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The saga of New York development is often told in terms of power brokers and real estate tycoons, billion-dollar construction and decades-long master plans. But one of the major forces behind much of the city’s built environment is far less conspicuous: microbes. These invisible microorganisms influence how we experience virtually every element of the city today: housing, urban design, plumbing, public space, streets, sanitation, and even our symbolic visual language.

“We can’t understand our city and how it developed without thinking about the smallest New Yorkers: the microscopic New Yorkers,” says says Sarah Henry, deputy director and chief curator of the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). From now until April 2019, the museum is presenting “Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis,” an exhibition co-organized the New York Academy of Medicine and Wellcome, a biomedical research charity, about how infectious disease influenced the city physically, culturally, and sociologically.

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