Thursday, January 31, 2008

Old vs New New York

Downtown Express photo by Jessica Mintz
New York demolishes more old buildings every month than most American cities have standing. In an average year, about two thousand buildings are torn down. Fewer than three per cent of the city’s million or so buildings are protected as landmarks.

This is out of an article I'm reading in the New Yorker, "Mystery on Pearl Street," about the destruction of one of the oldest buildings in downtown New York on the oldest street in New York. It includes some interesting facts about Pearl Street, like how it was called Pearl by the Dutch, because the street ran along the East River and was paved with crushed oyster shells. It's a crooked street and was a cow path. It was the first with running water, the first with natural gas and the first with electric lights. And, Pearl Street was the city’s wholesale district.

Read the article when you have a chance, but the building is gone now. I read while on the subway, and as the B train emerged out of the tunnel and onto the Manhattan Bridge, I looked up and watched the Brooklyn Bridge come into view. I love living in this city and part of why I love is that I'm surrounded by history, especially compared to Florida, where it seems everything is either brand new or 20 years old.

But look around NYC now and see all the new high rises or walk by the pits left by demolished buildings. When I started my Automat Project (to be continued in the Spring), it really hit me how many of the buildings that stood and had such fantastic stories are gone and replaced by some glass structure or another bank.

I walk into an old building and try to imagine the original inhabitants. I move into a new apartment and I research who lived there and what my building and street looked like. I embrace the history and believe in honoring great architecture and spaces that were inhabited by those who came before me. I feel like it brings additional meaning to my life. Being in an area rich with history of those that are dead and gone reminds me that I am one of many who have traveled here, earned a living, and lived a life in this city. We are mortal beings and immortality comes in many forms; in books, movies, art, images, etc. To me, there's also immortality in architecture, dwellings, old familiar objects, the things that were created, held or inhabited by folks whose names are forgotten.

Yes, we need to create new things and look forward, but I would like to see this city add to the culture that exists as opposed to destroying what has come before.

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