The Gugg, etc. What do real New Yorkers make of all that "cultural heritage"?! By Morganne Shelford

Frank Lloyd Wright LIFE photos from the 50s
List of NYC museums

How do New Yorkers “live” their cultural heritage? Well, there are those that take cultural heritage very seriously and others that just do not care that much about it… I’ll illustrate my idea with the Guggenheim Museum and the Statue of Liberty.

The Guggenheim Museum is famous for its collection of works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, and the rest. Franck Lloyd Wright conceived it as a “temple of spirits”, and it has become a major cultural icon, even in popular culture (it was even used in MIB!). It is a favorite haunt for artists of course, but tourists flock there too. It’s interesting to note that 82% of the visitors are from the USA, including 20% from NYC itself. Is that a lot? Well, it’s 20%. Those people use that facility and appreciate its status as a major landmark. It’s probably the same 20% that signs petitions against the demolition of old tenements, or enjoy audio guide tours of Harlem, etc. i.e. basically your intellectual “elite” who enjoy the fact that they are aware of having an extraordinary cultural heritage!

The Statue of Liberty has long been the symbol of freedom, but it is also that of the city itself. Foreigners think of the statue first when NYC is mentioned. It's a popular icon too of course. A former New Yorker, a teacher now living in France, said in an interview that she thought most New Yorkers just did not look at the Statue of Liberty, and that they just lived their lives without being preoccupied by it or indeed any other of the other great buildings and places that make up this world city. Note that most New Yorkers can however quote the writing on the plinth: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, etc.”

Cultural heritage is important to New Yorkers simply because it is theirs, it is what they have built and achieved over the years. It is what they use and live in. They “love NY” because it is their home. The fact that they know it is the envy of the world makes them feel pride; but naturally they don’t need to go and visit the museums and monuments (how many have actually been in or near the Statue of Liberty?!) or even really think or talk about “cultural heritage”, to feel that pride. “Cultural heritage” is a topic of conversation and study, sometimes a good cause, for some, while for others it is, well, where they are and what they are on a daily basis; they do not “think” it, they simply “live” it!

Must-read books set in NYC


This is the end?

Robert Moses

70s NYC

Edward Hopper

Art for life's sake...

Warhol : Basquiat

Brooklyn Heights

How much do New Yorkers value buildings of architectural interest? The example of New York City Centre. By Vianney Lepoutre

NYC Centre restoration
Sponsorship for the restoration

The New York City Center, previously known as the City Center of Music and Drama, is a Neo-Moorish theater built in 1923, famous as a performing home for several major dance companies.

The theater was first used as a meeting house for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a freemasonry organization. It was purchased by the city in 1943 and saved from demolition with the idea of transforming it into a theater.

The New York City Center was renovated in 2010 for $56 million. Historic elements like the mosaic walls, arabesque ceilings and the original box-office lobby were restored.

This restoration effort is proof that New Yorkers want to protect their old buildings and have found the means to do so. The New York City Center is a fine example of the culturally rich past of the City. New Yorkers want to keep buildings like it as they are places that bring back memories, that bear witness to past events, both good and sometimes sad.

Are New Yorkers nostalgic people? Yes and no. They are prepared to spend much time, effort and money on preservation, which would indicate a fondness for things of a bygone era. But, I would say, it is not a morbid interest, but rather more motivated by pride of past accomplishments and the need to remind ourselves and future generations of those times and of the progress made since. It’s a museological, academic, educational interest more than a desperate attempt to maintain the memory of better times alive…

Since the 1950s, many preservation organizations have been set up. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) is one among many. The aim of GVSHP is to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village and contribute to Village community life.

Similar preservation movements exist elsewhere in the New York boroughs, showing the importance heritage has for New Yorkers.

Through preserving examples of past architecture, they want to protect what had and still has importance for them: their homes, the places where things happened to them… New Yorkers want to preserve the places that have meaning, that remind them of events and people, of yesteryear and of today. The past needs to be present…

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

“Harlem is where the heritage is!” By Emma Nicolas

Harlem Heritage Tours

Harlem has been famous since the 1920s as an African-American residential, cultural and business area. It is one of New York’s more vibrant neighboroods and one that is undergoing considerable development. Americans, and Black Americans in particular, are proud of the cultural heritage of Harlem.

