New York magazine has an interesting cover feature this week called The Greatest New York Ever. It is trying to determine what were the greatest times, and what were the greatest cultural artifacts to come out of this city, in the last 100+ years? Plus, who was the greatest mayor? There are articles, transcripts of round table discussions, and even charts are graphs all trying to determine what was "great" about NYC in the last century.
This seems like a daunting, impossible task but its worth checking out.
Basically they break things down into various categories (greatest movie, book, TV show, mayor, building, athlete, etc.) and consider various cases for who and what should be considered New York's "greatest." The criteria used to determine this is slippery and totally subjective so, naturally, no one or nothing should be conclusively called "the greatest." But since this is fun, I will take a slab at considering who and what I consider NYC's greatest. Some of my choices might seem boringly obvious but, at the same time, my reasoning it hard to argue with:
Greatest Mayor: LaGuardia. The pint-sized politician guided this city through America's darkest days -- the Great Depression and World War II -- and NYC came out of it on the other end as the world's greatest city. This was no easy task and, considering the obstacles he faced, his achievement was amazing. No one has topped him since.
Greatest Musical: West Side Story. Besides being a collaboration of 20th century musical theater's greatest talents (Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein), this 1950s update of Romeo and Juliet set in the gritty streets of our city still has resonance today.
Greatest TV: All in the Family and Law and Order. All in the Family (no, not Seinfeld) is the most realistic sitcom about New Yorkers in any borough and no show set in this city made you feel it in your bones more than Law and Order.
Greatest Athlete: Babe Ruth. 'Nuff said.
Greatest Building: The Empire State Building. Iconic to its core. built in the 1930s during the Depression, a sign of enduring stregnth at a moment of despair, this great structure encapsulates the romance and grandeur of NYC like no other.
Greatest Novel: The Great Gatsby. The greatest American novel of the last 100 years perfectly captures the restless spirit and sometimes tragic reality of the American dream -- and New York is a vital, almost starring character in the plot.
Greatest Film: Manhattan. No it's not the greatest movie ever (but it's up there) but no other movie makes such unabashed love to the city -- and no other movie captures the New York personality more perfectly.
Greatest Song: "New York State of Mind" by Billy Joel. Combining rhythm and blues and soul, this soaring song about leaving and coming back to NYC puts the city in your soul like no other.
Greatest Artwork: Anything by Andy Warhol. He defined what it meant to be an artist in this city and his work (like the Campbell Soup cans) still resonates and influences to this day.
Greatest Year: 2011. The present is always the best time to be in NYC.