Category Archives: my city and neighborhood

NYC encourages conversation (a photo-essay)

 

 

“The blab of the pave … the … talk of the promenaders”

— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (cataloguing the delights of the City)

 

 

 

I continuously see people on the street, in the park on sidewalk benches, in gathering places such as cafes and bars — everywhere — in pairs or larger groupings, engaged in deep conversation and repartee.

People feel less self-conscious in New York. Free to express themselves. New York encourages thought and exchange of ideas.

It’s wonderfully liberating.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum: Another thought. The fact that NYC is in large part a city in which people are on foot when they are outdoors, and not in cars, but instead are walking, or resting on benches, say; and, when they are traveling, are often on subways or buses, where conversation frequently occurs, is a facilitator of conversation and interaction.

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

42nd Street

42nd Street

 

 

 

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59th Street

 

 

 

Battery Park City

Battery Park City

 

 

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Bryant Park

Bryant Park

 

 

 

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Central Park

 

 

 

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Central Park

 

 

 

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City Hall Park

 

 

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Grand Central Oyster Bar

 

 

 

 

Hudson River Park

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

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Hudson River Park

 

 

 

Hudson River Park (3)

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

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Hudson Yards

 

 

 

Lexington Avenue

Lexington Avenue

 

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (3)

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Gregory's Coffee 7-7-2019

Ninth Avenue coffeehouse

 

 

 

Ridgewood, Queens

Ridgewood, Queens

 

 

 

P. J. Carney's 6-18-2019

Seventh Avenue Tavern

 

 

 

Soho

Soho

 

 

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Union Square Park

 

 

 

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Union Square

 

 

 

Upper West Side

Upper West Side

 

 

 

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West Side, Midtown

a letter from Walt Whitman

 

 

 

What interests me about the letter of Walt Whitman posted here (text below) is his feelings about his native city, New York. They are similar to mine.

Whitman, then working as government clerk and a volunteer in hospitals in Washington, DC, was visiting New York at the time the letter was written. He was staying at his mother’ s house on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

 

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Monday forenoon November 9 [1863]

 

Dear comrades, as I did not finish my letter yesterday afternoon, as I had many friends come to see me, I will finish it now—the news this morning is that Meade is shoving Lee back upon Richmond, & that we have already given the rebs some hard knocks, there on the old Rappahannock fighting ground. O I do hope the Anny of the Potomac will at last gain a first-class victory, for they have had to retreat often enough, &: yet I believe a better Army never trod the earth than they are & have been for over a year.

Well, dear comrades, it looks so different here in all this mighty city, every thing going with a big rush & so gay, as if there was neither war nor hospitals in the land. New York &: Brooklyn appear nothing but prosperity & plenty. Every where carts & trucks & carriages & vehicles on the go, loaded with goods, express-wagons, omnibuses, cars, &c—thousands of ships along the wharves, & the piers piled high, where they are loading or unloading the cargoes—all the stores crammed with every thing you can think of, & the markets with all sorts of provisions—tens & hundreds of thousands of people every where, (the population is 1,500,000) , almost every body well-drest, & appearing to have enough—then the splendid river & Harbor here, full of ships, steamers, sloops, &c—then the great street, Broadway, for four miles, one continual jam of people, & the great magnificent stores all along on each side, & the show windows filled with beautiful & costly goods—I never saw the crowd thicker, nor such goings on & such prosperity [italics added]—& as I passed through Baltimore.& Philadelphia it seemed to be just the same.

