. Part of that dividing rhetoric resulted in something we thought could never happen, but then it did. Suddenly, we wondered what other dark surprises might be just around the corner. Would the country’s decision push our fair city, long known for its diversity and acceptance, to take another course? Would it abruptly spin off its axis as well? And how could the welcoming flame in our harbor keep burning when there was no oxygen?
We now know, of course, that it didn’t. As other parts of the country slipped backwards and embraced anti-immigrant rhetoric, outdated gender roles and isolationism, New York not only stood its ground but moved forward. It’s done so in the fortifying, highly visible moments that captured the eyes of the world—the 400,000 protestors that filled the city’s streets during the 2017 women’s march and the crowds that rushed to JFK to protest the travel ban—but also in more subtle but just as impactful ways. The city’s cultural fabric itself took to the streets, and diversity was pushed to forefront of the conversation. We all shared in each other’s lives, stories and culture. And of that, too, the world was watching.
The Time Out Index recently surveyed people in 48 cities around the globe and asked them about their city and others. After compiling the thoughts of over 30,000 people, both from our NYC readership and half-a-world away, New York was voted the greatest city on the planet for 2019. In a hint as to why this happened, and why now, it also lead the categories of most diverse metropolis and best culture. As far as being welcoming and aspirational, it was second only to Tokyo as the place most people want to visit.
That didn’t happen by accident. Over the last few years, we’ve seen many of the top cultural institutions in New York double down on giving a voice to the formerly voiceless. “An Incomplete History of Protest” at The Whitney in 2017 provided an in-depth exploration of how minorities have used art as a form of societal protest. “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” at the Guggenheim re-wrote the accepted narrative of abstraction by placing a woman at its advent. With “New York Stories: Threads of our City,” the New York Philharmonic provided a thrilling exploration of how NYC is, at its heart, a city of immigrants.
But the city-wide commitment to diversity hasn’t just been top down. Just look at the Queens Night Market, which began in the summer of 2015 as a collection of 40 vendors serving authentic and affordable international cuisine in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Since then, it’s steadily attracted more and more attendees and, last year, averaged 10,000 people a night. Those thousands of New Yorkers weren’t just hungry for new food, but for new points-of-view. “When I first started, it was all about how can we attract people with an event that’s as affordable and diverse as possible,” says Night Market founder John Wang. “We’ve now been able to represent over 85 countries, and I’m constantly hearing examples of people branching out and trying things they’ve never heard of before.”
As we look ahead, it’s clear that this widening cultural kaleidoscope shows no signs of stopping. In June, New York will be hosting World Pride, a gathering of members of the LGBTQ community from around the world to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. That event's convinced the city to declare an official “Year of Pride” for 2019. A new government initiative, She Built NYC, will finally begin to correct the gender imbalance in public landmarks with the installation of five permanent sculptures honoring real-life, trailblazing women. And of course, New Yorkers themselves will continue to reach out with curious minds and open hearts.
Because New York is a city that not only believes in itself, but knows what it believes.
The Time Out New York office is in Times Square, and as I was walking to work today I noticed a stack of those snow globes with New York City inside of them in a tourist shop window. We may live in a cultural bubble, but it’s the greatest bubble in the world—and we have the stats to prove it.