Finding Lightness at the World Trade Center

On a recent, sunny, crisp afternoon, I took a walk through Lower Manhattan.  I decided to head below ground to see the place where I had walked exactly 16 years and 6 days ago.  It was the old World Trade Center Plaza where I had stood in a soft rain on Sept. 10th, 2001, only to learn that the free dance performance I’d come to see had been rained out.

I then walked through the dark, claustrophobic rabbit warren of a mall that occupied the few floors just below ground, picked up a few things and went home.  I had no idea what would happen to this place only 12 hours later.

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, there were seemingly endless quarrels and delays in the rebuilding process.  As a result, it happened in a piece-meal fashion.  There were some highlights- the opening of 7 World Trade Center, shiny and futuristic just a few years later.  Then there was the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building and the slow rise of 1 World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower) which finally opened in 2013.

Alongside the Freedom Tour, the bony wings of Calatrava’s “phoenix” also slowly transformed a new transit station.  Again, it was beleaguered by delays.

My walk this weekend confirmed, at least for me, that the wait was worth it.  Although the new space is largely a mall- the Westfield World Trade Center- it is also a lovely, soaring public space.  It is light-filled and white, with clean bathrooms, a myriad of food, market and retail options.  It’s soaring wings seem to protect us from the canyons of skyscrapers on all sides, and the Oculus seems to be a fitting reminder of what once stood there.

On a recent, sunny, crisp afternoon, I took a walk through Lower Manhattan.  I decided to head below ground to see the place where I had walked exactly 16 years and 6 days ago.  It was the old World Trade Center Plaza where I had stood in a soft rain on Sept. 10th, 2001, only to learn that the free dance performance I’d come to see had been rained out.

I then walked through the dark, claustrophobic rabbit warren of a mall that occupied the few floors just below ground, picked up a few things and went home.  I had no idea what would happen to this place only 12 hours later.

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, there were seemingly endless quarrels and delays in the rebuilding process.  As a result, it happened in a piece-meal fashion.  There were some highlights- the opening of 7 World Trade Center, shiny and futuristic just a few years later.  Then there was the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building and the slow rise of 1 World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower) which finally opened in 2013.

Alongside the Freedom Tour, the bony wings of Calatrava’s “phoenix” also slowly transformed a new transit station.  Again, it was beleaguered by delays.

My walk this weekend confirmed, at least for me, that the wait was worth it.  Although the new space is largely a mall- the Westfield World Trade Center- it is also a lovely, soaring public space.  It is light-filled and white, with clean bathrooms, a myriad of food, market and retail options.  It’s soaring wings seem to protect us from the canyons of skyscrapers on all sides, and the Oculus seems to be a fitting reminder of what once stood there.

 

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A National Treasure: the Annual New York City Dance Parade & Festival

The magic of the annual Dance Parade lies in its diversity and inclusiveness.  Performers of dance traditions from around the world travel from all corners of the USA to troop their colors and celebrate their traditions with New Yorkers.  A large swath of downtown yields to this colorful onslaught of energy and spirit.

In my humble opinion, the parade is a national treasure, the best free entertainment available and a means of opening the eyes of thousands to new cultures.

Here are some shots of children dancing down Union Square West in the Parade.

 

Demonstrating that men dance too, here are some powerful male performers.

Strong, beautiful women of all kinds shined as well.

Long live the New York City Dance Parade and Festival!

http://danceparade.org/

 

Three Miles, Three Islands

On a cool, clear, fall day, I took a walk…a rather long walk.  I started in the Long Island City neighborhood in the borough of Queens (a county situated on the piece of land known as Long Island) and from there, proceeded on foot through areas of New York City that were for the most part new to me.

I began at the Socrates Sculpture Park– an open area on the Queens waterfront adjacent to tiny Roosevelt Island and with impressive views of Manhattan’s East Side.  Unfortunately, the Park was a bit a of mess on this day because they were between installations, however, I intend to visit again someday.  Here’s more on the park: http://socratessculpturepark.org/

I had time to kill after walking through the park, so I decided to head toward Roosevelt Island. This long, thin, Island is known for being residential and I pictured block after block of brick apartment buildings.  I walked along the Queens waterfront to the pedestrian entrance of the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge, which connects Queens, Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.  Well maintained and painted an unusual red hue, the footbridge offers stunning views of the Triborough bridge just to the North, Manhattan’s midtown and Upper East Side.