I am quite fond of crossing on the Fulton ferry, or South ferry, between Brooklyn & New York, on the big handsome boats. They run continually day & night. I know most of the pilots, & I go up on deck & stay as long as I choose. The scene is very curious, & full of variety. The shipping along the wharves looks like a forest of bare trees. Then there are all classes of sailing vessels & steamers, some of the grandest & most beautiful steamships in the world, going or coming from Europe, or on the California route, all these on the move. [italics added] As I sit up there in the pilot house, I can see every thing, & the distant scenery, & away down toward the sea, & Fort Lafayette &c. The ferry boat has to pick its way through the crowd. Often they hit each other, then there is a time—

My loving comrades I am scribbling this in my room in my Mother’s house. …

 

 

— Walt Whitman, The Correspondence: Volume I: 1842-1867, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller (New York University Press, 1961), pp. 180-181

Walt Whitman … profoundly a New Yorker

 

 

In his sprawl, his vaunting ambition, and his humanity, Walt Whitman was profoundly a New Yorker. His poetry bore no little resemblance to the “mettlesome, mad, extravagant city” that he called home, and to the end of his life, he remained “a Manhattanese, free, friendly and proud.”

Whitman was born in the small community of West Hills in Suffolk County, and he returned often to the rural scenes of “fish-shape Paumanok,” as he called Long Island. But he grew up in Brooklyn, at a time when it was growing explosively, and proudly called himself a “Brooklyn boy.” Like his father, he found occasional work in carpentry and contracting, and that may have affected the way he thought about his poetry–with “the preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising, the hoist-up of beams the push of them in their places, laying them regular.”

New York’s expansion resembled Whitman’s own during the “seed-time years” that preceded Leaves of Grass. He later claimed that the poems “arose out of my life in Brooklyn and New York from 1838 to 1853, absorbing a million people, for fifteen years, with an intimacy, an eagerness, and an abandon, probably never equaled.” Although he moved to Washington during the Civil War and then to Camden, New Jersey, he never stopped revisiting the New York of his imagination. In a letter from 1868, he wrote, “I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the shows of all these things in New York more than any other mortal–as if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.” [italics added]

 

– exhibit label, “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy”; exhibition at the Morgan Library, New York, NY

 

 

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CITY OF SHIPS.

 

CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here,
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores—city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!
Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me—whom you adopted I have adopted,
Good or bad I never question you— love all—I do not condemn any thing,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!

 

Leaves of Grass (1881-1882)

 

 

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But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices
of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (excerpt)

 

 

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The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (excerpt)

 

 

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The exhibit label is vague about where Whitman actually lived during his years in what now comprises New York City. (Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate municipalities when Whitman lived there. Jamaica, Queens, where Whitman was a schoolteacher briefly, was then part of Long Island, where Whitman was born.) He grew up in Brooklyn; and, in the years of his adulthood prior to the Civil War, he resided in both Brooklyn and Manhattan at various times. When in Manhattan, he lived downtown in boarding houses in or near what is now the Financial District. When he was residing in Brooklyn, he often took the ferry to Manhattan. He was a regular at Pfaff’s beer cellar in Manhattan, which was located on Broadway near Bleecker Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2019

 

 

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Addendum:

In 2017, University of Iowa Press published a lost Whitman novel (its existence was unknown to scholars):  Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which was originally published by Whitman in 1852 under a pseudonym and was serialized in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch. Zachary Turpin, who wrote an introduction to the 2017 edition, made this remarkable discovery.

If one reads the novel, which is set in Manhattan at around the time of Whitman’s boyhood — i.e., the early nineteenth century —  one can readily perceive Whitman’s familiarity with the City, which provides a setting and backdrop for the events and gives the story verisimilitude.

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

 

 

The following is an exchange of emails I had within the past day with my friend Ewa from the Bronx. Her email from yesterday evening contained what I regard as very insightful comments.

 

 

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May 29, 2019

 

Dear Roger,

I appreciate all the pictures you send me. Sometimes I have no time to give them the right amount of attention, but when I do, I go over all of them carefully.

They are very nice and show different and sometimes surprising City views.

It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures, making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th). I sometimes get surprised by unusual framing like with the photo where the Statue of Liberty peaks from between the trunks, or fronds of greens in the park. Frozen crowds and some of the places that I have never been to make the pictures distant, but knowing the fact that I could experience them on my day off makes looking at them like at goods at the store that I could afford.

