Walking Off New York in 2012: The Watery Shores and a Search for Higher Ground

I suppose we do have a tendency in New York City to look at things high up - the lights on top of the Empire State Building; the staircase to the High Line; the red-tailed hawks raising families in lofty windowsills; the escalators leading us out of the subways or to a higher floor in department stores; the rising floors of One World Trade Center; a high full moon perched over the city; the great Wonder Wheel on Coney Island; the flybys of airplanes, helicopters, and a space shuttle; the splashy painted sunsets over the Hudson River; the prewar penthouses of our fantasies; the ball at the top of Times Square. We dream from tall buildings of dreamy people across town in the skyline.

January 9, 2012 Snowfall Central Park


So, in retrospect, I suppose we should not have been so surprised this year, having been accustomed to looking up as much as we do, to look down and find the waters rising over our feet. But on one level, it's always been this way in the New York archipelago. The city was born of the islands and of the harbor and the ocean, and after New Yorkers raised oysters and launched whaling vessels and thousands of merchant ships, we sent out boats and ferries to bring more people to build and sell the city and to play with us. We probably contributed unduly in our constructive energies and overuse of resources to make the waters rise. And the waters continue to rise, and we don't know how much time we have left. We learned that this year.

June 3 Coney Island
June 3 Coney Island

Just a few decades ago, we lived among the darkly beautiful and naked city of urban canyons. While the longshoremen loaded supplies on the wharves and the Dead End Kids played roughhouse on the craggy shores of the East River, financiers and mad men and sensational artists poured cocktails and made witty remarks in the smoky lounges of Midtown. We didn’t think about the shoreline too much then. It was always night in the city - film noir, Weegee's flashbulb crime photos, jazz clubs, Batman's cave, Gotham, Truman Capote's parties. (Please, God, let there always be jazz clubs.)


October 30 Hurricane Sandy, lights out in Lower Manhattan
October 30 After Hurricane Sandy hit, Lower Manhattan lost power for many days.
View from Washington Square Park.
Welcome to Gotham.

Now, it is day, and we're either jogging fast along the brightly lit shoreline or strolling along the High Line. These days, no one murders one another that much anymore (the city's homicide rate is down again),* but all the same, the city of surveillance knows where you are.* The air in the metropolis is mostly clear, and on shimmering days of light winds, we can see faraway to see the giant cruise ships entering New York Harbor. We remembered the Titanic this year. Let's hope that the air stays clear enough for us to collectively take action on climate change.

June 17 The Rockaways
June 17 Rockaway Beach

The new city of light, just like the older city of dark spaces, still manages to pull off the spectacular seasonal celebration. New York City seems to own spring, summer, fall, and winter. We can turn Easter into a parade, the 4th of July into the most amazing fireworks, the first days of fall into a spectacular art season, and the holidays into the intoxicating stuff of movies. We are really good at this New Year's Eve thing, celebrating the aforementioned legacy of owning the night.

April 5 Central Park
April 5 Central Park

Whether looking up at the moon over the East River or down at the surging tide lapping over the shore, whether on a bright day in the park or at night in Times Square, it’s easy to see a city of incomparable, if questionably sustainable, beauty.

June 27 Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
June 27 Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Happy New Year, everyone. I wish you calm seas.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from 2012. A slideshow of 2012 highlights - somewhat extravagant on my part with 60 pictures, and I apologize - may be found on Flickr WOTBA.

Footnotes:
* "414 Homicides in ’12 Is a Record Low for New York City," The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2012.
* "Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy," The Guardian. Dec. 29, 2012.

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