The Wow Factor: A Stroll in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and A Visit to Jane's Carousel

(revised and updated) A stroll to Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park  -

One of the many charms of living the life of a flâneur, aside from being oblivious to the fact that it's the wrong time (21st century, not the 19th) and the wrong city (New York, not Paris) is to embark on a long walk in a city park without caring about much of anything and then suddenly being struck by a surprising view.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

The academics among us talk about the notion of visual culture, a relatively new paradigm popular among art historians that suggests that our life is characterized by the tendency to visualize knowledge. Whatever can be discovered and understood will eventually be visualized, in large part because we now have the technology - or soon will have it - to see amazing things. The paradigm that visual culture seeks to replace is the post-modern notion that everything is a "text" that can be deconstructed and read. Visual culture posits the notion that sometimes a dependence on text fails us, as things we see can be so overwhelming that words won't do. Instead, we'll just look at stuff and utter shrieks of amazement like "Awesome!" and "Wow!" If we're momentarily inarticulate with the visuals at hand, then it's dumb to hunt for a "text."

Jane's Carousel

Jane's Carousel

A proper flâneur journalist, on the other hand, should at least try to articulate the sights of a stroll in some words - and in words more articulate than "awesome" - but a stroll yesterday to Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park did produce a "wow" factor, not to mention a ton of iPhone pictures. Jutting out on a platform in the East River on the north side of the Brooklyn Bridge, this well-restored historic carousel from 1922 with forty-eight finely-detailed animated horses and many pretty panels with pastoral scenes is housed within an elegant pavilion designed by Jean Nouvel. The carousel and the pavilion opened in September of 2011 and are a gift to the people of New York by the Walentas family. It costs two dollars a ride. The spectacle may even be more impressive at night, after the young ones have gone to sleep, but during an afternoon walk, it is a most impressive sight.

Jane's Carousel

Jane's Carousel

Jane's Carousel

While enjoying the views of the East River, the rocks along the shoreline, the skyline, the freshly renovated park areas, and the other obvious charms of such a familiar city scene, we might also want to take into consideration that much of what we're looking at here, like the carousel, is new. The skyline of Lower Manhattan on the other side of the water is also relatively new to us, as it now features 1WTC and the newly inhabited residential skyscraper, 8 Spruce Street, by Frank Gehry. The East River Ferry that docks nearby is new, and, for that matter, most of this whole park is new. That big bridge, however, looks familiar. The "wow" factor, then, can be also prompted by our chronic state of novelty.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

The city is re-landscaping the old working New York waterfront with water parks and carousels and miniature golf courses and places for our bikes and dogs. Not only are we witnessing an accelerated transformation of the waterfront from a place of production to one of consumption but also a concerted plan to replace an older city with a much younger one, an imagined more innocent city of the past recycled in bits and pieces for our present purposes. And it's happening fast, the building of the city of our lost collective childhood. As the flâneur songwriter Jacques Brel once wrote, "We're on a crazy carousel."

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Saturday, February 4, 2012.

Jane's Carousel is located in DUMBO between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Official website.
Hours through April 5, 2012:
Thursday – Sunday 11:00 AM – 6:00PM
Tickets: $2.00


  1. Great article, Teri. Astute observations and comments. I'm sure the rapid-fire change and development is for the best, but obviously something is indeed lost in the process. However, I guess as long as the two bridges are still standing over this area, they will act as the visual links to the past.

    Of course many of us, and I certainly include myself, would not have even had the desire or the courage to venture forth along the Brooklyn waterfront area of old in the not so distant past.

  2. Thoughtful as always. I must however demure from your observation that the activity of being a stroller, a disinterested observer and an intelligence seeking an outlet, is not to be fixed to a particular place or period. It is just that the French, as Raymond Chandler expresses it "have a word for everything".

    The 18th century had 'pleasure gardens', but the idea of the city as a spectacle has arisen steadily (though Dr. Johnson knew it: "Sir, the man who is tired of London is tired of life"). The particular delight of strolling however is in being in part withdrawn. The true flâneur is somewhat ironic, self aware, hesitant to condemn, accepting of everything except indifference. Today everyone invents themselves.

    Another point: It is interesting to notice how America is adjusting to it's past; the realisation that the country does have a past and what that means in a time of change.

  3. I'm late answering Anton's reply, so apologies, especially to Anton.

    When I made that remark, I was thinking of Walter Benjamin's ideas about the decline of the flaneur in Paris and the Paris photographs of Eugene Atget.

    While I do think it's possible to stroll and observe our cities in a similar fashion in any time, including ours - or why would I bother with 5 years of this ? - I nevertheless think that a certain type of top-hatted figure and the female equivalent is part of the distant past. Today out experience of wandering the streets is mediated by the sort of virtual reality presented by cell phones and the collective information on the Internet. Not a bad thing. Just different.

    The point about America adjusting to its past. Hmm. That's a hard one. We're living now with some sense of a need to preserve our urban past, yet in New York, real estate forces continue to press their case for the past's eradication.


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