Friday, November 27, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 5

I don't know how someone thought a sufficient amount of water could get through those holes in the concrete. Clearly the tree thought this was stupid as well.

Park Place between Classon and Franklin Avenues, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rage, Rage Against the Change of Season

Since most of the fall leaves are grounded, I was delighted to find some ginkgo leaves on Greene Avenue that, though they have been separated from their branches, have stubbornly seated themselves within the links of the fence surrounding the adjacent handball courts. Here, they cling, mimicking their former canopy, as if to say, "Do not go gentle into that good night!"

But that good night has come, so I thought I'd share some photos that I took of the beautiful changing
foliage in the past month. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Challenges of Embracing a Waterfront

I picked up Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate at the new Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene the other day. I am not too far into it and suspect it may be a bit outdated (published 2004), but Lopate has hit upon an interesting phenomenon: New Yorkers' mysterious hesitancy to "maximize [the city's] aqueous setting" and propensity to, instead, turn inland.

Lopate attributes this trend to several factors. He argues that the waterfront's past as an occupied industrial site deterred New Yorkers from conceptualizing it as a space open for residence and recreation, as they do Central Park and Central Park West. And, he posits, "nothing can replace the beautiful, urgent logic of felt need" that characterized the development surrounding industry (docks, warehouses, customs offices, bars, brothels and churches). While I agree that Manhattan doesn't yet adequately embrace its waterfront, I am not so sure about Lopate's argument. As noted in an earlier post, the waterfront was used as a recreational space even when that meant bathing in human and industrial waste, and, given many neighborhoods' current lack of inland park space, I would argue that there is certainly a "felt need" for public waterfront access.

Where Lopate and I do agree, is that the perimeter highways and railroad tracks in Manhattan constitute physical barriers to the waterfront. Unwelcoming and seemingly unsafe underpasses and overpasses create daunting obstacle courses that, let's face it, for many New Yorkers, is just too much of a schlep. Lopate dubs the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive "the Original Sin of Manhattan planning." To that I would add with heavy sarcasm, "thanks a lot, Robert Moses." As designs for new waterfront spaces are developed, designers continue to grapple with these obstacles to bring the public to the new amenities. My favorite proposal so far is to paint the underside of the FDR Drive a lavender color called "Mighty Aphrodite." I am not sure this will work, but I love the name!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I Want to Wake Up In the City that Doesn't Sleep

People seem to like disaster movies, particularly ones that leave New York City completely desolate. In these films, the city's infrastructure is intact, but bereft of human activity, it is defenseless as nature creeps back in. These movies play on the idea that urbanism and nature are mutually exclusive. As Eric Sanderson writes in one of my favorite passages of Mannahatta, "It a conceit of New York City—the concrete city, the steel metropolis, Batman's Gotham—to think it is a place outside of nature, a place where humanity has completely triumphed over the forces of the natural world, where a person can do and be anything without limit or consequence." The people are what make this city great.

This has been a frenetic, but exciting New York week for me. With Halloween, the marathon, the mayoral election and the Yankees' ticker-tape parade, I
spent most of the last week overwhelmed by masses of people, their excitement and frustration crushingly palpable. At each of these events, I felt pride and enjoyment (yes, even at the ticker-tape parade, thanks to Jay-Z), but I also found myself searching for a quiet moment, a place to breathe, my own personal empty Times Square with meadow grass sprouting through the asphalt.

And this is why I think we like these disaster movies: because New York is as stressful as it is uplifting. Though we love our skyscrapers, sports events and over-the-top celebrations, there is a part of us that wishes for a quieter and more profound experience, which we see distilled by an idealized natural world.

Image from I Am Legend.