Pedestrian Walkways of New York

My delighted obsession with the pedestrian walkways of New York actually got its start far away from the Big Apple.

When I lived in Turkey’s big city, Istanbul, a sore point was the constant encroachment of construction onto places where I had to walk. Construction sites would spill over onto the sidewalk, sparks flying, pushing me into the street to squeeze anxiously alongside the hot, greasy, unpredictable tide of cars and taxis and motorbikes.

Each time this happened, it was a small reminder that—although the point of a city is human habitation—this city, this place, was in some ways not made for or meant for people. The needs and feelings of actual human inhabitants was not the point here; we were just an inconvenient annoyance hindering other purposes.

This is why I am so fixated on the pedestrian walkways of New York. In as dense and valuable place as Manhattan, there is also a constant rhythm of deconstruction, construction, development. But here, when the construction overflows onto sidewalks, they build elaborate tunnels of wood planking, fencing, and other barriers that protect pedestrians from both onslaughts of construction and cars. These “pedestrian walkways” are scrupulously labeled and marked with arrows guiding you along the designated path, scooping you into their dark forest-green plywood corridors and depositing you safely on the other side.

Some of the walkways are so thoroughly encompassing, insulated, winding, and mysterious that I like to imagine I will walk in and come out somewhere else, like Narnia or Middle Earth.

It is a nice fantasy because, even if you do not end up in another world, you’re not too disappointed: on the other side, you’re still in New York City, a kind of magical place that does its best to hold a genuine regard for the people who live here.

Light in New York City

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One of the first things I noticed after moving to New York was the light. Light is, typically, an amorphous and shapeless phenomenon. It might bathe you in its glow, cast long blurry shadows, blind you with its glare, or scorch you with its heat–but nevertheless it generally maintains a formless, fuzzy quality. In New York City, there is no such fuzziness: here, the light travels through a linear forest of skyscrapers getting progressively more bisected into sharp angles, rectangles, polygons, and shapes of all sorts which are cast in sharp relief onto the structure walls. Alternatively, the light from the setting sun may strike a series of windows, which in turn reflect the light back onto a building across the street, ad infinitum, casting a melange of jewel-like projections onto the structure walls around you.

I love these architectural-atmospheric interactions because they enliven even the most blase of buildings, turning them into scintillating canvases or real-life abstract palettes like something out of “The Dot and the Line.” In such an ironic and acerbic city, it’s a sincere little joy that I can latch onto in the late afternoons.

New York Buildings

Photo walk: abandoned house edition

After dropping books off at the public library last week, I thought I would take a walk down to Dumbarton Oaks, an extremely picturesque area of Georgetown with a lovely park, and take a swing on the swingset. However, a golden-glowing, gingko-leave-strewn sidestreet drew me in. After admiring the leaves I turned down an alley, where I was surprised to find…

…a completely vacant lot with an abandoned two-story brick house, a weedy backyard, and a collapsing garage. A surprising sight in the heart of rich, high-end Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Dilapidated, mossy, viney, garbage-strewn, dropping gutters, windows falling in, overturned potted plants, rusted metal junk, plastic bags, cans, and a discarded Christmas tree–I was intrigued.

The adjoining garage attracted my attention. When I peeked through a hole in its decaying wooden door, I was surprised to find…

… something staring back at me!

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Photo walks: Meditate and create

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
–Robert Louis Stevenson, “Happy Thought” (From A Child’s Garden of Verses)

Photo walks are when I pick up my camera, take a walk to some familiar place, and go looking for photos. I have done it for years now–my first photo-walk photos were taken on a camera that stored the pics on floppy disks. The photos I take on these walks have never been spectacular, just glimpses of ordinary things that seem extraordinary at the time, such as a crane resting on the river, or the reflection of leaves on a windowpane…

A childish imp with rusty fingers….

A lavender and green ladder of flowers to the sky…

The shape and rhythm of raindrops sprinkling the canal…

The dancing speckled emerald glow of sunlight filtering through wind-kissed leaves…

Balloons mimicking the sky and puffy white clouds…

And lots of other little, ordinary things.

Photos are not the purposes of a photo walk but a mean to the ends of reconnecting with my past, getting in touch with my environment, rekindling my creative juices, and meditating. The camera is just an excuse to reflect on my environment and exercise my creative eye.

The best part is that during and after one of these walks, my mind feels extraordinarily clear, calm, and peaceful. I highly recommend you create your own ritual that helps you meditate and create.

All photos by: Me

Walking


I wish to speak a good word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil–to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce, or arbor vitae in our tea.

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no passing life in remembering the past.

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Freedom

We should set forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.

–Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Sometimes I think the ultimate freedom would be the ability to go far away without worrying whether or not I would or could ever come back.

Photos from Tumblr