There are cities; then there’s New York

Talk about dreams turned into reality—I’ve always wanted to visit New York City. Of course, Times Square, Central Park, and 5th Avenue are the biggest go-to’s for any tourist, but for urbanists, I guess there would be a natural pull because of the history and the evolution of the city. I mean, you would read about the city from its time as New Amsterdam to the financial might and power that built its pedestal economy—Rockefeller, JP Morgan, and all that—there’s the brilliance of Janette Sadik-Khan, and, well, there’s Jane Jacobs’ influence on the city (particularly her fierce battles on the public arena), and that’s pretty much what iconic really is for me.

I only had roughly two and a half days to go around the city, so I had to choose my destinations and streets well, pray that my legs and feet wouldn’t give way, and that my brain would do its best to become a sponge and absorb everything I could observe. This post will show how I planned my visit to make the touristy experience become more exciting for urban professionals. There are a lot of photos and videos, from Central Park to Jane Jacob’s house at Hudson Street, and my thoughts about the city here and there.

Times Square

We took the subway from Queens and popped up right at the middle of Time Square–which is the best way to become overwhelmed. And when I say overwhelmed, I mean overwhelmed, like jaw-drop, stare, and pinch yourself type of overwhelmed. The lights and giant billboards, Broadway, the people going in all directions (it’s visited by at least 131 million people a year), and just being in the midst of midtown Manhattan were all ginormous to take in for the first time.

(I’d also naturally talk about “conscious cities” here, because of what they say about cognitive loads being too much for people’s mental health, but that’s for another post.)

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You can see the entire Times Square from the Marriott. It’s so fascinating to see how Snøhetta transformed the place, especially the plaza area, to transform it into a people-friendly space. Read more at ny.curbed.com

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That’s me beaming and giggling, and trying to process the experience.

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So you would think that one of the busiest cities in the world would have cars honking all the time (and yes, cars are still all over) but there are lovely spaces, such as these transformed streets, which simply used paint, moveable chairs and planter pots as buffers, for people to use.

The Streets

More than a lot of tourist destinations, I found the streets very fascinating, because you think of so many things while simply walking around–the streets had so much to offer. From murals, to city maps on every block, to Bikeshare, and to so much creativity, you would create a new, unique experience everyday.

I love how inviting many of the urban elements are; it just shows how the city really makes an effort to maximize their public spaces, which works.

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Bikeshare is pretty big in New York City, where you just tap your credit card to be able to use a bike. Ride it around the city and park it at another Bikeshare stand when you’re done. Easy. 

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Here’s a refreshing, colorful mural that we passed, which encourages people to walk and to use the park. 

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Events on innovation, such as Smart Cities NY  are promoted in public spaces (this is a bus stop), bringing awareness to city conversations. 

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Food stands are practically everywhere, and what’s good is that there are places to sit down, so people can take their time to eat.

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Artists sell their creations in public spaces, and it takes just putting up tables and a few metal rods to hang some posters and paintings. 

The Subway

Riding the subway was definitely a highlight, and the New York City Subway is a very big network. We had the opportunity going to and from Central and South Manhattan to Queens. 

 

 

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It was so much fun to follow this transit map! Source: MTA Website

 

The pictures below show how systematic the big network is, making it really easy to navigate and transfer to other subway lines and platforms. We only experienced getting lost twice (wrong exits, because we weren’t familiar with the streets at all) but no harm done, so the subway is something I recall fondly.

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This pops out right to the intersection of 7th Ave/Broadway and Times Square.

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I really liked this station. Central Park is featured on the tile wall. 

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What I particularly like with the transport system in NYC is that when you buy a top-up card for the transit, you also get to use it for the bus. If you ride the bus to the subway station and ride the train within the next two hours, it’s a free ride. Pretty neat.

Bryant Park and the New York Public Library

The New York Public Library and Bryant Park are back-to-back.

We traipsed into the park first to eat our big, green apples (get it?) and to enjoy the seats and the view.

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Look at all the movable chairs and tables! My kind of delight, despite the rain.

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Can’t give enough love for the New York Public Library (which is only next in line as the largest public library to the Library of Congress). 

Central Park

Let’s go to a literal breather in the Big Apple: Central Park.

Central Park is an absolute delight. It shows the solid contrast of an extremely rushed, urbanized atmosphere and absolute peace in a forested refuge.

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It was raining when we visited Central Park, but you could still see the cityscape from this lake.

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Here’s a closer shot, which I really like, because of the zooming ducks. 🙂 And there’s just really beautiful contrast from the bridge.

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Central Park is also full of destinations, including a zoo, lots of monuments, castles, gardens, and lakes. I just had to go to the Imagine memorial in Strawberry Fields, which is a tribute to John Lennon.

 

Here’s our rainy walk, with awesome sax music.  I really enjoy it when musicians play in open spaces.

And here’s the very lovely Shakespeare Garden, with the most beautiful flowers and quotes from Shakespeare’s plays. My experience was very, well,  literary, because of the rainy and cold ambience, the dewdrops, and the serenity in this place.

The Met

We ended our Central Park Tour and exited at the Group of Bears sculpture, and walked straight out to the Met.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the US. 

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It’s visited by 7.3 million people yearly, and that statistic looks like this at the lobby. 

