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The Strolling Year in Review 2009

As I retrace my steps from 2009, I feel like the city also shifted into reverse, revealing intriguing
glances of forgotten places under the layer of our estranged modern landscape. Where is that lost subway station? What grows under those tracks? Who grows these apples? Over the last year, the proliferation of artisanal DIY goods sold in medieval-like outdoor markets or peddled on trucks by young urban craftspeople conspired with recession economics to force us to at least think about the means of production.

In addition, the reconfiguration of Times Square into a pedestrian center, the paving of 200 miles of bike lanes, the expansion of the waterfront, the opening of Governor's Island and the High Line literally and figuratively opened up new and greener points of view. The arrival of 2009 and the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's encounter with the New World encouraged such geographical retrospection, allowing us to imagine the island of Mannahatta in its more primordial state, full of useful biodiversity, and asking us what we should do with these uncovered layers of history. Weather-wise, 2009 was a little strange. The summer never really arrived.

As always, New Yorkers bid farewell to the places and neighborhoods they once remembered, intoning the melancholia of loss - the old Washington Square Park, the old Lower East Side, the Garment District, the celebrated restaurants now shuttered (Cafe des Artistes, Tavern on the Green, Rainbow Room, etc.). Traditional family businesses that have defined the special texture of New York neighborhoods pass away too soon, sadly replaced with the kind of drugstore, big chain store or bank branch found in the banal suburbs.

The loss of the familiar extends to the media where The New York Times lost staff members, and Gourmet printed its last issue. Many local bloggers kept up the mantra of loss. In local politics, the billionaire mayor won re-election but not by much. Yet, some good things happened. The homicide rate in 2009 for New York City was the lowest recorded, and Bernie Madoff is in jail. The Yankees won. The media landscape is wide open.


In 2009 we learned to adapt to the mobile fabric of everyday life, from locating ourselves through phone applications such as foursquare to following world revolutions on Twitter to chasing sandwiches, cupcakes, and ice cream on a mobile truck. Some of us welcomed permanent additions to the built environment including Diller and Scofidio's renovation of Alice Tully Hall, Thom Mayne's intriguing administration building for Cooper Union, and the aforementioned High Line. Several bright new restaurants opened, but the culinary trends of 2009 kept it safe with variations on comfort food. It was a great year for fried chicken.

WOTBA Walks and Musings from 2009

The Presidential inauguration in January 2009 led me to three great Presidential sites in NYC - Grant's Tomb, Chester Arthur's apartment (now Kalustyan's), and Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace. The winter light on the side of buildings in February invited an exploration of the life and work of painter Edward Hopper and the location of the diner.

Then to the dogs. I will never miss, if I can help it, the Westminster Kennel Club show in February. A neighborhood I enjoyed visiting was Brooklyn's Fort Greene. Lincoln Center tours are on my list of things to recommend to visitors, as well as all sorts of walking arcades and small parks to sit and rest.

I followed in the footsteps of Walker Evans on a block of E. 61st Street.

Back in Brooklyn in May I walked on a carpet of fallen cherry blossoms and then paid a visit to the Dinner Party. I found more places to sit after walking- Greenacre Park and Times Square. The opening of Phase One of Washington Square Park was welcome. Now, please hurry up with the rest of the park. It's a wreck.

Speaking of Washington Square Park, the President of the United States gravitated to the area for two high-profile dining occasions. The first was on a hot date night with the First Lady at Blue Hill, the second with former President Bill Clinton at Il Mulino.

After several years of preservation efforts, the High Line opened to great fanfare and has proved an enormously popular entertainment. It's the first place I take visiting friends.

Following the Marx Brothers from their boyhood home in Yorkville in the East 90s to Broadway to the old Paramount Studios in Astoria was a highlight of the summer.

Another summer evening walk I enjoyed immensely was based on one or two lines in The Great Gatsby, following narrator Nick Carraway from the Yale Club to the old Penn Station.

Much of the 2009 was devoted to celebrating Dutch New York and Henry Hudson's voyage to Mannahatta four hundred years ago.

The monumental frayed acropolis of Audubon Terrace made a huge impression. More so, the stunning collection of the Hispanic Society, one of the few remaining institutions still housed there.

The last days of the summer brought musings about the Hudson River School and yearnings to travel to artist homes along the Hudson, while early fall included a nice walk in central Harlem.

October and longer nights brought a turn toward New York detective stories and a film noir classic. That is, until the New York Yankees brought home to World Series Championship to "concrete jungles where dreams are made of."

Speaking of dreams, Carl Jung's book of revelatory adventures into his subconscious went on display at the Rubin Museum. Around then I figured out convenient short walks between many New York landmarks.

I also started exploring the sidewalks of cinematic New York, including classic tales of the Naked City as well as festive holiday detective adventures.

And then it started snowing.

The holidays arrived. On New Year's Eve morning, it snowed some more. When New York City is coated in light snow, the city becomes a fixed romantic object, nearly immutable to the passage of time.

Happy New Year.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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