I don’t have time to walk around the city, but it gives me an insight into New York City’s architecture and landscapes and life of the city in general.

I admire the style and cropping. Once again, thank you, Roger.

 

 

 

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May 30, 2019

 

Thanks for your emails from last night, Ewa.

Thanks for complimenting my photos

I have never been good at hardly any technical, hands on skill. I never seemed to have any aptitude for photography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several people seem to like my photos a lot.

I have gotten a little bit adept at things like cropping and tweaking photos, but I am far from being a pro.

I appreciated your email because it showed an awareness of certain key things.

My photos are a sort of paean to Manhattan, my city. My feelings about it are similar to what Walt Whitman’s were.

Your comment “It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th)” is very much on target. I find that a photo of, say, Central Park or Fifth Avenue is enhanced by having people in it.

I have acquaintances who have much more expertise in photography than I do and who own expensive cameras. Often their photos do not engage me. A splendid photo of the Taj Mahal in the evening; a photo of whales taken from a whale watching expedition or of a moose in a national park often leave me sort of detached. I feel that if I wanted to see such photos, I could find them on an internet site for tourists or in National Geographic.

A further thought: A relative of mine, noticing that I not infrequently include photos of myself (on my City walks) in Facebook posts, posted a critical comment about this on Facebook a while ago. When I complained to the relative, the relative replied: “Don’t understand why you post a picture of yourself almost every day in the same pose.”

Well, my hero Walt Whitman loved to have his photo taken — he was fascinated by the new invention of photography — often in a photo studio on lower Broadway. Posting pictures of myself may be a form of self-flattery, but the intent is also to show myself as being part of the scene: that I was at such and such a spot in the City on a particular date and time. In different parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the steps of the New York Public Library, in front of some famous Manhattan building, and so on. I think it adds verisimilitude to a sort of photographic travelogue or diary of a City walker (me).

 

Roger

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 30, 2019

 

 

 

Central Park 2-47 p.m. 5-19-2019

Central Park, May 19, 2019; photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Walt Whitman (3)

Walt Whitman

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

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My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When First Avenue bars held Sunday afternoon poetry readings.

When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

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This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019

another Manhattan jaunt

 

 

“A City Walk-Just a list of all that is seen in a walk through the streets of Brooklyn and New York and crossing the Ferry.”

 

— Walt Whitman, idea for a poem (published in Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, Volume IV: Notes, edited by Edward F. Grier, New York University Press 1984, pg. 1292)

 

 

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On Friday, April 12, I walked from one end of Manhattan to the another — from bottom to top — and another five miles back downtown before getting tired and giving up.

The photos below were taken by me during different stages of my walk, beginning in Battery Park in the early morning, continuing to 218 Street at midday, and ending in the Columbia University neighborhood in the early evening.

I would like to make a few points about walking that have occurred to me from time to time, and which seemed to be confirmed by this long walk of between twenty and twenty-five miles.

 

 
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First, contrary to what one might expect, walking, counterintuitively, seems to decrease appetite. I had eaten very lightly the day before; I woke up hungry. I walked about three miles before having a light breakfast at around 8:30 a.m., two and a half hours after I had started.

At around five-thirty, I stopped to eat a late afternoon, early evening lunch/dinner. I felt very hungry. But I quickly got filled up and couldn’t finish.

Secondly, walking seems (as I have stated before) to be a perfect form of exercise which does not unduly tax the body while contributing to wellbeing. I have not walked as much as usual lately — this was true in the winter months. Yet, on Sunday, April 7, I walked something like fifteen or sixteen miles, and on April 12, as noted above, I walked another eight miles or so further than on my previous jaunt. I experienced little tiredness at different stages of my walk, did not need to warm up or feel the need to take breaks.