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I really enjoyed the Met Store, which has great souvenirs and books for each of their galleries (and that’s a lot of galleries), and some really cool items about NYC. I bought that Dehn Spring in Central Park puzzle as my memento. 

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Outside the Met, we took a bus to go down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I’m a Catholic, and it was a Sunday, so I saw myself hearing mass at the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5th Avenue.

This cathedral really stands out for me. There’s the neo-gothic architecture and the grandeur, but what’s really amazing is that it’s another place of refuge in the busiest street in the city. The solemnity inside is really comforting to a traveler. And it was also a comfort to hear Tagalog being spoken by church-goers (because by this time, I had only been speaking English for a month).

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Photos really can’t do any justice to the intricacy of the facade. 

 

The Boroughs

Going around New York means you’d have to be familiar with the boroughs–Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. And this helps us understand how and why places exude such distinct environments.

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We stayed in Queens, and what you would learn is that each borough has its own character and reputation. Manhattan is Manhattan (need I say more), which puts a high price on pretty much everything, except for the 4$ pizza slices we found for lunch. Brooklyn follows, but with a more neighbor-y, artsy feel, and there’s Queens (though I only got to see the part right beside Manhattan’s border), where I was told many workers reside in because of the more affordable apartments, which are convenient to go home to with the subway anyway. Too bad I wasn’t able to go to Staten Island and the Bronx. (Next time, yep.)

 

High Line Park

The second day of our NYC escapade brought us to the High Line, one of the highlights of the US rails-to-trails movement, because after its multiple-phase construction, it inspired cities all over the country to transform abandoned infrastructure to become livable public spaces. 

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The High Line gives you a literally elevated experience, seeing higher floors of buildings equal to your walking level.

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I didn’t buy this postcard at the end of the walk, but it shows where the High Line is in lower Manhattan. The line is 2.33 km long. 

 

 

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You can still see the old rail tracks, which now serve as part of the High Line gardens. 

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It’s really beautiful how the High Line fosters a sense of community in maintaining this trail. You can read more about how they work at thehighline.org.

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Art and installations are scattered along the walk.

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This is one of the beautiful views atop a High Line spur (or viewing deck). You get a lot of one-point perspectives from the walk.

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Another of those great urban views. 

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That’s me enjoying these movable stack-benches. How they work: Slide the chair using the old rails (there are wheels attached), sit happily, and gaze around. 🙂

 

The Jane Jacobs Way: Hudson Street, Greenwich Village, and the Washington Square Park

This was the biggest must-visit for me, being a Jacobsean and all that.

The High Line walk ended at 11th Avenue, which very proximate to Greenwich Village, so you could tell I was getting more and more excited with every step.

For the record, here are the photos I am so happy to have:

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This is where Jane lived–second floor of this building. The picture on the left is taken from the book Eyes on the Street by Robert Kanigel. 

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555 Hudson Street, where The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written. 

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The street is part of the city’s historic district, and is called The Jane Jacobs Way.

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Still part of Hudson Street.

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Walking around Greenwich Village, which inspired the street-level urban approaches in Death and Life.

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If you have read Jane’s biography, you would know how she became a public space “general” (from a being writer-“food soldier”) to lead communities, including many mothers, to fight for the preservation of Washington Square Park. It took patience and an unwavering voice to win this battle.

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It’s a very reflective park.

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One can’t help but appreciate the value of a green park in the midst of a city. Using this shared space is something we should all really fight for, when “developments” threaten our open spaces.

Witnessing graduation day in the park felt very homey. Check the video below, it shows so much what I love about public spaces.

 

Brooklyn Bridge and the Civic Center

After resting at the Washington Square Park, we walked towards the New York City Hall and went to the Brooklyn Bridge, which was really crowded with tourists (and which also annoyed a lot of cyclists, because people were taking up so much space on the bike lanes). But it also offered an exhilarating view.

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This is the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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You can see the Lower Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge.

 

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We also walked through the Civic Center, 

 

This scene below, taken outside the New York City Hall, is just so festive and liberal.

 

We also visited some other places that I wasn’t able to take photos of, like China Town (which is a very interesting discussion in cities), Radio City, and there was the Empire State Building, which was so iconic and visible from street to street. The Rockefeller Plaza was also striking because of the many flags, and the Anselm Keifer Uraeus book-with-wings statue.

So, all in all, the NYC experience was really unforgettable, you just have to show love for the city, and there’s just so much to absorb while going around. It’s like a play place and an idea hub at the same time. Here’s to hoping I can visit it again (and maybe stay for a while just to immerse, more than a rushed visit).

More videos I took while walking around NYC are all in my YouTube channel.

If you’re also an urbanist or planner and planning to visit, it would be nice to read about NYC before going there, for appreciation of the city. The books I read before going to the US include Capital City by Thomas Kessner and Power Broker by Robert Caro. You could also read Eyes on the Street by Robert Kanigel, and anyway there are so many books about Gotham. Enjoy!

I would like to thank my co-fellow Fai’s Aunt, Mary Tasnai, who showed us all around New York City, for letting us stay at her home, and for cooking such delicious Thai food for us. You’ve been the kindest, most generous mom figure I’ve ever met. Xiexie, kob khun ka, and maraming salamat po.

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