Breakfast at Standard and Poor's

Standard and Poor's downgrading of the credit rating of the United States sent enough shock waves through the global financial markets early this week that a morning walk to its headquarters at 55 Water Street seemed like a good idea. The corporate building that houses the firm, built in 1972 by Emery Roth & Sons and at the time the largest private office building in the world, does not warrant that much attention, but setting out on a stroll near this intersection of Water Street and Coenties Slip, the latter an old walkway named in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, provides yet another opportunity to walk off the Wall Street bears. The walk around the Financial District brings several pleasures - small charming plazas, a mostly hidden garden, and breathtaking views of urban canyons, not to mention the generally hectic scenes around Wall Street at the beginning of a trading day. It's easy to find good strong coffee down here.

From a Walk through the Financial District
The headquarters of Standard and Poor's on Water Street.

The idea of walking off a problem has long been considered something of a cure for the particular ill. So, a day after Wall Street posted one of its largest slumps since the gloomy days of the fall of 2008, a walk seemed a good way to cope with the woeful conditions of the market. A picture blog created by a young man who once lived in the city, The Brokers With Hands on Their Faces Blog, captured the Dante-esque gestures of stock brokers in distress on the trading floor. Woeful, indeed. At times like this, we need some hopeful sun, a little more Paradiso than Inferno. A morning walk from the R train stop at Whitehall and then east on Water Street follows the rising sun and New Yorkers making their way to work, or given the present circumstances, those pounding the pavement in search of work.

At Standard and Poor's on 55 Water Street, a set of escalators nestled in a break in the building provides a luring invitation for an impromptu diversion.

From a Walk through the Financial District
facing the escalators to the Elevated Acre. Water Street. A heavenly glow beckons.

By all means, grab a cup of coffee from a nearby vendor and take it. Up here is the Elevated Acre, an urban park with well-kept beds of grasses and begonias and sublime views of the river, the bridges, Brooklyn, and Governors Island. At the time of my visit, no one was there, just me and the green elevated park. A ledge on the east side affords views below of Old Slip, another old access point to ships, and the New York Police Museum under renovations.

From a Walk through the Financial District
on the Elevated Acre

From a Walk through the Financial District
morning sun, Elevated Acre, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge in the distance

Back on the street, continue to explore Coenties Slip Park, the historic blocks - Frances Tauvern, Pearl Street (the coffee at Financier is superb), and the small Stone Street (so unusually unromantic in the morning hours, compared to its boisterous evenings in after-hours trading). Nearby Hanover Square's British Garden, lined with curving benches and the names of British counties underfoot, was created to memorialize the 67 British subjects who died in the events of September 11 and to recognize the close ties of the city and Britain. Queen Elizabeth II visited the park on July 6, 2010 for its royal opening. For those thinking about the London riots, the British Garden may be an appropriate place to reflect on these events.

From a Walk through the Financial District
Pearl Street, early morning

From a Walk through the Financial District
British Garden at Hanover Square was created to memorialize the British subjects who lost their lives
in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Now, it's time to visit The Street. In the early minutes before the 9:30 ET opening bell on Wall Street, the crowds start to gather. Food vendors are briskly selling coffee and pastries to visitors and workers. Many well-suited Wall Street types smoke cigarettes while checking their cell phones. Visitors peer in the windows at Tiffany's branch on the street, and yes, it's possible to have breakfast here, too (but only on the sidewalk, just like Holly Golightly).

As this particular morning promised more uncertainty in the markets, members of the press, including CNN and Fox News, had set up shop with their reporters, crews, and satellite trucks. The main talk centered on the expected afternoon report from the Federal Reserve Board. No one was certain about the outcome. Financial market players, in general, dislike uncertainty and proceed with caution. The mood was neither Inferno not Paradiso but Purgatorio, at least for those who believed in such a place.

At it turned out, the market rallied on Tuesday. Yet, the upward momentum may not last, and financial woes may return. In times like this, it's best to confront your fears head on. I know a good place to walk it off.

From a Walk through the Financial District
The media sets up on location. Reporters are from CNN. August 9, 2011, morning.

From a Walk through the Financial District
(In need of an appropriate caption. What's yours?). August 9, 2011, morning. Federal Hall, Wall Street.

The updated map below includes sites mentioned in this post as well as New York places important to the long financial story.

View Follow Your Money: The New York Financial Crisis Walk in a larger map

Further Reading:

A Wave of Worry Threatens to Build on Itself by Motoko Rich and Nelson D. Schwartz. The New York Times. August 8, 2011

• For more on The Brokers With Hands on Their Faces Blog, read this engaging profile of its young creator - A Visual Chronicle of Stock Traders’ Agony by Peter Lattman. The New York Times. August 8, 2011.

• For more on the Elevated Acre, see the website.

• Read more about The British Garden on its website.

• On this site, read the related Walking an Uncertain Wall Street: A Strolling Guide to Stops, Sleepovers, and Anxieties in the Financial District. (July 26, 2010)

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Tuesday morning, August 9, 2011. More images from this walk may be found in this set on Flickr WOTBA. All rights reserved.

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