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7th February 2018

The 2018 ECOSOC Youth Conference Reflects the Tumultuous Past and the Bright Future of the UN

By: Rosie McCormack, Fordham Press Intern

New York is often cheekily referred to as “center of the universe,” and this feels closest to the truth when I stepped onto the United Nations complex. Inside of the General Assembly building, everything seems polished and majestic—I was no longer in the bustling streets of New York City but on international ground.

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The interior of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber. Photo by Rosie McCormack.

As a Fordham student, I had the opportunity to attend the ECOSOC Youth Forum, a two-day conference that brings advocates, youth organizations, students, and nations together to discuss how youth and government can work together to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As someone from a rural, culturally homogeneous part of the United States, I rarely saw people of different races growing up, nonetheless heard different languages, so I happily basked in the international diversity. During this Forum, I was able to discuss sustainable rural and urban development with delegates from every corner of the world. I have always been attracted to New York’s multiculturalism, and spending two days at the UN reminded me how lucky I am to live in this global capital.

Despite this dynamic experience, I noticed that most of the conversations at the Forum were dedicated to the needs of international cities rather than rural or local communities. As a Montana native living in New York, I am more aware of this contrast in priorities than most people. Many other delegates also encouraged everyone to recognize their privileged position as delegates; we had the ability to come to New York and share our experiences at an international conference, which is a platform that rural or local communities often cannot access. Inevitably, the United Nations sometimes ignores individual needs in its mission to achieve global goals.

9780823277957Pamela Hanlon highlights this tension between local and international community in A Worldly Affair: New York, the United Nations, and the Story Behind Their Unlikely Bond. This 2017 book from Fordham University Press provides historical context for this tension between globalism and city politics by telling the story of the UN’s placement in Manhattan and how local communities responded. New York has benefited in many ways by not housing the U.S. federal government; New York was free to become the capital of the world. New Yorkers, however, did not always want to share in this honor, as many communities felt their needs were overshadowed by the drama of post-World War II international affairs.

Despite their sometimes tense, controversial relationship, the United Nations and New York City have entered their eighth decade together. Their unique partnership will likely continue to flourish in coming decades as they continue to reconcile their differences and work together for local and international peace. Diplomats, travelers, and students alike will persistently flock to New York to experience the confluence of local and international affairs. Just like the United Nations, New York has given students like me a place to take root.

Read the synopsis for A Worldly Affair here.