On Walking Through the Long Shadows of New York's Urban Canyons in Winter

From January 2009

While walking uptown to the Morgan Library & Museum yesterday afternoon, winding my way north through University Place to Union Square and then north on Broadway to Madison Square Park and beyond, it was hard not to notice the shadows. The sun, so low in the sky in January, casts long shadows even in the afternoon. Individuals walking along the street in winter daylight project silhouettes on the pavement that seem much bigger than themselves, with the effect suggesting the mythical dimensions of soul and identity. Here, the selves are split into two - the one bundled up in jeans and leather jacket and the mysterious spectral other, elongated and flatly gray upon the sidewalk. If you want to see the dark side of the New Yorker psyche, then cast your eyes low on a winter afternoon.

Though yesterday proved to be one of the warmer days of late, I was still chasing the warmth of the sun, switching to walking the side of the street with the most light. This was especially true as I moved into midtown, as the tall buildings plunged the urban canyon floor into pockets of darkness. If New York hadn't enacted the 1916 Zoning Resolution, the measure that required setbacks and took its main shape with the Art Deco zigzag building designs of the 1920s and 1930s, we would all be moving in darkness at 2:30 in the afternoon.

The winter days in New York invite an exercise in drawing light and shadows, either with a stick of charcoal on a piece of paper or with a camera obscura.

Images: Top, along University Place; middle, Empire State Building (the sign seems to point correctly to the building's location); bottom, Madison Avenue. All from January 23, 2009. Walking from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to the Morgan Library and Museum (Madison @ 36th Street) in Murray Hill is a distance of about 2.25 miles and takes about 45 minutes, more or less.

See a slideshow of more images from the walk at Flickr WOTBA.


  1. Anonymous6:03 AM

    Hi Teri,
    I hope you're well (your urban wanderings would suggest you are).

    I just wanted to say that this is such a profound post; no more or less than we usually get from you, but there's something about this particular post that strikes a chord, and shows that you are truly blessed with the spirit of the flâneuse.

    In this case I think it must be your perception of light and shadow around the streets of Manhattan. I mean how many people must pound the same pavements and have never seen want you see?

    I also love the eloquence of your prose in this post: "as the tall buildings plunged the urban canyon floor into pockets of darkness" and "If you want to see the dark side of the New Yorker psyche, then cast your eyes low on a winter afternoon" - simply beautiful Teri.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Anonymous8:33 AM

    A beautiful post indeed! The lights and shadows were something that left me in awe when I visited.

  3. Thanks so much for your comments. Both of you have warmed up a cold day.


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