When the World Called for a Capital


In “A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations and the Story Behind Their Unlikely Bond,” Ms. Hanlon recalls the city’s mid-1940s struggle to become the U.N.’s headquarters site (a subject also well covered in Charlene Mires’s “Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations” in 2013).

The city overcame the diplomatic corps’ opposition to win out over dozens of other offers and the world body’s earlier preference for Greenwich, Conn., whose wealthy suburbanites didn’t want it.

When the Security Council met on March 25, 1946, at Hunter College in the Bronx (now the site of Lehman College), Ms. Hanlon writes, a vote of confidence in the U.N. had already been cast by a local mechanic, Paul Antonio, who surprised delegates with an eloquent note:

“May I, who have had the privilege of fabricating this ballot box, cast the first vote? May God be with every member of the United Nations Organization, and through your noble efforts bring lasting peace to us all — all over the world.”

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The city’s struggle to become the U.N.’s headquarters site is a subject well covered in Charlene Mires’s book, “Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations.”

Credit
United Nations

Playing host to the headquarters provided thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars for the local economy. For better or worse, it also empowered mayors to espouse their own foreign policy (which typically meant snubbing a visiting Arab diplomat).

Brian Urquhart, a former under secretary general of the United Nations, called New York “the U.N.’s great blessing.” Recalling the delegates’ early resistance to the city, he said a few years ago: “New York is a grand, hard, gritty place where no one underestimates their own importance or overestimates anyone else’s. In other places, diplomats are themselves the biggest fish in the little pond, but in New York they have to swim around like all the other fish, and no one will fail to criticize them if they deserve it.”

“Be NY: From Tourist to New Yorker,” by Patrick van Rosendaal, a native of Belgium, is a delightful, offbeat guide for visitors and newcomers. Natives may benefit from the advice and insights it offers, too.

His book is filled with fun facts (the city’s population is so tightly packed that if Texas were as densely populated, the population of the entire world would fit within its borders; and New York is the only urban area with more Starbucks than McDonalds).

Among Mr. van Rosendaal’s tips: “Go stand on the street with a city map and a camera and count the seconds before someone comes to your assistance. America’s rudest city? No way!”

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