The History That New York City Takes for Granted

New York City has an image problem. The nightly news typically has a Big Apple spot about unprovoked street violence, subway attacks, drive-by shootings, shoplifting gangs and homeless encampments. But all of this gives a false impression. Gotham is per capita almost the safest of American cities. But most citizens of the United States do not know it.

The upcoming 400th anniversary of New York City in 2025 offers a great opportunity to change the prevailing narrative. A world-class party could attract more tourists to the world’s greatest city. And there are dozens of ways to do this. My favorite would be a giant 400th themed balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Four-hundredth birthdays are no ordinary occasions, and this is not an ordinary time. Hundreds of museums, historical societies, businesses, churches and professional associations are eager to do their part. And Gotham has thousands of citizens who care deeply about the past and who would eagerly embrace the opportunity to show their love for the city.

But instead of planning for a great commemoration, we may be confronting a lost opportunity. In his state of the city speech in January, Mayor Eric Adams said his administration would start planning for what he called this “major milestone in history.” But we’ve heard almost nothing publicly since then and 2025 is only eight months away. This should be a major priority.

(A city official involved in the process said committees had been formed to coordinate planning among all city agencies and outside groups, including civic and historical organizations, and to invest money in events.)

When I co-chaired Columbia University’s 250th anniversary 20 years ago, committees had been meeting 10 years before the 2004 event. Other major cities, from Venice to Moscow to Sydney, have regarded anniversaries as an occasion to party on an international scale. Does anyone really think that Boston will allow its founding in 1630 to pass unobserved in 2030? Or that Philadelphia will take a pass on its establishment by William Penn in 1682?

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