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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

New York City is the place where . . . (Part II)

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Columbus Circle

I walked up and down Manhattan (between 70thish and Soho) six or seven times, using different streets, sometimes repeating the same area but at a different time of day. There is something about Midtown that is appealing. I think it’s the most cinematic part of New York City — that 1950s North by Northwest flannel suit New York that doesn’t exist anymore (but the buildings do). Warhol’s first Factory was there, so was the Brill Building, and even minor places (in terms of their cultural impact) like the CBS Headquarters on West 57th (which explained why, in the 1980s, their newsmagazine was called West 57th). There are so many cinematic, television, pop cultural, and literary references hanging around New York City that they all start to compete in your head when walking around the place physically. They also compete with the historic New York that has been thoroughly mythologized. Like being in Los Angeles, you begin to wonder what is real and what is imagined about this place — and does that even matter?

On a previous NYC trip I went for a long evening run through the city (and around the Central Park reservoir like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man, of course), and stopped on the steps of Trump International Hotel and Tower (above) and had one of those Mary Tyler Moore big-city moments of euphoric joy. It was raining this time, putting a damper on that feeling just a bit. The Trump building was originally the headquarters of the Gulf + Western company, which owned Paramount studios. The final decision to make films like The Godfather and Chinatown occurred up on the high floors of this legendary building.

2 Columbus Circle was built by Hunting Hartford, the A & P heir who died last week, to house his art museum. It’s a controversial building, either loved or hated. It’s worth poking around the Wikipedia entry for interesting tidbits or this wonderful essay from the New York Times about the building’s secret history by the paper’s late, brilliant writer, Herbert Muschamp.

Nice Columbus Circle bench — a lovely curve and a skateboarders dream? Didn’t see many scuff marks — maybe they self-regulate in NYC.

The flat wall of buildings along Central Park South — a human-made mountain range.

The High Cost of Expensive Parking

Mother and daughter hand over their white Lexus to a man who parks their car in one of these raised platforms near Soho. As dense as NYC is, there are still a surprising number of parking lots.

Green York

The trees of Trump Tower.

Lots of healthy spring street trees in Manhattan. Why do they thrive, and Toronto’s do not?

Where Fifth Avenue meets Central park. It’s like the green of the park can’t be held back and overflows onto the street. It’s a bit like Parkside Drive along High Park in Toronto — a thin ribbon of pavement keeps all the green at bay. On both streets, if you shut you eyes, the smell of all that nature will still tell you where you are.

Some naming rights are OK to sell. Who is your iconic Torontonian? We have some.

Not sure how healthy these art deco pieces are for the trees, but they are located around (and are part of) Rockefeller Center and look wonderful. The trees looked fine and healthy though.

Bryant Park is just about perfect, even when misty out.

Probably the only boring park in Soho too.

Ground Zero

Rush hour & a steady flow of people into the new World Trade Centre PATH station.

One of the few places left to view the terrible hole, now an active construction site. Five years of a war fought in its name have made us cynical whenever 9/11 comes up — but being there is still quite something. No amount of cool irony or disaster/war relativism can change that feeling.

(Part III tomorrow soon)



  1. Great photo essay.

    As for why New York’s street trees thrive while Toronto’s wither, I think it’s because Toronto uses salt on its roads during the winter. Come the thaw, the salty runoff goes into the ground and ruins the soil. New York, with milder winters and much less snow, doesn’t need to salt its roads, so its trees never suffer the toxic shock of spring.

    A theory anyway. Anyone know for sure?

  2. I’ve always thought we should have program for dedicating benches to individuals – goodness knows we could use more benches – but I wonder if that would work with the new street furniture program.

  3. I was in New York this past weekend and took a folding Strida bike with me, and was just amazed at what a difference it makes. Every other trip I popped up like a mole from the subway and walked a few blocks here and there, but doing it on a bike is just wonderful, it was a new New York.

    I know you love walking, but I got from 50th to the Brooklyn Bridge in half an hour and saw everything.

  4. You missed everything as you sped through!

    I’d like to ride in NYC. Next time I go I should have a bike — and now that I have brooklyn in my head I could probably bike back from the city to Bed-Stuy. That would be fun, over the bridge, at night.

  5. Missed everything, schmissed everything. Once you’re someplace like NYC enough times, at least in your heart, everything’s scaleable.

    Too bad the Cheyenne Diner recently closed; now, *there* was a heart of Manhattan…

  6. Much less snow? Hardly! These last two years were a little unusual, but New York gets much larger snowfalls than Toronto does.

  7. Kevin> Not according to Wikipedia (and every other place on the internet).

    Average annual snowfall in New York City: 28 inches

    Average annual snowfall in Toronto: 52 inches

  8. New York is THE City. Whenever I need a bit of energy to rock my stable senses, I head to Manhattan. What thought always brings a smile is the Bob Hope comment “I love New York. I look forward to visiting again when they finish it”!

  9. The lack of healthy street trees in Toronto vs New York has long bugged me. I think it is a combination of a few things:

    1) Salt – yes, New York gets less snow but unlike Toronto it gets nor’easters, so blizzard-type snow is actually more common. However, prolonged cold is not, and the city has so much traffic, doormen (who clear sidewalks) and pedestrians that the snow pretty much disappears right away, meaning you don’t see a lot of salt used.

    2) Tree pit design – Toronto is a little paranoid about salt, using it as an excuse to use lousy tree pits with openings that are too small. Almost all NYC tree pits are wide open, or have flush grates. The pits are also larger – 4’6 x 4’6 min. Toronto tree pits suck by design.

    3) Wanting trees – beacuse of the lush side streets, Torontonians seem to be indifferent or uncaring of street trees on commercial or arterial roads. Since they don’t really care, no one bothers to do it right. In NYC, trees are more highly valued and people want them and care for them. There are also a lot more of them.

    I live in a residential area in upper Manhattan and have my own tree pit, with a 80 yr old tree in it. I keep it tidy and filled with plants, water it during hot weather, and placed a border fence around the perimeter to keep dog urine off the trunk. It all adds up.