“I like New York in June,“ crooned Frank Sinatra, and as usual his timing was spot on. The city is at the very top of its game this month when the weather is a welcome relief for a visitor from the furnace of the Arabian Gulf.
A recent trip there — for a joyous family wedding — taught me once again that New York has got it just about right, from business to lifestyle to urban infrastructure, and that the rest of the world — including aspiring metropolises in the Middle East — could learn much from its example. Here are seven reasons why.
1. The mainstream media is alive and thriving in the era of “fake news.” Under the presidency of Donald Trump, The New York Times is enjoying one of the most exuberant and successful times in its recent history. Subscriptions — and the share price of the newspaper’s parent company — are soaring faster than ever, thanks in no small part to the president himself and the role the “Gray Lady” is playing in the “resistance.” Even the New York Post — long a bastion of the right under Rupert Murdoch, seems to be displaying at least a jot of skepticism in its coverage of the president’s ongoing difficulties, not least because the city as a whole, and Manhattan in particular, is solidly anti-Trump.
2. Wall Street is enjoying an urban renaissance that other would-be financial centers should follow. Reconstruction of the area around the breathtaking 9/11 memorial is virtually complete and forms the core of a buzzing, vibrant zone where people live, work and play. Financial centers should be more than just places to which workers commute for their eight-hour shift, and even after-hours the area at the southern tip of Manhattan is an exciting place. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh — all aspiring financial hubs — please take note.
3. A visit to the Museum of the City of New York on the leafy Upper East Side puts the city’s success in some historical context. In the 1970s, the city was bust, with then-President Gerald Ford reportedly telling it to “drop dead” when it sought a financial bailout. But that was, in fact, the beginnings of the good times, as the city sought to reinvent itself as a “knowledge and information hub,” just like some Middle East cities. Much of this effort was led by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and it has been staggeringly successful. California and Silicon Valley have their claims, but in my opinion, New York is the world’s 21st-century content hub.
From its buzzing financial center to the open public spaces, there is plenty to like about Manhattan — and some Middle Eastern cities should take note.
4. A spectacular skyline does not have to mean ground-level sterility. New York’s skyscrapers are dwarfed now by many around the world but as an overall experience, the vista that greets you on arrival from JFK is just mind-blowing, surely the best in the world. But when you arrive in among the concrete canyons, the street-level experience is impressive too. Commercial, residential and open public spaces give the city a lived-in feeling you often miss in the newer high-rise conurbations of the Middle East and elsewhere.
5. A 13-hour flight without a laptop is not as bad as it sounds. I flew from Dubai to New York in economy on Emirates and barely missed the laptop experience. The in-flight movie selection was good, and I actually read a book (remember those?) On my return, I was able to use my laptop again, because potential terrorists only originate from the Middle East airports, right Mr. President? But I did not even take it down from the overhead locker. Incidentally, the Indian airlines appear to be missing a trick, because a big proportion of the passengers were flying code-shares with Jet Airways of India via the UAE airline. Surely they will realize how much potential revenue there is to be had here if they offered Indian travelers similar standards of service?
6. The famous NYC yellow taxis are driven overwhelmingly by Muslims from countries in the Middle East and South Asia, who were dutifully observing Ramadan in trying circumstances. Sunrise in the city is about 3:45 a.m., sunset around 8:30 p.m., making the day considerably longer than in the Gulf. And the constant reminders in a city of fast food and curbside stalls make it even tougher. There is little respite even after dusk in “the city that never sleeps,” when cab drivers usually expect good business from the nighttime trade. I wished “Ramadan kareem” to many drivers from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
7. Even in the Trump era, New York remains a welcoming and friendly place, regardless of ethnicity, religion or cultural background. Reports abound of ordinary citizens coming to the aid of individuals being victimized by random anti-social elements on grounds of dress or religious symbols. Manhattan feels overwhelmingly safe and secure in its own cosmopolitan skin, which is fitting for a city that claims to be, with some justification, the capital of the world.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. He can be reached on Twitter @frankkanedubai