The dark side of New York

Today, shaken out of sweet morning sleep by the sound of heavy construction in the apartment upstairs, I started pondering New York, this city of constant change, a place of overwhelming noise, an urban giant ever in flux. And what better portrays it than the sight of industrial wasteland that surrounds us everywhere we go in this metro-monster.

On some days, I almost love the derelict buildings, factories falling apart, the nooks and crannies of this concrete jungle. One of my favorite areas to wander is Red Hook, the underbelly of south Brooklyn recently revitalized with an influx of artists who moved into the dock buildings and warehouses along the waterfront. Controversially, IKEA opened in the area in 2008, replacing historic townhouses and a dry dock that was still in use. Despite these changes, Red Hook still possesses the gritty industrial vibe I have a penchant for. It’s also home to one of the first bars I went to in New York, the legendary Sunny’s (253 Conover St), which back then only opened its doors on Friday nights and drinks were served on the honor basis.

I love to stroll around the Gowanus Canal near my place in Brooklyn, a heavily polluted stretch of water that was once busy with cargo ships and these days aches for a serious clean-up. The environmental initiative started a few years back and change is already felt – the canal certainly doesn’t have as toxic of a smell as it had when I moved to Brooklyn in 1999. Like in Red Hook, many of the area’s warehouses have been turned into artist studios which you can visit on the last weekend of every October, as part of Gowanus Artists Studio Tour. Also check out Issue Project Room, a fantastic performance space at the Old American Can Factory.

These areas are all casualties of New York’s industrial evolution. I can hate them on those eco-conscious, back-to-basics days but there’s no denying – they will always be a part of New York’s scenery. Instead of hating, I’ve developed a love relationship with the “dark side of New York”. As I write this, the sound of drilling and floor lifting from the apartment upstairs is almost unbearable. Through my windows, I can see a new condo building that was being constructed to my chagrin for about four years right outside my living room, where there was once a beautiful patch of sky. But it’s New York City we’re talking. Nothing stays the same here, everything falls apart, no attachments advised. Take it or leave it. I guess I’m still taking it, ten years later, tuning out the noise and dust, and learning to love this urban wasteland. Or at least learning to live with it.

Blog Comments

I’m hoping to get to NY (for my first visit) for a couple of days in the summer; I’ll have to make sure I get beyond the tourist spots to see some of the ‘real’ things like you describe…

new york manages to to have something for everything. Depending on how you want to look at the place, there is beauty, and there is a “terrible” factor to it all.

Very interesting. I like it. New York and the article (I know, the comment could have been a bit more intellectually challenging and maybe in some other life I might reach that level, but for now I found it touching and for some strange reason emotionally identified with it).

If you can, Rachel, definitely do get beyond the mainstream tourist track in New York. You’ll find that it’s truly worth it.

Yes, New York is surely on the bipolar side, which is probably why I love it.

Hoji, glad to hear you found the post interesting and touching.

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