Harlem is a large neighborhood north of the borough of Manhattan. Black residents began to arrive there in large numbers in the early 20th century during the Great Migration. In the 1920s and 1930s, the “Harlem Renaissance” took place, mostly in Central and West Harlem. For the Black artists, musicians, politicians and entrepreneurs, it was a time when everything seemed possible, a time, as a former resident recalled, when “it was truly bliss to be alive”. Not only did Blacks take pride in their African heritage, pride in Black folklore, pride in just being Black, it also seemed natural to believe that art could bridge the formidable gap between the black and white worlds, that excellence and merit could produce social change. However, with job losses during the Great Depression and the closure of the industries in New York City after World War II, crime and poverty increased significantly.

Then segregation reared its ugly head and the African-American dream of a better life fell apart. Harlem was seen by New Yorkers as a place of extreme poverty where you could buy drugs easily. Whites considered it a dangerous place because “full of black people”. Violence rose.

During the 1960s, public figures like Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Queen Mother Moore, and Preston Wilcox, used Harlem as a launch pad for political, social, and economic empowerment activities.

Howard Dodson, the director of Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has said about the Harlem community: “…coming into the urban areas they (Blacks) had access to information, more information not just about themselves but about their world, and an opportunity to think in some very different ways about their world and what they might do to change it.”

Segregation has gradually faded away in Harlem, and the neighborhood has slowly been gentrified in the past twenty years.

Many local tour companies have appeared. “Harlem is where the heritage is!” is the slogan of the Harlem Heritage Tours company. This company is different from the others because all tours are conducted by those who were actually born and raised in Harlem. You can take a Harlem Gospel tour, a Harlem Hip Hop roots tour, a Harlem movies tour, a Harlem Jazz tour, or even a Harlem heritage basket-ball tour. The creator of the company said: “When we started ten years ago, many thought that visitors would be reluctant to visit the community, but to our pleasant surprise, the public was thirsty for authentic experiences presented via the eyes of those who are actually from Harlem”.

I would have thought most New Yorkers would have preferred to forget Harlem’s history, the violence, poverty, drugs and crime… But Harlem is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The President of Harlem Heritage Tours said: “I’ve had opportunities to reverse people’s perceptions of my home. So many people come here and they want the history, they want the culture. But they hesitate because of the stereotype that Harlem is dangerous… And I walk them around and show them what Harlem is really about”.

WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich

Fostering living cultural heritage...


Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden, United States, (1911-1988) was a collage artist and painter. He was an African-American who is internationally recognized for his lifelong work as a collage artist. His work told many captivating and inspiring stories to draw attention to social realism and to celebrate the African-American experience. During the 1960's he becharmed a type of art we call collage. Collage comes from the French word coller, "to gum or stick something together." His work was created by gluing fragments of paper, fabric, scraps, photographs, drawings, and images in magazines and newspapers to a flat surface. In addition, he used watercolors, oil paints, and inks to make his collages. He enjoyed many art forms and styles including African, Asian and European art.

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He moved to Harlem in New York City when he was a young child and grew up there in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance (1919-1929), was a period in American cultural history when Black artists felt a need to contribute their African heritage and pride in a positive way to the visual, performing and literary arts. Harlem became the center of this artistic rebirth period during the 1920's when Romare Bearden was a young artist. Many visits were made to the Bearden household by family friend and poet, Langston Hughes, and musicians, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. From the 1940's through the 1980's, Romare Bearden became a presence in American art. He has had many successful exhibitions at premier art galleries throughout the United States.

Romare Bearden captured many wonderful images from his childhood memories and images of the people and places throughout his life. His work is rich with narrative details about black community life-public and private. It is apparent that Romare Bearden had an amazing ability to unify the mixed media of his work through experimentation to communicate universal themes with profound artistic value. 
Information adapted from PBS Newshour


Keith Haring

Getting lost in NYC...

How do New Yorkers commemorate 9/11? By Nina Gordon

Preserving Lower Manhattan
City memorials and how to remember 9/11
Rebuilding the WTC: BBC report May 2013

People have always given a lot of importance to what we have accomplished over time. Our cultural heritage is a “gift” from past generations: buildings, monuments, movies, books, music, and the rest. The historic dimension of a place is extremely important to us, be it in New York, one of the greatest cities in the world, or elsewhere. Every avenue, crossroads and corner shop has a story, sad or happy, and has significance for the people who use them. And NYC is particularly rich in places, great or humble, that have meaning to its people and also to the rest of us.

9/11 shocked the world and traumatised New Yorkers. Thousands of people went to New York to get a glimpse of Ground Zero. Ground Zero was not just a place but became a symbol of tragedy and also of courage and hope. It is from there that New Yorkers had to rebuild, physically and psychologically, their shattered lives and community.

