Note: Please read this updated post for Summer Streets August 2011.
For three consecutive Saturday mornings in August, the city of New York shuts down major north-south thoroughfares to vehicular traffic so that residents and visitors alike may enjoy the streets without the presence of cars and trucks. Most ride bicycles, some walk, and a few skate, but by whatever preferred means of transportation thousands of New Yorkers have been taking advantage of the Saturdays to exercise and to explore the streets in this novel way.
Summer Streets for August 2010 will take place August 7, 14, & 21 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. This year's iteration will feature MacroSea's repurposed dumpster swimming pools near the Grand Central viaduct and FringeNYC theater shorts in the Soho rest area.
The event also offers a rare opportunity to look at some of the city's great architecture from a new perspective. Sitting in a moving car, a driver can't fully enjoy urban architecture, or they shouldn't be, and even passengers who might be interested in sightseeing can't see through the roof of the car (unless they are in a convertible) in order to admire the top floors of buildings. On normal days, walking along the sidewalk allows views of the opposite street, but being able to walk in the middle of the street opens up a whole new world. It's a giddy feeling, this sense of the city and the sky, the kind of freedom you get marching in a parade. Biking the route may be the most pleasurable, because it allows the easiest and fastest access to all 6.9 miles of the route.
View Architectural Highlights Along NYC's Summer Streets: in a larger map
This map features architectural highlights along NYC's Summer Streets route. Buildings are listed from the south to the north. Many graceful late nineteenth-century buildings line the route, especially to the south in the older sections of the city, and the stretch of Park Avenue north of Grand Central features some of the most important buildings in the history of modern architecture - the MetLife Building, the Seagram Building, and the Lever House, among them. Turning west on 72nd Street and into Central Park simply opens up another adventure.
Summer Streets is not just for exercise or a good strategy for sustainable cities. It can be an exciting course in Architecture 101, afoot or on wheels.
Please see NYC DOT's Summer Street website for official site map and information about the event.
Riding or walking down Lafayette, look for the remains of Colonnade Row across from the Public Theater. Christopher Gray of The New York Times has a fascinating story about what happened to the luxurious marble columns when the buildings were torn down a century ago.
Image by Walking Off the Big Apple from August 8, 2009. Here, remembering the late Charles Gwathmey (link to NYT obit), architect of "Sculpture for Living" (the shimmering glass building ahead on Astor Place), while participating in NYC's Summer Streets. More images on Flickr.