Without being an expert, I would be inclined to say that we are made for walking, evolutionarily speaking. For most of human existence, until recently, people were accustomed to walk constantly, and it is undoubtable that they walked on average a lot more than we do now.

Thirdly, I have noticed that, when I start walking frequently, my “brother body” (a term used by the sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, apparently adopting the phrase from words of St. Francis) seems to want more and more of the same. I will wake up a day or two later feeling, I want to do that again. Today!

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

 

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Battery Park 6-11 a.m. 4-12-2019

Battery Park, 6:11 a.m.

 

 

New York Harbor 6-39 a.m. 4-12-2019

New York Harbor viewed from Hudson River Park, 6:39 a.m.

 

 

 

Hudson River Park 8-12 a.m. 4-12-2019

Hudson River Park, 8:12 a.m.

 

 

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coffeehouse, Ninth Avenue and 44th Street, 8:51 a.m.

 

 

Broadway and 103rd St 10-55 a.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway and 103rd Street, 10:55 a.m.

 

 

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Broadway near 155th Street, 11:52 a.m.

 

 

 

Broadway near 195 St 12-48 p.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway near 195th Street, 12:48 p.m.

 

 

 

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Inwood Hill Park, 2:08 p.m.

 

 

 

 

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Inwood Hil Park, 2:23 p.m.

 

 

 

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218 Street (the last in Manhattan) and Broadway

 

 

 

 

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Broadway, Inwood, 3:15 p.m.

 

 

 

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See also my posts:

 

on walking (and exercise)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/02/26/on-walking-and-exercise-2/

 

Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/22/manhattan-island-from-bottom-to-top-walking-as-exercise/

a Sunday jaunt; Hudson Yards and the City

 

 

On Sunday, April 7, I walked from Battery Park in Manhattan to Dyckman Street (200th Street; the last Manhattan street is 218th Street). The walk took me all day. With zigzagging, I probably walked sixteen miles.

I walked uptown from Battery Park along the so-called Hudson River Park until I reached the 30’s, when I decided to take a look at the New Hudson Yards development. Hudson Yards has just opened. It was built over a railroad yard on the Far West Side.

 

 

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Hudson Yards has not been getting good press from architectural critics.
from The Washington Post:

“Architecture critics have been almost unanimous in their hatred of New York ’s new Hudson Yards development, a generic pop-up landscape of soulless glass towers and high-end retail built over the wasteland of midtown Manhattan’s west-side rail yard. Longtime New Yorkers, and transplants with taste, are inclined to agree: It’s as ugly as Dubai, it reeks of greed and mammon, and it only exacerbates the worst tendencies of a city that seems hellbent on erasing anything distinctive or humane in its built environment.”

— “The Shed is the only reason to go to Hudson Yards, New York’s most hated new development.”, By Philip Kennicott, Art and architecture critic, The Washington Post, April 3, 2019

from The New York Times:

The first massive tower emerged at the apex of the High Line, looming over it, a shingled, spiky, reflective blue-glass behemoth [The Vessel], shaped by eccentric cuts and angles, as if sheared by a giant Ginsu knife.

The largest mixed-use private real estate venture in American history. …, it is called Hudson Yards. … at jaw-dropping magnitudes you can’t begin to grasp until you are actually standing there, Hudson Yards has sprouted a seven-story, 720,000-square-foot shopping mall. There are also four more supertall skyscrapers as well as a $500 million city-sponsored arts center called the Shed.

… [The Vessel, a climbable 15-story sculpture which stands out as a defining architectural symbol/motif is] a 50-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel. …

For its advocates, the $25 billion development is a shining new city ex nihilo, a wellspring of future tax revenues and evidence of a miraculous, post-9/11 civic volte-face. …

It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.

A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid.

