Listen to that Free Music in New York!

Here’s a New York fact that may surprise you: 14 of the 32 violinists in our New York Philharmonic are of Korean descent. A sweet song to sing for Koreans when you consider that only 14% of New Yorkers are of Asian descent.

But why am I surprised?

Last night, I walked down the block to pick up my chicken parmesan take-out from my favorite place on East 69th Street. Outside my back door, the first thing I run into is the Mexican food cart. There were 6 people there – delivery guys chatting in Spanish, as is usually the case around that time of evening.

I cross the avenue. On the corner, in front of the rows of fresh flowers and pumpkins outside of the deli a woman from Haiti – a nurse from the nearby Weill Cornell Hospital – is speaking in Creole – the language all Haitians understand – to another colleague. It sounds like it’s about work. I listen as I keep moving. New Yorkers are good at that. It’s how we gather our “intelligence” about our neighborhood.

I continue heading East.

Walking toward me on their way to the Q Train Subway station and heading West are two women who had just emerged from the one of the hospital’s many high-end research buildings. Clearly, they are young researchers. They are walking briskly and not looking around or being distracted. They have thick glasses and a dedicated walk; people who, unlike me, know the importance of promptness! They are speaking Chinese. Like the two Haitian women in front of the flowers, it is about their work. You can tell.

I’m really, really hungry and keep hustling toward the avenue to cross and pick up my chicken parm. I’m too late. Before I can sprint across to beat the traffic light, a young couple pushes a stroller in front of me like a pulling guard in football. They are speaking French. I let it slide. They look like a nice family . . .

I go inside Famiglia Pizza – sorry, Famous Famiglia Pizza – to get my food and am greeted in an Hispanic accent and a familiar smile by the long-time pizza maker. He’s excellent. He’s from the Dominican Republic, and Dominicans make pizza as well as Italians. One of the owners is in. (He is from Naples and has an accent I relate to. It is one that I heard daily as a kid.) He wants to know if I liked the sausage he made special for my dinner party almost three weeks before. Great customer service and recognition. You get a lot of that here. (For the record, the sausage was amazing. In marinara sauce.)

My advice to travelers, go the same place 2-3 times and you will feel that same vibe.

My Advice to You During ICF Summit Week

Here’s added advice: when in New York this week ( here is a place to go for free, and I guarantee you that you will feel the soul of New York and your wallet will still be thick. It will also make you smile, if you’re like me and know diversity is not something in a TV commercial. And who wouldn’t do anything for a smile these days?

Where to go?

The streets of New York. Sidewalks, delis, street carts, restaurants, hotel lobbies. It doesn’t matter. The soul is ubiquitous. Listen for that happy dance of accents, languages, gestures and laughter – and a little hollering. It is everywhere. See if you can guess the language.

Our Top7 Reception on Wednesday night is always a great time. The seven winners of the Intelligent Community movement get the cheers and the trophies that they earned at Taiwan’s economic and cultural center on Fifth Avenue. There will be people there from around the world. This experience can be the appetizer for you.

NYC is a place that is diverse and where diversity usually works like a Swiss watch. Well, one with scratches from the scrapes of lives lived on the move.

New York City's population is 32% White, 29% Hispanic, 22% Black and 14% Asian. Asia Pacific Islanders are one of the most diverse racial groups here with more than 30 different ethnic groups who speak more than 50 languages, Korean violinists notwithstanding. Like Taiwan’s Intelligent Communities, they punch way above their weight.

New York is home to 2.3 million women, 2 million men and 206,980 kids who are immigrants. The top countries of origin for those immigrants are the Dominican Republic (11%), China (9%), Mexico (5%), Jamaica (5%) and India (4%).

Listen and you will have the experience I have every day. “You do not get extra points for stating the obvious,” a teacher used to say to me. But at the risk of a grade demotion, the number of languages heard here are like the symphony playing endlessly. It is another thing I love about my city. It is a simple notion and often-stated. NYC is diverse. But to be in it and vibe to it as you celebrate our Top7 will bring it home.

Enjoy. Listen!

Photo credit Juan Ordonez (

Louis Zacharilla
Co-Founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Louis Zacharilla helped found the Intelligent Community movement. He is the developer of the Intelligent Community Awards program. He is a frequent keynote speaker and a moderator at conferences and events.

Showing 1 reaction

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.