Joel Kotkin and Robert Cristiano use the opportunity of the renovation of the United Nations building in New York to argue that the UN should be relocated to Dubai.  Both gentleman come at this question from an urban planning perspective, but they manage to peddle in silly stereotypes about it’s employees (“sloth” and “pretentious.”)  And the institution itself: (“dominated by antisemitism and anti-Americanism.”) 

The crux of their argument, though, is that the UN costs New York City money, and so it should leave New York for Dubai.        

 “Moving the U.N. to Dubai would be a boon for New Yorkers who have to put up with traffic jams created by the likes of Colonel Qaddafi, scofflaws protected by diplomatic immunity and the loss of real estate revenue they would gain if the U.N. building were turned into something far more useful–condos with a view,” suggests urban historian Fred Siegel, a visiting professor at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn and a fellow at New York’s Manhattan Institute.

Liberating New York from the United Nations, in fact, would open up some of the best situated real estate in the world. A treasure trove of great apartments and offices right along the East River would suddenly become available, bringing a potential revenue windfall to New York City, which could use it.

Leaving aside the diplomatic advantages the United States receives from being the host country of the United Nations (which are manifold, and which the authors don’t consider at all) the city of New York gains a lot more than it loses from this arrangement.  The UN may not pay property taxes, but it does employ thousands of locals as vendors and contractors. The massive renovation of UN headquarters is being overseen by a Swedish company that in turn has contracted American construction firms. This is not to mention the many restaurants, dry cleaners, delis, etc in the Turtle Bay neighborhood that serve the UN.   Kotkin and Cristiano seem to care more about “liberating” fancy riverside condos for millionaire Manhattenites than the thousands of blue collar jobs that the UN generates for hard working New Yorkers.  They also focus more on traffic problems one week out the year (take the subway, guys) than the consistent revenue generated for New York’s service industry during the UN General Assembly, year after year.  Presumably, the thousands of hoteliers, caterers, waiters, and bartenders in the New York City area think all this traffic is a good thing!

I’m not a New Yorker. But as an American, I do appreciate New York’s mythical status around the world.  To a large degree, New York’s image as a global capital is enabled by the city’s historical committment to openess and multi-culuralism.  Kicking the UN out of New York would do damage to the city’s status as a global hub to which people around the world flock to get a piece of the American dream.   It would also needlessly surrender a potent symbol of global cosmopolitanism to a foreign government.  Explain to me again why kicking the UN out of New York makes sense? 

 

 

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