3 Queens to RI footbridge

What I found when I got to Roosevelt Island was a pleasant surprise.  I found a rather dense village within a metropolis.  A village with its own identity but also one that is also clearly part of the larger City.  The installation of a community gallery inside of a large parking structure was genius, the waterfront parks charming, and the main street- literally Main Street- helped to reinforce the village feeling.

By now, my feet were getting tired, and I was ready to head toward my final destination, Central Park.  I passed Roosevelt Island’s single subway station but thought it would be a waste not to continue my trip across the water rather than under it, to truly get the feeling of passing from island to island.  So I walked on to the famous Roosevelt Island Tram.  To my knowledge, it is New York City’s only aerial link, operating like a large ski lift.  About half as long as a subway car and maybe twice as wide, one can ride from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan using their metrocard.  The view, as I had hoped, was lovely.  Looking down on the Hudson and Midtown is a rare treat.

When I emerged from the tram, I was in the middle of Manhattan (island # 3) at 59th Street and Second Avenue.  From here, it was just another ten minute walk to Central Park.  When I reached the park, it was approaching dusk, and the rising of a large harvest moon and the cooling air gave the park a slightly ominous feel.  The easy-going nature of the park in summer that I had felt just a few weeks ago was gone.  I sat on a bench and took two shots, one of a darkening park landscape, and the other of a piece of public art- a clock that has a rotating face and stationary hands.

My journey through three islands in a single afternoon had come to and end.  I had taken in many sights and sounds, and once again, reveled in the incredible diversity of the city where I live.

Accordions Aplenty!

On a recent warm and sunny Wednesday evening, a friend and I rode the subway to Bryant Park in Manhattan to see what “Accordions Around the World” was all about.   For those that are not familiar with this small but lovely urban oasis, Bryant Park is situated in the middle of noisy, crowded Midtown Manhattan. It is improbably close to Times Square- that tourist mecca being only a five minute walk away.   The park is charming nevertheless and in the warmer months buzzes with activity to entertain, motivate and re-energize New Yorkers.

On this evening, we observed men playing chess, an outdoor reading corner, cafe tables of coffee sippers and happy hour revellers.  Amidst all of this, we the found musicians, accordions in hand, modestly entertaining whomever passed by from their folding chairs. They played accordions of varying sizes, shapes, colors and national origins.  The music ranged from the expected fare, vaguely French or Bavarian, to classic tango (played on an accordion, not a bandoneon, although there was to be a bandoneon in the park later in the evening), to early 20th Century popular tunes and ragtime, Colombian folk music and wistful Balkan tunes.  At one station, a violinist joined in to great effect.

My friend and I were not disappointed as we wound our way around the perimeter of the park, on a sort of Easter-egg hunt for accordionists.  We easily wafted from one continent to another on the air of the music, enjoying this free entertainment under the shade of lovely green trees, in the heart of Manhattan.

Here are some images and sounds from Accordians Around the World on July 1st.  For more on this program that takes place on Wednesdays in July and August, see:

http://www.bryantpark.org/plan-your-visit/calendar.html?date=2015-07-05

Accordionists 1 acc 5 acc 7 acc 8

The roster of accordionists on this particular day was:

Rob Curto – Brazilian Bluegrass
Jenny Luna – Balkan + Turkish
Erica Mancini – American Roots + Standards
Seaninho do Acordeon – Brazilian Forró
Uri Sharlin – World
Papa Bavarian – German Oktoberfest
Brooke Watkins – French Musette
Sadys Rodrigo Espitia – Colombian Cumbia + Vallenato
David Hodges – Bandoneon: Argentine Tango
Fabio Turchetti – Italian Folk

Made You Look! Art for Public Consumption

 

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Detail, facade of the New Museum

2017 update: in this post, I mentioned the New Museum on The Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Today I had the pleasure of visiting the museum on the occasion of it’s 40th Anniversary.  I, for one, am glad that they have found a permanent home in this suitably eckeruc neighborhood and send all best wishes for another 40 years!

 

 

We New Yorkers can seem a jaded bunch.  We often wear masks of disinterest.  After all, isn’t it easier to feign sleepiness or intense interest in our phones while riding the subway than to subject ourselves to the life stories written on the faces of fellow travellers, busking musicians, candy sellers, or compellingly desperate panhandlers?  Wouldn’t it be too much to remove the blinders completely on a summer afternoon walk down 42nd Street, or to let in all the noise and activity encountered while running errands on Atlantic Avenue or Queens Boulevard?

Thankfully, at least for me, there are still sights that can stop me in my tracks.  One of these is what I like to think of as Art for Public Consumption.  This could be permanent commissioned art, temporary site-specific art, eye-catching graffiti, or the results of a partnership between a landlord or small business owner and a local artist.  I have featured examples of these in earlier posts- the art at Smorgasburg Coney Island, the Fata Morgana project in Madison Square Park and images of painted buildings near Thompkins Square Park.

