United Nations Who Loves It (3)
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Address: 405 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017 (Cross street: 1st Ave)
Neighborhood: East Midtown     Book: New York
Phone: 212-963-8687
Website: www.un.org
Landmarks NYC is the capital of the planet. Just sayin'.

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General Information
NFT Map: 13
Address: First Ave b/w 42nd & 48th Sts
Phone: 212-963-TOUR(8687)
Website: www.un.org
Visitor Information: visit.un.org
Guided Tour Hours: Monday-Friday 9:15 am-4:15 pm.
Guided Tour Admission: $18 for adults, $11 for seniors, $11 for students, and $9 for children ages 5–12. Children under 5 not admitted.

The United Nations Headquarters building, that giant domino teetering on the bank of the East River, opened its doors in 1951. It's here that the 193 member countries of the United Nations meet to fulfill the UN's mandate of maintaining international peace, developing friendly relations among nations, promoting development and human rights, and getting all the free parking they want. The UN is divided into bodies: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice (located in the Hague). Specialized agencies like the World Health Organization (located in Geneva) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) (located in New York) are part of the UN family.

The United Nations was founded at the end of World War II by world powers intending to create a body that would prevent war by fostering an ideal of collective security. New York was chosen to be home base when John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $8.5 million to purchase the 18 acres the complex occupies. The UN is responsible for a lot of good--its staff and agencies have been awarded nine Nobel Peace Prizes over the years. However, the difficult truth is that the United Nations hasn't completely lived up to the ideals of its 1945 charter. Scandals involving abuses by UN troops in Haiti and other countries have certainly not boosted the UN's reputation recently.

That said, this place is definitely worth a tour. After all, the people in this building do change the world, for better or worse. The UN Headquarters complex is an international zone complete with its own security force, fire department, and post office (which issues UN stamps). It consists of four buildings: the Secretariat building (the 39-story tower), the General Assembly building, the Conference building, and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library. Once you clear what feels like airport security, you'll find yourself in the Visitor Centre where there are shops, a coffee shop, and a scattering of topical small exhibits that come and go. The guided tour is your ticket out into important rooms like the Security Council Chambers and the impressive and inspiring General Assembly Hall. Sometimes tour groups are allowed to briefly sit in on meetings, but don't expect to spy the Secretary General roaming the halls. Take a stroll through the Peace Bell Garden (off limits to the public, but it can be seen from the inside during the guided tour). The bell, a gift from Japan in 1954, was cast from coins collected by children from 60 different countries. A bronze statue by Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Hand, is located north of the Secretariat Building. The UN grounds are especially impressive when the 500 prize-winning rose bushes and 140 flowering cherry trees are in bloom.
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Posted by:  Sarah Enelow

Taking a tour of the United Nations is a fine metaphor for dealing with American bureaucracy. In my case, you go through security only to find out that the UN tour desk can't take debit cards today, and since the UN's ATM doesn't work, you go outside to withdraw cash, then go through security again twice, having to pour out your water that magically made it through the first time. But surely the $16 tour (which can only be taken during business hours on weekdays) is worth it, right? If you've never heard of the UN and don't read the news, then you should probably pay these tour guides to explain its basic functions. Otherwise, the most informative part of the tour occurs inside the General Assembly, where the "action" happens, an ideal place to grill your guide on minutiae and statistics. My tour guide was quite knowledgeable, but all guides are severely limited by time (tours are 45 minutes) and the complexity of the organization and its 192 member states. Since there is only one official UN headquarters, I suggest taking a tour once in your life, but I doubt there's much to be gained from an encore performance.

Photo:  Sarah Enelow
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