New York At Its Core

After a decade-long reboot and expansion, The Museum of the City of New York unveiled its first permanent exhibition titled New York At Its Core. The exhibition is a 400 year exploration of the city’s transformation from a small dutch settlement to one of the world’s largest economic super powers. Founded in 1923 to interpret and celebrate New York City, the museum never had a permanent exhibition, perhaps if nothing else, because it’s no easy task to pin down the broad character of such a dynamic and complicated metropolis. The new show is a long, historical narrative that examines the years from 1609 when New York was founded by Henry Hudson, to 2012 when Hurricane Sandy damaged the city and altered the collective understanding of climate change’s impact on America’s coastal urban centers.

The $100 million transformation made room for an exhibition examines New York  through the lens’ of themes like money, density, diversity and creativity. These ultimately expose more focused topics such a slavery, corporate dominance, slums and skyscrapers, real estate and art. When pieced together, these fragments of NYC’s history form a larger picture of the New York of yesterday, today and its possible trajectory into the future.

It may sound like a lot of New York trivia to digest, but thankfully the museum’s galleries are organized in a clever way that guides visitors through sequential epics of urban history. The first two galleries document New York as a port city between the 16th and 19th centuries, and New York as a world city at the turn of the 20th century through 2012. Hundreds of historical artefacts lend visual cues and dimension to the show, and mention of ‘big personalities’ that helped alter and improve the city, such as Walt Whitman, Robert Moses and Donna Karen, provide a delightful glimpse of a city where celebrities from every walk of life can become power brokers and urban legends.

What’s great about the new exhibition is the degree of detail that goes into telling the long tale of New York: hi-tech maps, multimedia installations and so on, all converge to create a fascinating picture of New York. The show culminates inside a third gallery called the Future City Lab. The space is interactive and inspires visitors to ruminate over potential future challenges that the city will have to address—housing, energy needs, and the maintenance of class diversity—and to design a city they believe will equip New York with adequate and sustainable social and structural alterations.

The Museum of the City of New York; 1220 5th Ave & 103rd St, New York, NY 10029; T. 212.534.1672; mcny.org

Words by Rocky Casale