Follow the Money A Look at the Financial District

Occupying the southernmost tip of Manhattan, New York City’s Financial District is the center of wealth and power for both the city and the nation, but until just a few years ago, the area was a ghost town after office hours. That began to change with the beginning of the housing boom however, and since 2001—despite the devastation wrought by 9/11—the neighborhood has more than doubled its residential population. According to a recent survey conducted by PKS Research for the Alliance for Downtown New York, the Financial District is now home to some 55,000 people.

From Colony to Capitalism

The Financial District encompasses the area south of City Hall Park, excluding Battery Park and Battery Park City. The nerve center of the Financial District is considered to be the corner of Wall and Broad streets, both of which are contained entirely in the district. The neighborhood was the landing site of the first Dutch expeditions to the New World, where a group was stranded in 1613-1614. The first Dutch colony was established shortly thereafter in what is now Lower Manhattan.

“Wall Street was the boundary of the village,” says Leena Akhtar, director of exhibits and archives for the Museum of American Finance, located in Lower Manhattan. “They built the actual wall to keep the cattle in.”

The area was associated with commerce from the start, with the financial markets exerting a profound effect on the overall history of the nation. The Museum of American Finance is located in three floors of 48 Wall Street and includes a main exhibit located in the former banking hall of the Bank of New York. Founded in 1988, partly in response to the 1987 market crash, the museum’s setting grandly illustrates the importance of the financial industry to America’s development.

“We’re here to help people to better their own financial lives,” says Kristin Aguilera, the museum’s communications director. “We have exhibits on money, banking and financial markets. All of our exhibits are interactive and media-rich. It’s much like the action of a trading floor—like the activity of Wall Street itself.”

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