This tragedy actually increased the sense of community in the City. The terrorists did not succeed!  The need not to forget was felt very quickly. Ground Zero became a memorial, a reminder to ourselves and to future generations of what had happened and of how people reacted with courage and self-sacrifice. Ground Zero became a "cultural heritage" site overnight. Brad Jordan, the chairman of a community group that helps victims' families said : “We felt it was right to shift the balance a bit from the observance of loss to a commemoration of how the community came together to heal.” 

A memorial (statue, monument, etc.), a place of memory ("lieu de mémoire" in French), or a memorial event (be it spectacular or artistic, a one-off or recurrent), are all means to not forget a tragic event, and a means to instil the duty to remember to future generations. Commemoration is a way of trying to come to terms with a tragedy; through commemoration, we are showing that time will not also wipe out the victims, that their deaths were not in vain because they were sacrificed in the fight against evil, which we in the end will win... Commemoration is also a way of making personal suffering less terrible by making it a shared experience.

There are many ways 9/11 has been commemorated and is being remembered. One is the Tribute in Light (cf. the above photo), started soon after the event. It honours those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center; searchlights shine through the night before fading away at dawn...

Historic preservation


New York artist hang outs...


Greenwich village

Hard Times in New York Town

Come you ladies and you gentlemen, a-listen to my song.
Sing it to you right, but you might think it's wrong.
Just a little glimpse of a story I'll tell
"Bout an East Coast city that you all know well.
It's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

Old New York City is a friendly old town,
From Washington Heights to Harlem on down.
There's a-mighty many people all millin' all around,
They'll kick you when you're up and knock you when you're down.
It's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

It's a mighty long ways from the Golden Gate
To Rockefeller Plaza n' the Empire State.
Mister Rockefeller sets up as high as a bird,
Old Mister Empire never says a word.
It's hard times from the country,
Livin' down in New York town.

Well, it's up in the mornin' tryin' to find a job of work.
Stand in one place till your feet begin to hurt.
If you got a lot o' money you can make yourself merry,
If you only got a nickel, it's the Staten Island Ferry.
And it's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

Mister Hudson come a-sailin' down the stream
And old Mister Minuet paid for his dream.
Bought your city on a one-way track,
If I had my way I'd sell it right back.
And it's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

I'll take all the smog in Cal-i-for-ne-ay,
'N' every bit of dust in the Oklahoma plains,
'N' the dirt in the caves of the Rocky Mountain mines.
It's all much cleaner than the New York kind.
And it's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.

So all you newsy people, spread the news around,
You can listen to m' story, listen to m' song.
You c'n step on my name, you c'n try 'n' get me beat,
When I leave New York, I'll be standin' on my feet.
And it's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town.


Preserving Central Harlem...

New York City heritage area

Why is the Statue of Liberty a World Heritage Site?

Movies set in NY

Urban gardens

Living the high life in NYC! By Victor Guillon

  BBC video

The High line was a disused elevated railway until it was transformed into a linear park for pedestrians. It has proved to be very popular, even influencing other big cities to carry out similar projects. New Yorkers are very proud of it, especially since it ranked in the top ten list of the world’s most popular landmarks only three years after its creation! We can put forward the idea that to some New Yorkers at least, cultural heritage means transforming something old or disused into something completely different in order to make it useful for us and the next generation. There has to be continuity for something to be considered “cultural heritage”, it is by definition something renewed and passed on.

However, for other New Yorkers, cultural heritage is not quite the same thing. I came across an article that openly accused the High line of turning NYC into a Disney World version of itself! It said: “The transformation is good news for the elite economy but not for the many who have lived and worked in the area for decades”. For these people, bringing in something new deeply upset them. They were too attached to the place sentimentally and therefore it was hard for them to accept the changed use of the railway line. It is as if the railway had value as a ruin, having always been there, a part of their lives. Will Eisner wrote: “I feel that, somehow, the buildings of New York have a kind of soul”. This is exactly what the people living in the shadow of the High line felt. They had grown so attached to their neighborhood that any change would get at the very soul of the place… “Cultural heritage” is here the past continuing into the present, unchanged.

The definition of cultural heritage is different from one city to the next. For example, in Jerusalem, cultural heritage essentially has a sacred dimension. In Paris, it has more to do with national prestige and the locals’ nostalgia. As for New York, I think that, despite the few people who want to hang on to their memories and keep things as they are, cultural heritage is to do with keeping the city as dynamic as it has always been, by finding new uses for old places, and by respecting the tradition of constructing buildings in the grand style!


Low Line

Bleecker Bob's turned into a Starbucks?

8000 sq ft "trophy apartment" in Midtown Manhattan... 100 million dollars

Big is beautiful project for Roosevelt Island. By Hugues Thorin

Silicon island

The USA is the home of high-tech. Google, Apple, HP, etc. are located in Silicon Valley, California.

