Sorry, I’m a bit behind, but I’m now at home, at my desk and writing furiously to catch up on all the things we have seen and learned on the last leg of our mammoth trip across the USA.
Our last official day is in New York, and to say I am feeling tired would be something of an understatement. If I was sitting at home with a few days in New York ahead of me, I would be so excited I’d be jumping around like a loon. When you have done six straight 18 hour days ad averaged four to five hours sleep a night, it seems more like hard work.
So, choose your attitude. Look at New York and all its attractions with an open mind. There’s almost too much here to see, but there was one that we all agreed was a real winner and that’s the Highline Project. This is a regeneration project that we could directly learn from and bring to Nottingham. More of that shortly.
I’ll talk you through the day as to how it panned out ad show you some of the sights I saw along the way. In New York alone, I took over 250 shots, so I can only hope to get a brief flavour of the scale and excitement of the city. Oh, and by the way, it does sleep. On our way back from Top of the Rocks yesterday, we tried about three bars to get a drink at around 12ish and they were all closing, so we gave up and went back to the hotel which hasn’t got a bar in it either.
Another early start saw us walking toward Ground Zero. I wanted to see this, not out of some morbid curiosity, but to understand the scale of the redevelopment and see what they had done with the signage and information around the site, in order to be able to compare it with how we convey information to the public during development and building works.
First stop was to admire in original Chopper parked up in the heart of SoHo (South Houston), near the hotel. It was lovely to see a bit of seventies Nottingham, alive and well in the heart of New York’s vibrant centre.
We then stopped of at a really grungy looking bar for breakfast called the Cupping Room cafe, which comes highly recommended from friends and having eaten there, it again proves (as did John’s Pizzeria) that in New York at least, appearance can be very deceptive. The food was absolutely gorgeous.
I had the oddest breakfast ever of a Mexican Omelette, which came filled with Sour Cream, Tomato Salsa, red pepper, sliced bacon and loads of Chilli spiciness. It also came with the best cup of coffee I have had so far in the entire trip, fresh bread, juice and a mass of home fries. These are a really rough cut potato quarter that are fried (so chips in effect) and gorgeous. A bit slobby for breakfast but on our two meal a day regime, it set me up for the whole of the rest of the day.
We walked on, heading south west and having to zig zag through the gridded road layout. New York is actually very easy to walk around once you work out the system, but the scale is awesome. There are 10m people who work on Manhattan Island. It’s massive. Taking on a walk from one end to the other is a good two to three hour challenge. If you can cope with the walking, there’s loads to see on the way. You can even learn to Cha Cha, by following the simple step-by-step guide that I saw on the floor by a shop called Kate Spade.
A few minutes later we arrived at Ground Zero. You can’t really get over the scale of the hole between the buildings. Not in terms of the hole in the ground, but the sheer scale of footprint the buildings sat on. It is actually three times the size of our own market square at 65,000 square metres and our own square is the biggest in the UK.
I found it a terribly sad place to be. The police presence was extraordinary, with a double line of cars outside a building at one corner of the site and cameras everywhere.
I felt a huge sense of outrage at how the lives of 3,000 people could have been taken so brutally, when they were just going to work. The amount of materials posted everywhere offering help and advice to anyone involved or affected, shows how raw it still must be for many and the sense of sadness that hangs over the place is impossible not to feel.
And then, as we were leaving the site, it got worse. Right in front of us were a group of men with diggers, still involved in the site’s excavation in preparation for the new tower and memorial fountains, pulling out twisted metal and loading it into lorries for removal. This must be an unbelievably grim task for those involved, but one that has to happen for the nation to grieve and move on.
I found it very difficult to simply turn my back and walk away, but being in a group with a timetable to work to, I had to. I had been deeply affected by what I saw and what I felt. I had already decided to return the next day, in my own time, to spend some time in St Paul’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the 9/11 workers and survivors. More of this tomorrow.
We then walked on to Chelsea market, a fairly new development of retail and restaurants made from the former new York Biscuit Company factories and bakeries. This has been imaginatively and beautifully restored and has become a vibrant little centre with tourists and locals mingling throughout.
We stopped for a drink at Ronnybrooks dairy. They present as a really homely Mom and Pop milk bar hailing from the time of theFonz and the 50’s.
My drink of choice was a Lemonata. It’s a sort of lemon and mint ice crush drink that is lovely and refreshing and made in front of you using the juice from fresh lemons and squashed up mint leaves.
Suitably refreshed, it was off to the High Line, which had been sold to us as a concept that would be one of the highlights of our trip.
You can see from the entrance to one end of it that its still work in progress, but it is already a hugely popular park with the people of the city. In the few weeks since it opened on June 8th, it has already had a million visitors walking, sitting and resting along its lengths.
The management of the site is by the New York Parks Department. Their officers, have the power of arrest, but they’re still happy to stop and talk and told us about how well received the whole project had been and how little trouble they actually have to deal with on a daily basis. Again, it is immaculate, with not a spot of litter anywhere.
The design of the signs and the humour they imply is excellent and must be one of the reasons it is being so well looked after.
There are some lovely architectural touches. My favourite was an area that was built over an old railway bridge, where a tiered seating arrangement had turned the streets of New York into a theatre. People were sitting having drinks and sandwiches watching the world go by with the window on the world as a giant screen.
The whole thing is currently only around 1/2 mile long, but they are working on the next sections, which could open up another 1 1/2 miles. The quality of the finishing was superb. Detailing, as good or better than anything I have ever seen in the UK and the overall feel of the site was chilled and brilliant.
If we could create this in our city, we would be onto a winner.