In the essay “Here Is New York,” produced in the sweltering summer of 1948, E. B. White writes about “a supplementary vitamin” that “makes up for [the city’s] hazards and deficiencies.” It is, quite simply, “the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”

It’s a life force that persuades New Yorkers to overlook the city’s pitfalls. “The hospitals and schools and playgrounds are overcrowded,” White writes, “the express highways are feverish, the unimproved highways and bridges are bottlenecks; there is not enough air and not enough light, and there is usually either too much heat or too little.” And yet people stay, and “strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.”