City Aesthetics: New York

My window looks onto a grey stuccoed plane rising until out of sight, punctuated by windows with air conditioning units. I can’t see the sun. The sun, when I’m on the street, if often curtained off by the buildings rising on either side of me. Grey is prominent in the city, mostly because of the grime and asphalt. Light comes down in shafts, as if even the sun had been mastered by the skyscrapers.

Apartments with exposed brick walls are cool because they have the unfinished look of factories. Lofts, the epitome of cool, are bare, industrial spaces. The Domino sugar factory, whose eponymous sign has lighted the way across the Williamsburg bridge for decades, is being transformed into luxury condos.

My colleague was showing me pictures of my street from 1910, and the view of the Manhattan bridge hasn’t changed all that much. Neither had the exteriors of the buildings, or, in the case of my building, the interior. But the gaps have all been filled in, and streets paved, highways built, and horses replaced with cabs. And people, more people, everywhere.

Divided by tall buildings, you keep your gaze on street level, where you find people and cars coming at you from all angles. You pick your way around litter. Food cart smells, advertisements and lights everywhere, and general hustles as city-dwellers attempt to get where they’re going with the least amount of fuss. A walk in midtown during rush hour is a journey. And visitors wonder why New Yorkers look mean: they have to focus. Even on quieter streets of brownstones, you know you are in a city by the honking an avenue away and the hobo on the corner.

Sometimes my sense are overwhelmed and my heart starts beating faster and I realize that I hate Manhattan.

But other times, like last night when I was biking over to the New Museum, it seemed like I was the king of the playground, and I felt empowered by the lights of the Empire State building rising ahead, and the cars at my side, and the people crossing the street. Those people and I were all the living parts of Manhattan who make our lives here. Instead of feeling acutely aware of my sense, I subsumed the city into my consciousness and become one with it.

The great thing about making your life in this complex and huge hive of activity is that there’s always a new corner to turn down, a street you’ve somehow never noticed, and the same goes for the people, so many of whom you’ll never meet, and the possible experiences, so many of which you’ll never have. But you could. Manhattan is a world of visible possibilities.

Everything you’ve always dreamed of, from glamorous dining to gorgeous apartments to some gorgeous other person, is here on the streets of Manhattan. Shop windows twinkle with more than you ever dreamed of having. Ambition and the city go hand in hand. The best of the best flock here. And then you’re here too. You look at the streets, and find a direct challenge to succeed.

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