Walking Broadway

I’ve always had this conception about Manhattan that an important part of it’s dynamism, arises from basic design characteristics. On the most basic level, this comes down to, the compression of being an island, balanced by the big hole in the middle (Central Park). But moving one level closer, the most interesting characteristic to me is that the grid that forms most of the island is sliced diagonally on it’s long axis by the avenue known as Broadway. The places where the diagonal crosses other North – South avenues become complex intersections with a park (Washington Square) or a high concentration of activity (Times Square). Also given that the rough history of the city begins on the southern tip of the island and moves north, Broadway traces time as well as space.

I’ve always had this idea about making this observation experiential by walking the entire length of Manhattan island along Broadway. From Battery Park to the Harlem river. So yesterday, I did it.

It took five hours to cover the thirteen miles, with occasional stops. I stayed on the East side of Broadway the whole way.

I know that one of the reasons why I did this now is that I was just in Boulder Co. for five weeks and I did a lot of hiking there. The primary feature that I was hiking on and around in the Front Range of the Rockies outside of Boulder was the three big rock cathedrals known as “The Flatirons.” It didn’t hit me till I was right there, but at one point yesterday I looked up and started laughing. I was looking at the Flatiron Building.

Comparing hiking in Manhatten to hiking in the Front Range, one notes a sharp up tick in the number of restaurants and other commercial establishments. Not to mention people. For a good part of the walk, I was basically walking through a crowd. But the amazing thing is how in five hours I walked through a countless number of micro-cultures. It was like taking a core sample of, not just New York, but America. And if the universal is in the specific then it was like looking at the tree-rings of humanity. Something important in the patterns, revealing a different view of the universe itself. These are the things that pass through the mind.

One observation, that stunned me, was how obviously Manhattan is bisected on it’s short axis as well as it’s long. Manhattan below 120th street and Manhattan above it are TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS! I’ve always known this, but it was so clearly and unambiguously palpable. There is a good deal of variety of experience between Wall St, and Morningside Heights, but none of it is as drastic as the shift when you hit Harlem.

I want to try to go the other direction some time (and walk the West side of the street), but five hours pounding concrete has left me feeling like someone has been working me over with a ball-peen hammer.

I need some time to recover.

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3 Responses to “Walking Broadway”

  1. matthew chapman says:

    I’d love to make the southern trek with you in august if you want to wait that long (or just make it again). Reading this makes me wonder what makes Chicago Chicago. Obviously economics and demographics but what’s that other stuff, the stuff you kind of only really sense, the stuff that comes from walking it. Maybe that’s how i’ll spend my day off tomorrow. Pick a street and start paying attention.

    It was really good (and surprising) to see you.

  2. lauren flanigan says:

    Flat Iron Range Rock Mountains – central point of Allen Ginsberg poem Plutonian Ode. Beauty amongst nuclear waste and radioactive material. Central theme of Philip Glass symphony for this diva. Ultimately ode of grace to Walt Whitman. Glad you were there to appreciate what we could have lost if it weren’t for an outspoken, gentle giant who sat on the railroad tracks and singularly halted the shipment of Plutonian waste to the reservations and ranges of Colorado. Seems we are all the better fort those gentle giants in our midst!! xoxox :)

  3. [...] posting about it because, aside from it being both brilliant and beautiful, it relates to my Walking Broadway project of a while back. It gets at something about the large scale patterning of New York, that [...]

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