Roosevelt Island is a long strip beside Manhattan. It has been used as a prison, a mental asylum, and an isolation ward...

What is the link between Silicon Valley and Roosevelt Island? None up to now, but Roosevelt Island will soon be transformed into New York’s version of Silicon Valley… Silicon Island so to speak.

But why New York and not say, Washington, the Federal capital?

It is because New York is not only an international city, it is also a city which has soul! Sure, NYC lives for the now and for the future, but it also cherishes its amazing cultural heritage. Any business settling in NYC buys into that strong image, that plethora of historic landmarks and "culture"...

Seth Pinsky is the person in charge of New York's economic development. He thinks that the project for the island will be different from anything that exists anywhere else in the world; it is also for economic reasons that New York City has been selected for the project. It includes industries, a technologies campus and a research hub. It will be a huge technopole, symbol of US creativity. The island infrastructure will evolve permanently which is typical of New Yorkers, who loathe stagnation; New York is after all the city which never sleeps!

Silicon Island will be clean and autonomous in energy; the roofs will be equipped with the biggest solar panels. New Yorkers are more and more mindful of the planet and want to invest in renewable energy. The site will create 8,000 permanent jobs, 600 new companies and 30,000 associated jobs. There will be a pedestrian bridge to the island, called the “lilypad”, which is eco-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and will have great views.

The campus will become a magnet for talented people and industries, investors, technology firms, creating a virtuous circle of innovation. “It will be more an economic driver, than an economic cloister” says Seth Pinsky.  It will be the emblem of the entrepreneurial spirit of the city.

The development project for Roosevelt Island is typical of how New Yorkers consider their public space; it has to be spectacular, beautiful, innovative, cutting-edge, on a huge scale just like the rest of the Manhattan cityscape. It has to symbolize confidence, ambition, power, faith in the future...

There is nothing humble about the new infrastructure for Silicon Island, and it will have to instantly become a landmark, "cultural heritage" not just for the people of the island, but for the world itself! Cultural heritage is also a set of values that are passed on from one generation to the next, it is not just buildings and stuff left over from the past. The values brought to the fore in this Roosevelt Island project are typical NYC!

On the waterfront

Take the A train!

Margaret Bourke-White, photographer

Hats in the Garment District,  New York, 1930

The buildings and monuments of New York, source of civic pride. By François Dischamps

Morning after New York (2011) by Nick Walker

NYC architecture

American graphic novelist Will Eisner, who lived in New York, wrote in The Building that New York’s constructions have “a soul”. He believes that every building of New York has stories to tell about the people who lived in them. In a city such as New York, where culture heritage is omnipresent, it seems a fair comment.

Will Eisner is not the only one who thinks this, many other New Yorkers are conscious that their architectural heritage is very rich. New Yorkers are particularly proud of their skyscrapers, and especially of the Empire State Building which is an architectural masterpiece and probably one of the finest Art Deco buildings ever made.

They were proud too of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, symbol of America’s economic might. When it was blown to smithereens in 9/11, New Yorkers were traumatized. Ground Zero became a symbol of their loss.

And New Yorkers have plenty of other reasons to be proud of their architectural heritage. The Guggenheim is one such reason. Designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the most astonishingly beautiful museums in the world. It attracts 2.8 million visitors each year and 82% of them are Americans, proof of their interest in their own landmarks.

New York City preserves well its unique historic buildings, be they prestigious or more humble; the New York City Center and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum are just two examples of this. The inhabitants are generous when it comes to keeping old buildings standing or giving them a new lease of life.

New York City is also concerned about improving the lifestyle of its inhabitants and keeping the identity of the “city that never sleeps” alive. New Yorkers have helped to achieve this, the best proof being the successful transformation of New York’s High line into a very popular oasis for pedestrians. Some New Yorkers however think that it has changed New York’s familiar landscape too much and altered the spirit of the Big Apple...

New York is known for being an energetic city, attractive for tourists, successful economically. New Yorkers are proud to be living in one of the most powerful cities of the world and want to keep it that way. The protests against parts of Time Square being shut to traffic could be seen as reactionary, but also as an expression of some people's preference for keeping the City intact… Protesters said that Time Square would lose its 70s seediness, some of its chaotic energy if cars were excluded! This shows that New Yorkers are really attached to certain areas of the city and they don’t all necessarily want change. They want New York to keep its identity, to stay the way they know it.

New Yorkers are proud of their city and we can understand why. They show the importance they give to their cultural heritage by actively preserving it for themselves and for future generations.