New York City

Urban Alchemy: Starlight Park and the Nature of the Central Bronx

Starlight Park

"Bucolic" usually isn't the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the Bronx. Sure, those of us who know the borough well can easily summon to mind verdant images, but those are usually limited to specific locations, such as the tony neighborhood of Riverdale, or the massive Van Cortlandt or Pelham Bay Parks. The central Bronx, in contrast, would seem to most to be the exact opposite. Like most people's image of the borough as a whole, the central Bronx is incredibly and indelibly urban. And yet it is here, amongst a seemingly endless sea of highways, elevated trains, and densely-packed, slightly-worse-for-wear apartment buildings, that one can find one of the most serenely beautiful new spots in the entire city: Starlight Park.

Of course, Starlight Park isn't actually all that new: the first section of the rehabbed rounds opened a full ten years ago, in 2013. The park, however, is still just as astonishing now as it was the day it opened, a stunning oasis smack dab in the middle of somewhere that rarely sees such dramatic investments in the public realm. And yet, for all its grandeur, the existing Starlight Park was only ever supposed to be the first phase of a larger project, one which would wind up ultimately taking the better part of a decade to come to fruition. Just recently, however, in May of 2023, Starlight Park was finally completed, opening a new extension to the far shore of the Bronx River. This not only added new acreage and amenities, but worked to connect the park to more neighborhoods in more ways, most dramatically by helping to fashion a new, multipurpose green corridor through the heart of the urban Bronx. As anyone who works with cities will tell you, urban transformation can be a tricky thing to do right. Starlight Park and its new extension, however, demonstrate just what can be accomplished when cities invest in their public realm, especially in the neighborhoods—and for the people—that need it the most.

Silent and Surreal: Inside the Old Croton Aqueduct

Critical—and admittedly romantic—urban impressions of the Old Croton Aqueduct, present and past, outside and in.
One of the most important pieces of infrastructure in New York's history, the famous channel now exists as a strange, glorious ruin, nearly hidden in plain sight. Travel inside, and you submerge into a landscape that is at once alien and oddly human—urban history writ on a monumental scale.

More than thirty miles north of Midtown Manhattan, deep in New York State's Westchester County, the Sing Sing Kill cuts a jagged, rocky ravine into the steep, riverine countryside. A small creek, it winds its way through the equally small town of Ossining, its waters carving out a succession of scenic vistas as they make their way down to the Hudson River. Its name alone is arresting. A dramatic juxtaposition, it combines the anglicized name of a Native American tribe—before it was appropriated, this land belonged to the Sintsink, part of the larger Algonquin-speaking Wappinger—with kill, an old Dutch word for creek. What has truly made the name infamous, however, is the metonymic prison which still stands near the stream's mouth. Indeed, by the turn of the Twentieth Century, the idiom "to be sent up the river"—that is, to be sentenced to Sing Sing Prison—had become so ubiquitous that the village itself decided to change its name to Ossining, just to avoid the association.

Unusual nomenclature, however, is only a part of what makes the small waterway worthy of note. A larger piece comes in the form of the towering, wall-like monolith which just so happens to intersect its course right in the middle of town. Built of well-weathered stone, the structure bursts from the ravine's rocky walls and soars across the creek's valley with an unmistakable human straightness. But while the crossing is clearly a product of engineering skill, its rough-hewn stone walls and rugged, aged demeanor also grant it an air of natural permanence, as if it has stood here since time immemorial. The grand viaduct bridges the kill itself by way of an impressive masonry arch—a spot known to locals as the Double Arch, thanks to the later stone arch bridge built underneath the original, larger one. By any measure, it is an impressive sight.

Left: The Double Arch as seen in a 1907 postcard. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Right:The arches today, seen from above and behind.

What truly makes this spot unique, however, is what that monolith contains. As you may have already surmised from the title of this piece, the crossing carries within its walls the former channel of the Old Croton Aqueduct, one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in New York City's history. More than that, however, this viaduct also offers the only place that a visitor can actually set foot inside this remarkable (and remarkably intact) structure. For anyone with even the slightest inkling of romanticism for either urban infrastructure or urban history, the trip is a surreal and affecting experience, one well worthy of the journey upstate.