Recently, while in Manhattan on an errand, I walked from the Prince Street subway stop to the intersection of Bowery and Houston.  I was stopped in my tracks three times during this ten minute stroll by arresting images.

First stop: 15 Prince Street, the exterior of the Quality Mending store (a clever reboot of an old storefront, now a clothing seller)

Art Wall 15 Prince

This triptych on canvas stands out boldly against a black wall.  For more information on the artists,Gigi Spratley and Jack Waltrip Li’l Beasties see:http://www.workclothingsport.com/#!art-wall/c1qpv

Then, in front of me like a strange daydream, I saw, for the first time, the New Museum building completed in 2007.  While I am definitely not a fan of minimalist architecture, the whimsy of the building’s 30 foot appendage caught my eye.  That’s right people- it’s a boat.  In case you’re wondering, we are in the middle of Manhattan- not near the water!

2015-06-20 21.26.43

For more, see: http://www.newmuseum.org/

Then, I turned left on the Bowery, passing the museum, to head north to Houston Street.  Here I was stopped again, by a city-block long pastiche consisting of a giant hulk-baby flanked on all sides by logos and familiar American images wittily re-interpreted to make political statements.

Fans of public art like myself should check this spot regularly, on the north side of the intersection of Bowery and Houston, as the land’s owners have reserved this spot for the projects by well-known artists like this one.  For more on this piece, by artist Ron English, see: http://nyulocal.com/city/2015/04/22/your-guide-to-the-brand-new-bowery-mural/

It certainly was an interesting ten-minute stroll through the Lower East Side that day.  Being a Brooklynite, before I wrap this post up, I want to provide two excellent examples of Art for Public Consumption in my own borough.

The first photo was taken last summer, near the waterfront in DUMBO/Vinegar Hill. This spray painted portrait held my attention for several minutes.

Street Art Portrait

Imagine this, around a corner from multi-million dollar lofts!

The final image I’ll leave you with today was taken in DUMBO in March of this year.  It may no longer be there, since replaced by the latest project.  I recognized it immediately as the work of an artist known as CAM that has been very active in DUMBO for years.  What struck me most about this particular piece was its scale, and the fact that it adorned a wall that I had never noticed before; a wall that serves only to support traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens expressway.

Dumbo Public Art OWLS

For more about Dumbo Art Walls and CAM: http://dumbo.is/culture/posts/q-a-with-dumbo-artist-cam

I hope to be stopped in my tracks again soon by some arresting public art.

The Coney Island of Yore is Now So Much More! (updated)

2016 UPDATE

The Art Walls are back.  A few survived the winter although they may be replaced at some point.  Other new murals are  up and some are in progress.  Just like last year, the project lends a touch of the creative to the cash cow that is the Coney Island boardwalk.

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For those of you filled with nostalgia for the boardwalk amusements of years past, don’t  worry. Coney Island, for one, is still there for you.  Maybe with a few less self-proclaimed freaks in its midst, and better amenities, but who is going to complain about that!  Here are some very recent shots in full Coney color.

Now, however, for those of us with a taste for a different sort of color, say the paintbrushes and spray cans of some of the city’s up-and-coming artists, there is more to like at Coney.  Thanks to a project called Art Walls NYC, a series of room-sized panels has been given over to artists and serves as accompaniment to the latest installment of Smorgasburg/the Brooklyn Flea, set up just half a block north of the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue. It is so new that when I visited, two men were still at work on the RIOT panel.  This area offers little in the way of art and even less in quality eats at an inexpensive price.  The twelve re-purposed shipping containers that make up Smorgasburg Coney Island offer everything from organic ice cream and lobster rolls to Jamaican, Thai and Mexican street food bites.

This is wonderful development- and on the day that I was there, I definitely did not miss the long lines common to the Smorgasburgs in other neighborhoods.  The art itself was thought-provoking and awe-inspiring, allowing me to forget the frenetic energy of Luna Park and even the lure of the beach for a moment.  It seemed to bring the downtown scene to Coney Island, while acknowledging the area’s different-ness by placing the art right by the beach and the spectacle of its amusements.

For more about Smorgasburg and Art Walls:

http://www.smorgasburg.com/2015/05/coney-island-and-seaport-launch-this-weekend/

http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/2015/05/23/coney-art-walls-first-3-completed-and-summer-begins/

Now, the art!