The Olana Historic Site, home to Hudson Valley School painter Frederic Church, just published my article about why this landscape matters so much in the American story. As readers of this blog know, I mostly write about urban landscapes here, primarily the High Line. But 120 miles north, just up the Hudson River, is another beloved landscape, one that has been a second home to me for many decades. This is the link to my article on Olana’s website, where you’ll also find — here — the addictive and marvelous “SkyCam,” a live-streaming camera placed on a stanchion outside Church’s studio by the folks who manage this glorious place.
The Skycam offers a 24/7/365 view of a particular “bend in the river” that was important to Church and also played a key and unprecedented role in the fight to stop a nuclear power plant that would have been built in Olana’s viewshed. I became somewhat obsessed with the SkyCam during the pandemic, and collected more than 400 screenshots that show the same, fixed, view in different light, times of day, seasons, and weather conditions. During those days the camera captured the essence of those first months of lockdown: the fact that we were fixed in place but everything was constantly changing around us. Olana graciously gave me permission to share some of them here. I’ve assembled them in collages to make it easy to see the dramatic shifts that occur as time goes by.
There’s been a ton of talk lately about “New York Strong,” triumphant words from urban bipeds who are more than ready to move on from the latest crisis. Members of our species talk a lot about themselves — all day long on social media and TV, in op-ed articles and opinion pieces, books, magazine articles, or just the old-fashioned soap box on the nearest street corner. We always talk about how strong we are, how resilient, how innovative.
Walking around my neighborhood in West Chelsea I’ve been observing another form of resilience that’s much quieter, humbler, and so much more powerful. Take a look at this tree….
In a landscape so dominated by verticals and horizontals, the arched steel entryway to Pier 54 (at the foot of 13th Street) stands out along the Hudson River and makes a handsome contrast. Perhaps no other pier in America has so much history attached to it. Completed in 1910, it was designed by Warren & Wetmore, the architectural firm that co-designed Grand Central Terminal; two years later the Cunard ship Carpathia docked here to discharge survivors of the RMS Titanic, which had been heading for Pier 59, today the golfing range of the Chelsea Piers fitness club. In January 2012 I was thrilled to witness the Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard line sailing by the remnants of this once grand pier.
The thing that most surprised me on my first visit to “Little Island,” Manhattan’s newest flashy park, was how much I wished I were somewhere else.
It’s not that I wasn’t brimming with anticipation about the opening of this place. I had been watching and photographing the development of this riverine park for years; studied designs that were published online; followed the legal controversy as it unfolded, like a metropolitan opera, in the pages of newspapers and websites. Little Island is a strikingly unusual outdoor space, one that rises improbably “atop a bouquet of tulip-shaped columns,” as Michael Kimmelman so perfectly described it in the Times. Its undulating pathways open up views no New Yorker has ever seen before, and along the way they treat us to a quite stunning mix of materials, colors, and shapes. It’s the experience of juxtaposed elements — hard & soft, high & low, bright & monochrome, historical & contemporary, intimate & expansive, industrial & high-tech — that you expect to encounter in a great art museum.
But as I walked, climbed and gazed around me, both at the people and the landscape, the same thought that has been dogging me since I first heard about Barry Diller’s fantasy island came back to haunt me. Stunning, original, improbable, innovative as it is — and Diller Island is all those things — how extraordinary it would be — how breathtaking and awesome and inspiring — if it were in the South Bronx, or some other part of New York City that’s underserved by world-class parks. And how stunning it would have been if such a park had opened in this of all years, after the ravages of a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement made it impossible to un-see the many inequities that are stitched through the landscape of our city.
For those of you wondering what the High Line looks like these days during the extended Coronavirus lockdown, well, it looks like all the rest of us: disheveled, unruly, a bit wild, and gorgeous as ever.
The High Line grows a beard
Long ago and far away, I posted a photo of the High Line’s first haircut: it was May 2, 2011, and felt like a truly monumental event. I opened that post with a quotation from Michael Pollan’s wonderful book Second Nature: “If lawn mowing feels like copying the same sentence over and over, gardening is like writing out new ones, an infinitely variable process of invention and discovery.” At the time I was a bit disparaging about the High Line’s lawn and its commonplace, orderly, presence in this otherwise miraculous garden of diversity and even, occasionally, wildness.
Well, here we are, nine years later, with a field of green in the middle of Manhattan, wild grass blowing in the wind, telling a new story blade by blade, sentence by sentence, of the strange time during the spring of 2020, when the High Line was abandoned once again.
It’s just another chapter in the long, improbable, inspiring story of this unusual place.
Clement Clarke Moore Park, named in honor of the West Chelsea pioneer whose massive estate once stood on this ground, re-opened yesterday afternoon after a thoughtful and much-needed $1.5 million renovation. It’s not common these days to love politicians, but hearts were beating on 22nd Street when our much-loved Council Member and Speaker, Corey Johnson, joined the NYC Parks Commissioner, Mitchell Silver, NY State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and a team of hard-working staffers and community members to cut a green ribbon and officially declare the park re-opened.
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Today the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens “Monumental Journey,” a show featuring the work of the most famous photographer you never heard of, Frenchman Girault de Prangey. In the 1840s Girault traveled throughout the Eastern Mediterranean with over 100 pounds […]