Thursday, September 4, 2008

New York

Well, we are back home, and the weather is just as it was before we left – rainy and dull, and I am happy to entertain myself with memories of New York. The weather was perfect there: sunny but not too hot, if cool then it was not cold, the sun was all over the sky most of the time and being outside was pleasurable without limits.

My first intention was to write: I love New York.
But my second thought is: I love Manhattan.

We’ve seen a glimpse of Brooklyn and Staten Island – it was not very appealing. Brooklyn was like an endless penitentiary with all those dull brick buildings without a trace of architectural imagination. An occasional beach or a park does not change the rule: it looks depressing. The Staten Island was even more depressing despite being suburbia, because of the neglect and poor maintenance visible all over the place. The amount of closed businesses, deserted shopping centres, littered streets and parks – all together it was a sad picture. Even if there was an occasional new residential development here and there (and some of them did not look cheap at all) but the uniformity of those developments (hundreds or even thousands of identical buildings are doomed to look depressing) and the neglect outside the fence of that development made an unfavourable impression. I would not want to live in a dump like this even if I personally lived in a palace. By the way, there were some very nice houses there, some reasonably old, and interesting, but an overall impression was negative.

Manhattan was the biggest surprise of all. It has an uncountable number of skyscrapers, nonetheless, it is not a concrete jungle like Hong Kong, where all interesting things are hidden inside and there is really nothing to do outside the building. Manhattan has its charm, it has plenty of sun, it is a pleasure to walk on the street and many things happen on the street while you are walking. There is a nice human touch to it. I loved being there.

It happened to be a very safe place. At no point we felt uncomfortable or threatened. We never observed anything remotely criminal.
It happened to be quite a green place. Despite skyscrapers they managed to keep quite a few gardens around there and many streets are quite green. Maybe to somebody on the 40th floor the number of trees downstairs is irrelevant, but for those who walk on the street it is a pleasure.

There were some things which did not appeal to me. Even more: I don’t understand why they happen, or how the government allows certain things to happen.

One of the incomprehensible things is a very poor level of maintenance of public property. There are parks, and they are planned generously, and they are used a lot by the residents, but why don’t they look pretty? There are no nice pedestrian ways with occasional mosaics, lovely designs, a sculpture or a gazebo here and there, a BBQ place? Why gravel is not topped up so the road looks like an abandon provincial driveway? Why it is not sealed as most roads are? Why the grass is not mowed? Why there are no litter boxes along the way?

Oh, the litter boxes! I missed them in America. It is so difficult to find one in some places. I was constantly carrying some litter with me, because there were no ways to dispose it. It explains an abnormal amount of litter nearly everywhere. I understand that there is an objective difficulty in removing tons of litter from Manhattan streets, but I don’t understand why they did not solve the problem yet (where is famous American ingenuity?). And why not to put a few hundred extra litter boxes along the streets?

New York subway was, probably, the brightest example of this problem. It is a great subway: works well (as well as Moscow metro - believe it or not!). It is safe, cheap!!! (US$25 per week – no zone divisions as they do it in Sydney- one ticket for the whole metropolitan area!) and it is reliable.
Why was it planned to be so small, crowded and hot? Why it is not maintained? It is clean, I have to say, but it is not painted, it is not decorated, it is not degreased, rust is not removed, it is patched up like an old boot… it looks really neglected. It would be highly unfair to compare New York subway with Moscow Metro, but it does not match even our very casual Sydney Metropolitan service. How can it be? New York supposes to be so much richer than Sydney!

Apart from these very brief observations of neglect of public property, I had an impression that New York is a lovely city, New Yorkers are good people, and I would not mind to live in a city like this, definitely during summer months.

I am sure, as a tourist I had quite superficial impressions. There were some visual impressions which stroke me as nearly surreal. For example, American schools – they look like penitentiaries: bob-wired, with barred windows… even a preschool looked this way!
There were quite a few homeless beggars on the streets (less than I expected).

There are problems in the country where children and teachers spent a lot of time in a prison. There are problems if so many people end up on the street…
I have not dealt with those problems, I personally was not affected by them – and maybe, it is to the best. I prefer to think of New York and America as a place I like…

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