Discovering Hudson Yards

Below are some photos of recent tours I’ve done helping groups discover New York City’s newest neighborhood, the Hudson Yards. This $25 billion, 28-acre rebirth of the West Side is the largest private real estate development in the city’s history, and it’s been a blast helping people learn the site’s history, along with its neighbor, the High Line.

And a walk up the Vessel certainly makes for an interesting perspective.

The project, like almost anything in NYC, is not without its debates and controversies, along of which we discuss on the tours. But the long story of New York is a story of constant change, and Hudson Yards is just the newest chapter in its never-ending tale.

We have public tours several afternoons each month, and are always available for private tours.

Industrial Brooklyn

One of my more popular tours-- and a favorite of mine to do!-- is my Industrial Brooklyn tour.

This is a great 3-hour walking tour through the two key neighborhoods to Brooklyn's industrial past. Both Gowanus and Red Hook were settled by the Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam/New Netherlands in 1636. The latter community, basis for numerous works on the shipping industry such as "On The Waterfront", once housed the busiest shipping port in the entire United States. The Battle of Brooklyn (aka, the Battle of Long Island) took place in this region during the Revolutionary War.

In the 1840s, the deepening of Gowanus Creek to build the Gowanus Canal, and the formal street layout in Red Hook by the then-independent City of Brooklyn transformed these neighborhoods into high-industrial, working-class communities. The decline of American industry a little over 100 years later saw slow declines for these areas in turn. By 1990, Red Hook had turned so downward, Life magazine called it one of the worst neighborhoods in the country and the "crack capital of the United States". Over in Gowanus, the waste disposal of the industry there (gas plants, tanneries, chemical plants, paint factories, sulfur producers, & more) had rendered the Gowanus Canal into a toxic mess. In 2010, the EPA had declared the canal a Superfund cleanup site.


But today, these neighborhoods have seen a massive resurgence. Rents are rising and development is growing. Both communities have seen an influx of artists, craftsmen, and families. In Gowanus, adventurers canoe the canal, old warehouses give way to high-rise luxury rentals, and a Whole Foods has arrived, with a rooftop greenhouse and specialized local goods. In Red Hook, the old warehouses have found new life: a Tesla showroom, chocolate factories, small-batch wineries and whiskey distilleries, glass-blowers, metalworks, and numerous artist co-working spaces. Fantastic restaurants are growing in both neighborhoods. Red Hook's waterfront park also marks the closest point of land in all of NYC to the Statue of Liberty, and is beloved for is sweeping views of New York harbor and downtown Manhattan.

Touring these neighborhoods is a journey into Brooklyn's past and a great peek into how manufacturing in America hasn't disappeared; it's just gone local.

I love these communities dearly, and I would love to pass on that passion to you.

Washington Square Park: The Village's Beating Heart

Since its creation in the 1800s, Washington Square Park has always been the cultural center of Greenwich Village. The land evolved from marshes and farm-land to a military parade ground to a rural hamlet for NYC's elite to a bohemian paradise to a bustling part of downtown New York. On most days, the park today is radiating with energy and noise, in a way that is unique to any other city park.

I have been doing a lot of walking tours of the area this month, and though I would share some images I have taken:

Beyond its central fountain, we see the famous Washington Square Arch (now marble, originally constructed of plaster & wood for the centennial of George Washington's inauguration in New York), as well as a row of Greek-revival townhouses dating back to 1832.

Beyond its central fountain, we see the famous Washington Square Arch (now marble, originally constructed of plaster & wood for the centennial of George Washington's inauguration in New York), as well as a row of Greek-revival townhouses dating back to 1832.

Moving west in the park..

Paul, who lives in a rent-controlled apartment in the neighborhood, is a staple of Washington Square. Known affectionately as the "bird man" or the "pigeon man", he can be found on the same bench every day, feeding the birds he considers his old friends. 

Paul, who lives in a rent-controlled apartment in the neighborhood, is a staple of Washington Square. Known affectionately as the "bird man" or the "pigeon man", he can be found on the same bench every day, feeding the birds he considers his old friends. 

On the southwest corner, at Macdougal Street...

This corner of Washington Square features chess tables where masters &  novices gather to play every day (some for money, some for sport). Child prodigy Bobby Fischer, director Stanley Kubrick, & many others played these tables in their youth. 

This corner of Washington Square features chess tables where masters &  novices gather to play every day (some for money, some for sport). Child prodigy Bobby Fischer, director Stanley Kubrick, & many others played these tables in their youth. 