It offers 14 acres of public open space in return for privatizing the last precious undeveloped parcel of significant size in Manhattan. But the open space looks like it may end up being mostly a fancy drive-through drop-off for the shopping mall, a landscaped plaza overshadowed by office towers and, for the coming western yards, a scattering of high-rise apartment buildings around a lawn — in effect, a version of a 1950s towers-in-the-park housing complex, except designed by big-name architects. … the whole site lacks any semblance of human scale. With its focus on the buildings’ shiny envelopes, on the monotony of reflective blue glass and the sheen of polished wood, brass, leather, marble and stone, Hudson Yards glorifies a kind of surface spectacle — as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism. …

Over all, Hudson Yards epitomizes a skin-deep view of architecture as luxury branding. Each building exists to act like a logo for itself. The assortment suggests so many crowded perfume bottles vying for attention in a department store window display.

— “Hudson Yards Is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community: Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves?” By Michael Kimmelman, Architecture critic, The New York Times, March 14, 2019

Kimmelman goes on to say, perceptively:

The obvious precedent here is Rockefeller Center, completed during the 1930s, the last comparable development in Midtown Manhattan. … [It was] an object lesson in urban design and a landmark of modern art and architecture, a development ingeniously, democratically woven into the fabric of the street grid.”

At a glance, Rockefeller Center looks unified because of all the masonry construction and Art Deco details. But the real source of its coherence is its plan. … All the parts work in harmony to create a singular place inseparable from the rest of the city.” [Raymond] Hood [Rockefeller Center’s chief architect] grasped the difference between scale and size — how a site with multiple entrances needs to be orchestrated from many angles, how architecture without urban design is just sculpture, how true art enhances the dignity of a place, and how the success of a neighborhood and its retail businesses come down to what’s happening at street level.

Hudson Yards barely acknowledges any of these things.

 

 

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The sage observations of one Roger W. Smith (while walking on Sunday):

 

Hudson Yards deserves the criticisms it’s getting. From critics who know a lot more about architecture and cityscapes than I ever will.

Its stores are for rich people and tourists. The new concert hall/arts venue (The Shed) does not look appealing or inviting.

But the place is thronged (was thronged when I went there on Sunday).

With ordinary people. Congregating, milling about. Mingling. Gawking.

Sitting on benches on a spring day.

Because it’s a place to go. In what was a storage yard for railroad cars. The number 7 subway line has been extended to go there. A new urban space has been created ex nihilo.

People like to be in the midst of other people. People hate isolation, hate to be cooped up. (Pity the poor, inhumanely and cruelly treated inmates in our prisons.) This is very true of New Yorkers.

NYC invites its apartment dwellers OUTDOORS. On a beautiful early spring day in April. Streets and thoroughfares for walkers and bicyclists everywhere. People out on Sunday. Congregating in parks seemingly everywhere. Walkers predominating and defining the streetscape (on a lazy non-business day), like you see nowhere else in America.

Many interesting looking people. Snatches of conservation overheard. Attractive young women. Attractive young couples. People sunbathing themselves on the grass. People in crowded bars and cafes, jammed with customers.

Young ladies walking dogs. Parents with kids. A father free from work for the day taking his son or daughter for a walk, presumably heading to the park, or in the park. Mothers with strollers. Kids frolicking and kicking a soccer ball in the park, with the utter abandonment characteristic of kids at a play.

New York is wonderful.

Rockefeller Center is accessible in a way that Hudson Yards isn’t. Michael Kimmelman makes an excellent point. But Hudson Yards is another place to go. New York keeps changing, sometimes not for the better, but it’s hard to destroy its vitality and appeal to common humanity, despite cement and steel.

 

– Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

 
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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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The Vessel, Hudson Yards; an ugly, monolithic “artwork”

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

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Hudson Yards, April 7, 2019

 

 

park at West and West 11th Streets 12-53 p.m. 4-7-2019

Hudson River Park at West and West Eleventh Streets, April 7, 2019

 

 

Rockefeller Center 4-01 p.m.-9-26-2017

Rockefeller Center on a weekday afternoon; September 26, 2017