NYC Reflections

One last post to wrap up the New York stories…

I had been to New York twice before. The first time I was seven years old, and while I remember loving the experience, the memories are rather hazy and it didn’t leave me with much of a sense of the city. The second time was so brief as to barely count: a cab ride between JFK and La Guardia en route to Nashville (and from there for my first visit to Grand Rapids).

This visit followed quickly in the wake of my reading Jane Jacobs’ fantastic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” It’s been a long time since a single book had such an impact on how I approach a topic (in this case, urban planning and the broad cross-section of life it touches upon); many of the insights were already familiar from other related work, but the scope, significance and completeness of Jacobs’ seminal work was quite astounding. And most of the examples in it are drawn from New York City.

Staying in Brooklyn was a treat (thanks Sara!) as it drew us out of Manhattan. Our time was spent in the Park Slope neighbourhood, which we both loved. It was dense and diverse, with more than enough within a few blocks’ radius to keep us occupied for quite some time had our schedule allowed (as it was we passed two pleasant mornings at The Tea Lounge (panoramic photo)). In balance, I probably preferred this area of Brooklyn to any one Manhattan neighbourhood. The pace was a touch slower and it felt more “real” — as if the residents’ were making a longer commitment to their community than in the more transient neighbouring borough.

But for someone who has found the slower approach to life much in evidence in Grand Rapids to be quite an adjustment after so many years in close proximity to London, the bustle of Manhattan was almost a salve. I’m not someone who heads for tourist attractions when I visit a city, heading instead for its coffee shops and movie theatres, and it was a shame not to have longer to indulge more in the latter. There’s a certain reassurance, though, in just knowing that so many options are within reach.

And naturally, the time with friends was good. Despite numerous emails and blog comments, I’d not met Sara in person before. I met another of Kari’s cousins (and his family) for the first time, and got to know another a little better. As well as seeing Susan play, we got to spend time with both her and Rachel Zylstra at the rather wacky Beauty Bar, which was great.

It’s easy to see why Jacobs was so attached to the density and diversity of her New York neighbourhoods when writing back in the 50s and 60s, and great to see that many of them retain some of that vibrancy (though that couldn’t really be said for the ridiculously gentrified Greenwich Village). Another personal highlight was visiting Bryant Park and seeing a stack of books laid out for visitors to read, tables reserved for games players, and the space overflowing with users. If this post by Dan Hill is anything to go by, London could learn a few lessons there.

With three more boroughs to explore, not to mention far more hanging out to do in these two, hopefully we’ll make it back soon, and perhaps this time we’ll remember the camera and/or have a cameraphone that takes decent pictures…

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