Are you interested in joining me on one of my next walks/tours? I'd love to share some of the amazing sights of the Village (a home dating back to 1799, the "Friends" apartment, Bob Dylan's old haunts, the birthplace of the LGBT movement, & more!), as we take in its beautiful, tree-lined streets. Every visitor I've had finds something new to discover.

Contact me for dates and options!

Street Art

One of the top walking tours I have listed on my site is dedicated to street art. "Street art" is a term, however, that I realize is foreign or vague to many people outside of major urban areas. What defines "street art"? How is it different than graffiti or vandalism? That's subjective, but here's my take, and my thoughts on why I am passionate for it.

To me, the main thing that differentiates street art from graffiti/vandalism is the level of craft. The stereotypical graffiti-- someone's "tag" scribbled with a spraypaint can on a wall-- takes no effort or time. It's the artistic version of a smashed window. True street art takes time & artistry. One other differentiation is, more and more, street art is being legitimized. Many street artists now work with business & buildings owners to gain access to walls/spaces for their art... it is a good exchange: the artist gets a canvas, and the property owners get new eyes on their space.

Take for example this piece I saw in Brooklyn:
 

This meets both of the above criteria: it was done with permission (as part of the community-wide 'Bushwick Collective') and took days to complete. It is a true piece of art... only the canvas here is a wall.

It's really wonderful to wander around a neighborhood like Bushwick and see the new pieces artists have spread around, and to see the joy and attention this art is bring to visitors.

A major project just completed on Manhattan's Lower East Side is the 100 Gates Project, an effort connecting businesses with artists to create murals on their roll-down gates. Much like Bushwick's collective, this was a win for businesses, artists, and the community.


The most famous example in NYC of popular (and sanctioned) street art is the now-defunct 5Pointz project in Queens, NY. Immortalized in pop culture, the owner of large, industrial warehouse let a street art collective use the entire building exterior as a showcase for artists. The regularly-changing art drew visitors from all over the world.
 

(The building was, sadly, sold and demolished a couple of years ago)

Some street art, however, can be both legitimate and anarchic. Some great examples of this are the unsanctioned works of Banksy, who has gained international acclaim for his guerilla art. Also, the Berlin Wall became covered in street art and graffiti by the end (mostly the western side), as Germans expressed their frustrations with the wall through this art. One section of this wall-- and its art!-- is preserved in a midtown Manhattan office plaza. A surprising example of legitimate, but originally unsanctioned, street art is the famous Wall St bull statue. Contrary to popular belief, this famous sculpture was not sanctioned by the city. Italian-born artist Arturo Di Modica spent $360,000 of his own money to create it, as a gift to the people of New York, and installed it without permission in front of the New York Stock Exchange in December 1989. The city planned to remove the 'vandalism', but kept it (and moved it to its long-standing location by Bowling Green) due to popular outcry. And what would the Financial District be without this beloved icon?


Street art is, to me, a living and breathing sign of a city's creative heart. It takes drab walls and squares and adds color to them. It draws you to neighborhoods and communities you might otherwise not have discovered. This is why I am so passionate about it.

I hope that, by offering these tours, I can pass on this passion to visitors... and help them see parts of the city that are vibrant and alive. And, of course, to continue the discussion of how we define this evolving art form.

Staten Island, Take The Wheel

Many visitors to New York take a trip on the (free!) Staten Island ferry to get picturesque views of the Statue of Liberty and the NYC waterfront. Upon arriving in Staten Island, however, almost all get right back on the ferry and return to Manhattan. This dynamic has vexed Staten Island business leaders & politicians for decades.

While the 5th borough does some nice sites-- historic Fort Wadsworth, Freshkills Park, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanic Garden-- very few tourists have felt a draw to the island.

Two huge new projects by the ferry terminal hope to change that. One is an outlet mall (the first in city limits). The second is more ambitious: The New York Wheel, designed to be the largest observation wheel in the world (eclipsing the London Eye and others in Las Vegas and elsewhere). The first pieces of the wheel are being delivered this week, with project completion expected in the Spring of 2018.

Does this project pique your interest? If so (or not!), why? Share your thoughts!

The Little Chapel That Stood

St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway, directly east of One World Trade Center, is Manhattan's oldest surviving church. It not only survived the Great New York City Fire of 1776 (which destroyed the original, older Trinity Church), but also the collapse of the original World Trade Center in 2001. Its history is rich (George Washington celebrated his Inauguration Day mass there on April 30, 1789) and is integral to tying downtown to its pre-American Revolution roots.

After a large interior restoration project, the church will formally re-open to the public on October 30, for its 250th anniversary. This is a must-see visit.

I offer tours of historic downtown & the World Trade Center area. Coming to NYC this Autumn or Winter? I'd love to show you "the little chapel that stood".