New York has been called the most culturally rich and diverse city in the world. While there is no question the cost of housing has risen dramatically in the last few years, it is still true that New York City is a hub of cultural diversity and social excitement, as well as a leading center for commerce.
When European immigrants began arriving in large numbers during the 19th century, New York earned its reputation as a central location for immigration. Ellis Island became a stopping point for Europeans who wanted to make a new life in America, and neighborhoods were often characterized by a densely-populated group of people from similar ethnic and national backgrounds. These neighborhoods, formed to help immigrants find commonality as they struggled to adapt to a new way of life, became known as "ghettos" and sometimes took on names connected to their cultural heritage, such as Little Italy and Chinatown. These neighborhoods still go by these names, and foods, festivals, and goods identified with these ethnic groups can still be found there.
New York has historically been a place where different demographics of people exist within a very eclectic environment, and it has been a hub for various events and occurrences related to this diversity and the struggles many groups have overcome over the years. For example, the Stonewall riots that took place at a gay nightclub in Manhattan in the 1960s are now seen as an iconic moment in the struggle for gay rights. Harlem was once a poor African-American neighborhood that nevertheless is known for its rich arts heritage, and even when the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s gave way to extreme poverty and crime in the 1970s, the effort to revitalize the area never stopped, and Harlem is now flourishing.
New Yorkers can connect with different groups in a variety of ways. The aforementioned tendency of neighborhoods to be identified by ethnic heritage is one way. Wanting to get involved in cultural activities can be made easier by connecting with community centers and cultural events happening in those neighborhoods. New Yorkers also associate various neighborhoods with different kinds of activities, not necessarily based in cultural heritage, with some neighborhood names derived from historical uses for these locations (like the garment, meat-packing, and theatre districts). Actors looking for information about auditions might hang out in the theatre district, although the high rents there may make it hard for actors to afford to live there. Wall Street is the main financial district, but Midtown has seen many high-rise buildings go up in recent years, which means there is a great deal of business located there, too.
Some neighborhoods have college campuses. New York University is not far from Greenwich Village, an artsy, eclectic community also known for a large gay population dating from the 1970s. Artists and actors seeking affordable housing often caused various New York neighborhoods to become trendy and sought-after, making rents go up and forcing the artists, who made the neighborhood desirable, to move elsewhere!
Small neighborhoods traditionally become associated with a particular mood or flavor: Chelsea is a vibrant downtown neighborhood known for good coffeeshops, for example, and it has been popular with artists and musicians for decades. The Upper East Side was once seen as the place where well-heeled jet-setters lived; Hell's Kitchen has a reputation for diverse foods and crime. In recent years, as the cost of living goes up and economic diversity becomes harder to maintain, these neighborhood characteristics and stereotypes may be becoming less relevant. Many Manhattan residents have moved outside the city to neighboring boroughs such as Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, or into New Jersey or Connecticut, and this exodus has definitely affected Manhattan's economic and cultural diversity.