Insta(Photo)Blog: Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint, Brooklyn is—location to the contrary—well named, indeed.

One of the great pieces of whimsy (not to mention of psychological interest) that an urban environment can give a denizen is a stunning, unexpected view.

I may not be a huge fan of 432 Park Ave (the huge tower in the far distance), but I'll be damned if it isn't impressive—it makes the Citicorp Center in front of it look tiny—and this is doubly true when lined up with a traditional urban Brooklyn street. There is also something to be said here about the stunning contrast here: between low-rise north Brooklyn—the city of Churches—and the grand towers in the distance. When it lines up, it is something special, indeed.

Apropos of nothing, this picture was a challenge to develop right: so much light and dark! But I think it came out well!

Enjoy!

Based on an Instagram post.
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Insta(Photo)Blog: Brooklyn

Brooklyn.


The City of Churches.
A Working Port.
Part of New York.

And gorgeous, even in the rain.

All in one shot, how could I resist?

Based on an Instagram post.
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InstaBlog: Borough Park 2

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

The long-delayed second part of my walk exploring the urbanism of Brooklyn's Borough Park (see the first part here!).

Mostly, here you see more images of the small, independent clothing & other retail shops, primarily Jewish, that define so much of the neighborhood—including some decidedly unique ones. Tucked in amongst them is the Thirteenth Avenue Retail Market. Built during by the administration of Fiorello LaGuardia in the late 1930s, it was part of his effort to "modernize" the city (read: making the streets less "chaotic" and more available for cars). Similar markets were built all over the city to get small, pushcart vendors off the streets.

You can also seem some of the relatively unique urban scenery created by a New York elevated train. It is dramatic, even if the streets below are loud and shrouded in perpetual darkness. You may may remember New Utrecht Avenue here from 1971's The French Connection, where Popeye Doyle raced an el train in a car below.

But although the el can make the city look as gritty as it did in the 70s, it's important not to make the classic mistake: just because a neighborhood is poor, gritty, or less-maintained does not mean it isn't a thriving urban center. While there is always a lot to improve, these streets are a thriving social, cultural, and economic resource for a decidedly unique community. And for that, they are amazing.

Based on an Instagram post.
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InstaBlog: Boro Park

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Last month, I took a trip out to central Brooklyn to explore the urbanism of Boro Park, a neighborhood primarily centered along 13th & New Utrecht Avenues.

InstaBlog: Hunter's Point Park South

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

As the weather has been getting nicer, and the days longer, I've finally been finding time to get out and explore more, and last week, I finally got to Hunter's Point Park South, in Long Island City, Queens.

Part of the ongoing redevelopment of Long Island City's formerly industrial waterfront, the beautiful northern part of the park had opened in 2013, bringing with it a spate of new luxury apartment buildings and a ferry service to serve them. The southern extension, nearer to the Midtown Tunnel entrance and further from the existing residential neighborhood, opened last year.

Insta(Photo)Blog: Harlem is Changing

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Harlem is changing.

I rarely post just single photos, but this juxtaposition of old and new Harlem couldn't be better. The classic community insititution of one community—the barbershop—sits right next door to the social institution of another, the relatively new Harlelm Coffee Co coffeeshop.

See more Blog or Social Media posts. Based on an Instagram post.

InstaBlog: A Humble Rock

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Seen while walking on New York's Lower East Side: a rock.

All too often, we can get lost in the complexities of urbanism: inequality, over- (and under-) investment, aging infrastructure, the climate, the complex interplay of urban design and human behavior, the list goes on and on and on.

InstaBlog: "The Apartments"

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

These buildings, metonymically known as "The Apartments," are locally infamous to New York drivers. Located above the Trans Manhattan Expressway (I-95) on the approach to the George Washington Bridge, they are a perfect visual marker to mark the pace of the interminable traffic to and from New Jersey.

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