The infinite city, cont’d: Tony Judt’s “Endless New York”

Arab-Americans in front of Yemen Cafe on Atlantic Avenue, in Brooklyn. Image via

Tony Judt muses on the twilight of the great cities, and on what makes New York a “world city”*:

We are experiencing the decline of the American age. But how does national or imperial decay influence the lifecycle of a world city? Modern-day Berlin is a cultural metropolis on the make, despite being the capital of a medium-sized and rather self-absorbed nation. Meanwhile, Paris retained its allure for nearly two centuries after the onset of French national decline.

New York — a city more at home in the world than in its home country — may do better still. As a European, I feel more myself in New York than in the European Union’s semi-detached British satellite, and I have Brazilian and Arab friends here who share the sentiment.

To be sure, we all have our complaints. And while there is no other city where I could imagine living, there are many places that, for different purposes, I would rather be. But this too is a very New York sentiment. Chance made me an American, but I chose to be a New Yorker. I probably always was.

Nicely said.


*One puzzling sentence: “And yet, New York remains a world city. It is not the great American city — that will always be Chicago.” How does he define “Americanness,” I wonder? Is there some intangible American essence that Chicago possesses and New York lacks? Inquiring minds want to know.


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