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Showing posts from February, 2010

A Roundabout Walk in Columbus Circle

On the southwest corner of Central Park, Columbus Circle spins travelers in centrifugal force out toward Broadway, Central Park West, 59th Street (Central Park South), and Eighth Avenue. The circular design, unusual in New York, is the work of William Phelps Eno (1858-1945), one of the true unsung creative minds of the modern world. Known as "the Father of Traffic Safety," the New York native in 1903 developed the world's first traffic code to deal with the nightmares of city congestion. According to his book, Street Traffic Regulation (published by The Rider and Driver Publishing Co., 1909), horse and carriage traffic in New York was completely chaotic in the late 19th century. He writes, "Conditions were execrable so far as time, economy, comfort and safety were concerned, and the police, without systematic direction, were powerless and in fact practically at the mercy of the mob."

Eno's subsequent advocacy for street safety led him to develop many inno…

Exploring the Italian South Village

The South Village is one of the country’s oldest Italian-American neighborhoods, with roots going back to the Civil War era. According to "The Italians in the South Village" by historian Mary Elizabeth Brown, a report commissioned by the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation, between 1880 and 1920 more than 50,000 Italian immigrants settled in the South Village. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was born here. The Italian presence in this lively area south of Washington Square Park gives the place a feeling of a tight-knit European neighborhood.

Italian restaurants such as Il Mulino, Bar Pitti, Bellavitae, Ennio & Michael (CLOSED), Ponte Vecchio, Porto-Bello, Pepe Rosso, Ciao, John's Pizzeria, Tre Giovanni, and many more thrive on the streets, and Italian specialty shops at Raffetto's (Houston Street), Faicco (Bleecker Street), Porto Rico Importing Company (Bleecker), Joe's Dairy (Sullivan Street), and Ottomanelli's Meat Market (Bleecker) treat resid…

At the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Madison Square Garden

The second oldest sporting event in the United States - the first is the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York features competitors with a keen sense of smell and hearing. For the champion dogs that convened on the first day of the show in Madison Square Garden today, who knows what they heard and smelled? Maybe they sniffed out the unfamiliar scents of the three breeds new this year - the Norwegian Buhund, the Pyrenean Shepherd, and the Irish Red and White Shepherd, or the sellout crowd (the tickets were gone by 12:30 p.m.), or maybe it was just a faint whiff of the Knicks locker room. No matter the distraction, however, each member of the competition kept a keen eye on their human companion, as many of these images attest.

Today, the first day of the two-day event featured judging in the Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding breeds and varieties. Tomorrow, it will be the turn of the Sporting, Working, and Terrier breeds and varieties. Today's competition…

After Jury Duty: Points of Interest Near the Courthouses and Foley Square

Civic Center, with its concentration of federal, state, and local buildings, many designed to provoke a sense of pride, wonderment, and awe, should be on more visitor itineraries. The dense concentration of monumental buildings in several historic styles - from Beaux-Arts to Art Deco to post-modern - should appeal to those with an interest in history and architecture. Fans of the long-running TV series Law & Order will recognize the courthouse steps. Intriguing fragments of the old city are scattered here and there, but new development points to the next iteration of the city skyline.

For many people the area near the courthouses remains sacred ground. The African Burial Ground rests in the land just to the west of Foley Square, and the cemetery of St. Paul's Church is nearby on Broadway to Church Street. Close, too, just beyond these buildings to the west, are the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center site. A new Visitor Center for the African Burial Ground will soon ope…

Snow Day, Washington Square Park

From 2010
Many schools are closed. Flights have been canceled. Residents are encouraged to stay home. After watching the dire weather reports on TV and seeing the furious fall of snowflakes outside the window, it's understandable to want to stay in.

But it's so much fun to be outside and be a part of it, even for a few minutes. NYU had originally scheduled classes for today, but school officials announced this morning that the university would close at 1 p.m. Many college students gathered in the park, as well as professors, dog walkers, parents and toddlers. The east side and sections of the south side of Washington Square Park are closed for renovations, so mostly people convened in the fountain area (the area shown here) for snowball fights and snowman making. Looking at the Arch, the two buildings on either side are The Brevoort (left), a residential co-op building at 11 Fifth Avenue dating to 1956, and One Fifth Avenue, an early Art Deco tower from 1927.

Image: Washingt…

City Life in Winter: Nanook, Arctic Fashion, and the Ubiquitous Quilted Down Parka

With the arrival of bitter wind chills and snow this winter, walking in New York feels more like an expedition than a stroll.

It's not surprising then to see people on the street dressed in Arctic wear. Quilted down parkas with hoods trimmed in fur or faux fur have become a common sight on the streets of the city, worn by men and women alike, and I've even seen small short-haired dogs wearing them, too.

While some women still choose to show off their legs by continuing to wear leggings under short coats - brrrrr, others like me have fully embraced the Nanook of the North look. Bundled up in a knee-length quilted padded parka with a big fur-lined hood, often with a shaggy dog by my side, I feel safe setting out for the wilds of the West Village, braced against the howling wind. The only accessories I am lacking to complete the look are rugged snowshoes and a long harpoon.

Wondering how the residents of New York City have come to resemble the indigenous people of the Arctic Circ…

Toward the Virtual City and The Crisis of Place

A Review of Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, 2009, 480 pps.)

For residents of Manhattan, reading Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City may lead to a strange case of urban anxiety. While his portrayal of contemporary Manhattan evokes familiar elements  – the oversize hamburgers, a strange smell in the air, the constant rumblings along Second Avenue, the comings and goings of apartment residents, the touches of fantasy in the writer's new novel seem believable, too. The creeping slippage of a real Manhattan into a manipulated simulacrum, a similar place that rings somewhat true but slightly off, has for many reasons become the new reality.

Manhattan residents already live in a kind of hallucination. Try to live with the everyday presence of the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, and you, too, will be occasionally surprised or knocked over at the sight of these highly-charged symbols of the city.

Famous actors ar…

The City as Archive and as Playground: Atget's Paris, and Lessons for New York

The work of French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927) is featured in two current exhibitions at the International Center of Photography - the traveling Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris, and well as the smaller in-house exhibition, Atget, Archivist of Paris. Considered a proto-Surrealist for his tendency to photograph oddities or unusual fragments on deserted streets, the streetwise Atget is often linked to the flâneur tradition. Though not one of the top-hat bourgeois gentleman strollers of the 1880s, his keen eye for the everyday street life of Paris, especially the endangered built environment, makes Atget one of the city's most influential documentarians.

In the late 1890s Atget, a former actor and painter, started documenting the old parks, houses, churches, and narrow streets that were vanishing. Beginning in 1852, planner Baron Haussmann's order to clean up the streets had resulted in the reconfiguration of Paris. Winding cobblestone streets, vesti…