The United Nations today seems inseparable from its New York City headquarters, the sleek, international-style complex wedged between the East River and the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. Could we even imagine the world’s diplomats meeting in a secluded spot like the Black Hills of South Dakota, Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or Tuskahoma, Oklahoma? Would the work of peace be more or less effective in another city? What about San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago—or even Boston?
All of these possibilities came into play in 1945 and 1946 as the Allied nations of World War II began to search for a headquarters site for the newly organized United Nations. They initially envisioned not just a complex of buildings, but a new “capital of the world” of up to 40 to 50 square miles, roughly twice the size of Manhattan. This world capital would have included not only offices and meeting halls but also housing for delegates and staff, transportation and communications facilities, and unoccupied land for growth in the future.