New York

If You Live Near the U.N., It’s a Good Week to Get Out of Town

Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll meet people who say the United Nations General Assembly’s “high-level week” is a high-level ordeal.

Credit…Valentin Flauraud/EPA, via Shutterstock

Peter Cove does not want to be in his apartment this week, or anywhere nearby.

His apartment is in United Nations Plaza, the two-building Modernist complex just north of the United Nations, where “high-level week” for the United Nations General Assembly is a high-level ordeal year after year.

“It’s hell,” he said. “You walk out the door, you go to First Avenue and you can be stopped there for 20, 30 minutes as police cars come rolling through. It’s noisy, and there are a lot of demonstrations. People are out in the street, and sirens are going off all the time.”

He won’t hear them. He is spending the whole week where he usually spends weekends, in Essex, Conn. “It’s quiet and nice,” he said.

U.N. Plaza considers itself “one of the world’s most prestigious addresses,” according to the website for the two buildings — the kind of place where residents can afford to escape high-level week. Or, if they have nowhere else to go when the General Assembly descends on the city, they trudge along blocked-off blocks until they reach a spot where an Uber or a limousine awaits.

Cove also has neighbors who have learned the hard way that overnight deliveries absolutely, positively do not get through during high-level week.

As for those trying to sell an apartment at U.N. Plaza, “It’s not the best time to show it,” said Mary Anne Greene, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman who has a $2.8 million listing for a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath unit. “But whenever you want to see it, I will be there.”

What to know about high-level week

High-level week will shift into high gear on Tuesday, when President Biden will address the General Assembly. So will President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is skipping the General Assembly this year; the Russian official sent in his place will not be heard until Saturday morning, after Azerbaijan and before Indonesia.

The schedule for the week also calls for a summit on Tuesday about sustainable development; a special meeting on Wednesday about pandemic preparedness and prevention; and high-level meetings on Thursday about universal health coverage and on Friday about tuberculosis.

Beyond the U.N. complex, logistics take precedence over diplomacy. High-level week means that every day is a Gridlock Alert Day, according to the city’s Department of Transportation.

This year there are 19 Gridlock Alert Days, but this is the only full week of them. Not even the week before Christmas rates five all-but-guaranteed-to-be-awful days in a row, when officials implore drivers to leave their cars at home, take public transportation and avoid the East Side.

The Transportation Department says drivers who ignore or defy the warnings will be going nowhere fast. The usual speed in Midtown Manhattan during high-level week is less than 4 miles per hour, the agency says. Only limousines move at speeds approaching fast, along with the police cars that escort them from diplomatic missions to meetings, lunches, cocktail parties and dinners.

When U.N. Plaza was built in the 1960s, “its glass walls were a daring departure for New York apartment design,” as the architecture critic Paul Goldberger later wrote. Truman Capote once lived there, as did Yul Brynner, Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Robert F. Kennedy (when he was a United States senator) and the magazine magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were said to have stayed in an apartment in one of the buildings when they were in Manhattan in 2021.

But during high-level week?

“Most people go away,” said Judith Axelrod, who lives in U.N. Plaza. “Nobody likes being here.”

Another resident said neighbors plan overseas trips to avoid the congestion, and not just in the streets. There are helicopters buzzing overhead, police boats circling in the East River — and law-enforcement agents on the premises. “As usual, there will be snipers on the seventh floor,” the management of the two buildings explained in an email to residents last week. Some residents say they never feel safer than during high-level week.

They never feel more slowed down, either.

“I just assume that I’m going to walk everywhere, because you can’t get a taxi and the bus service is rerouted,” said the journalist and author Lynn Sherr. “And forget fresh vegetables because the green market in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza”— on Wednesdays, across First Avenue on East 47th Street — “is vacated.”

Another resident, Afsaneh Akhtari, said she has given up on deliveries “because they just cannot get to my place,” a reality that collided with her passion for passion-fruit smoothies last year. She spent $600 on a large shipment of concentrate from a company in Napa, Calif.

“They said it had to be sent overnight, frozen,” and charged almost as much for the shipping as for the purée, she said.

But it didn’t show up, said Akhtari, who is known as Sunny. “They said FedEx is having a problem getting to my place.” She said the package was finally delivered two weeks later.

By then the purée had melted. She said the company in California told her to refreeze it.

“I said the hell with it, I’m eating it, I spent so much money,” she said, adding that it took nearly a year to polish off the last of it.


Expect showers, with temps reaching the low 70s. At night, it will be mostly cloudy, with temps in the low 60s.


Alternate side parking and meters are in effect.

The latest Metro news

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times
  • Short term rental crackdown: As New York City ramps up its enforcement of new rules on short-term rentals, city officials say the shift will force property owners to rent those homes to residents instead of visitors.

  • Murder charges in day care death: The owner of a day care center and a neighbor were charged in the death of a 1-year-old boy who the police said had been exposed to opioids at the center.

  • Defamation lawsuit: Accused of raping a woman after a Halloween party, Saifullah Khan was expelled from Yale University following a disciplinary hearing. After being acquitted in a criminal trial, he is now suing her for statements she made during the hearing — and challenging the way universities across the country have handled such proceedings.

  • Permission to die: If New Jersey dropped a residency requirement, aid in dying would become more accessible.

  • A new home for history: The Center for Brooklyn History, formerly known as the Brooklyn Historical Society, reopens after a three-year renovation, with free admission and an emphasis on outreach.


Crosstown bus

Dear Diary:

Heading east on the crosstown bus from the Museum of Natural History, we watched a nanny struggle on, laden with a stroller, some packages and an obstreperous toddler.

As the bus lurched into traffic, she directed the young boy to the lone empty seat, where he loudly refused to sit.

Balancing her bundles and the stroller, she worked patiently to try to get him to sit down as the bus bumped through the park. Other passengers tried to cajole him into taking the seat. He was not having it.

At Fifth Avenue, a well-dressed woman stepped forward. Gripping the pole as the bus bounced along, she reached into her purse, held out two small toys and asked the wailing child if he knew what they were.

“Dinosaurs!” he said, whimpering through his tears.

The woman gave him one of the toys, and they started to play together. With that, the caretaker scooped him into the seat. He played with his dinosaur and then asked for one for his baby sister, who was in the stroller.

The woman reached into her purse and pulled out another dinosaur, which she gave to him. Then she gave dinosaurs to everyone who was sitting nearby, including me.

The woman said she was a volunteer at the museum and always carried toy dinosaurs for just such moments.

“Children everywhere, no matter their language or age — they all know ‘dinosaur,’” she said. “It works every time.”

— Elyse Montiel

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Hannah Fidelman and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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