kottke.org posts about New York City

A walk down 14th Street after the Age of BloombergSep 11 2015

Brendan O'Connor has sketched a short, poignant, four-dimensional map* of one of Manhattan's most iconic streets, from the Hudson to the East River, and from 2001 to the present.

There is an idea of New York, and especially of Manhattan, as a place where the wealthy and the less wealthy (and even the not-at-all wealthy!) live in close proximity, even adjacent, to each other, and that this arrangement produces ambition in the latter to attain what the former has, and some amount of respect for the humanity of the latter in the former. This is not just incidental to life here, the thinking goes, but integral to it: Everyone, or almost everyone, suffers the city together.

The story of 14th Street both encapsulates this high-low fantasy and shows how it has been and continues to be erased in favor of something much more lucrative.

[The] High Line is a magnet for more than tourists' money: According to a study conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, before the park's construction in 2003, the surrounding West Chelsea neighborhood--a mix of residential properties and light industrial businesses--were valued at eight percent below Manhattan's overall median. In 2005, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development, and, by 2011, residential property values appreciated beyond borough-wide values. "The park, which will eventually snake through more than twenty blocks, is destroying neighborhoods as it grows," Jeremiah Moss wrote in the New York Times in 2012. "And it's doing so by design. While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor--albeit a well-heeled one--it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration's creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side."

*Most street maps lie in at least two ways in order to fit two-dimensional constraints.

  1. They omit pitch and elevation. This is admittedly a bigger problem in cities like San Francisco than it is in most places, but the experience of walking along any street is shaped by its sloping uphill or downhill, its seat above or below.
  2. They eliminate the axis of time, which is relegated to real estate transaction documents and local folklore.

Related: The New York Times' terrific "Reshaping New York" interactive map from 2013.

John Waters hitchhikes in New York CityJun 05 2014

National treasure John Waters, who wrote a book about hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco at the age of 66, recently tried to catch a ride with a reporter from Greenwich Village to the Frick Collection at 70th St and Fifth Avenue.

The only place in the country Waters has never yet succeeded hitching is Manhattan, which is why he's intent on trying again today. "I used to stand in front of the Holland Tunnel tollbooth in the '60s, and no one would ever pick me up," he says. Before he embarked cross-country, Waters wrote the first two sections of Carsick--one envisioning good rides, the other bad rides. In both cases, the fiction is far more eventful than the true-life bits. On the real trip, there were no sexual encounters, twisted or otherwise. "It's very different hitchhiking when you're 16 and when you're 66," says Waters. "I didn't have any rabid gerontophiliacs pick me up." He imagines what could go most wrong on our trip uptown. "The worst case scenario would be someone that didn't speak the language, so we couldn't really tell what they were doing," Waters says. "But immediately the locks go down. And it smells. We ride one block, and they turn around and blow both our heads off."

Why the Frick? "When Pink Flamingos first came out," Waters says, "whoever ran the Frick wrote me a note about how much they liked it. My mother was really impressed." Man, now I just want to hang out with John Waters and have him tell me stories.

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