New York, New York - a helluva town,
The Bronx is up but the Battery's down,
And people ride in a hole in the ground:
New York, New York - It's a helluva town
Betty Comden 1919, Adolph Green 1915. 1945 song, music by Leonard Bernstein.

A symbol of opulence and confinement, freedom and aggression, opportunity and danger, New York is a hustle and bustle metropolis - a frenzy of activity ever constant on its tough but welcoming streets. Financial whizz kids, entrepreneurs, jobbing actors, intellectuals and would-be artists flow feverishly along the sidewalks past the down and outs, round the stalls of the numerous street vendors - the sizzling smells of frying meat mingling with the heat rising from the baking pavements. Streaming insect-like into the institutional delicatessans, with their gargantuan sandwiches, New Yorkers transport their food on the move back out into the noisy, unstoppable river of people and traffic.

Huge intersections cry out with blaring horns from sun yellow cabs that weave alarmingly fast through congested avenues. People of all shades and nationalities pour over the crossings regulated by the flashing neon Walk/ Don't Walk signs. Tourists are spotted - bags bulging and cameras flashing - and expertly pickpocketed as their eyes linger skywards in awe at the vertical, enclosing masses of decorated concrete and glass.

Home to so many famous buildings - the Empire State building, the World Trade Centre, the Rockefeller Centre and the Chrysler building - New York is almost as familiar to the media-bombarded western world as it is to its inhabitants.Vying for the accolade of designing the tallest skyscraper in New York, the architects aim ever higher, slyly and cunningly unveiling last minute additions to the buildings for the glory of being the highest, but Malaysia has now eclipsed them in their efforts.

The crowded heights of the Manhattan skyline, jostling for superiority. The leafy green avenues skirting the landscaped Central Park with its terraces, health conscious joggers and roller-bladers. Families relaxing in the East Coast sunshine. The New York Times. The width of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. The impressive steel expansion bridges constructed to link the islands - Roosevelt Island, Long Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan - and the cable cars humming communally alongside. The United Nations building and Grand Central Station. All these things to me are New York.

Famed for the bright lights on Broadway, the neon flickers of Times Square by night and the soothing sounds of ‘Nuyorikan’ Soul, New York is a multi-cultural melting pot of immigrants - Jewish, Indians, Hispanic, Korean, Ukranians and Irish, living in various quarters of this huge, densely populated city. The affluent live here in spacious loft apartments with city views and the not so rich live in seedier apartment blocks and ghettos in the less desirable zip codes in town. It is easy to list the areas I would avoid: Queens, portrayed in ‘Coming to America’ as a thieving, threatening district. Hell's Kitchen, Harlem, the tough, gangsta district and The Bronx, gun toting inspiration for many macabre gangsta lyrics.

Never has so much interest centred on such dirty, mean and dangerous streets and yet there is a certain independent spirit, endemic in the taggers’ graffiti and the violent gang culture that fascinates me, living as I do, removed from such things in a quiet, safe Cornwall suburbia. NYPD Blue, the depiction of the reality of a New York Police Department with ten-a-penny murders committed on every street corner, shows victims and perpetrators alike surviving in grim, faceless corridors of dreary apartment blocks. The harsh life of many poor and hardened New Yorkers thus drives the cops to desperate, often violent measures to solve the cases, reflecting the fact that New York was famed in the early nineties for its twenty five thousand murders a year.

Menacing, yet so appealing, New York is one of the fashion capitals of the world, creating waves of trends that break elsewhere around the globe. Eclectic, bohemian and accepting, it is normal to be different and off beat in New York - that's what it’s all about. The competition here is who can be the most outrageous and make the biggest statement amongst a buzzing community of people looking for the big idea in a city characterised by its grandiose architectural strides upwards and outwards. Everything is on a larger scale, even its attitude.

New York is the life blood of the world's finances, holding the purse strings of global economies at ransom on the Wall St Stock Exchange. It claims some of the world's most notorious families as its own - the Rothschilds, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and the Van der Bilts. Macy's, the world's largest department store, occupies an entire block. Mention Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, Saks, Tiffany's or The Waldorf Astoria and the familiar names breathe wealth and extravagance. It is the top of the heap. The city that never sleeps. The Big Apple that everyone wants a bite out of. The gateway to the Americas which was once described by Le Corbusier as, ‘a beautiful catastrophe.’

Having never been to New York, these are my preconceptions. Most of them are no doubt clichés. Can’t wait to find out.