Thursday, September 27, 2007

Consider the cobblestone

These are just guys digging up the street. They didn't have to ask permission, they probably would rather do something else, but it's their job. It's harder on Crosby Street, for the reason depicted above. This is a Historic District, so you can't just fix the water main and pave the street. They have to take out those cobblestones, one by one, fix the water main, and then put them back, one by one. More a puzzle than a street.

A week goes by, and they're still at it. A week is a lot of time to think, and I got to thinking:

I want to know the origin of those stones. Also, the age. Do they just date back to the 70's when SoHo became Historic? How old are these stones? Does the city care if the stones are old or new?

If I find out, maybe I'll learn something about the character of the neighborhood, or the character grafted onto it by committees and commissions. Functional or pretty? Well, okay, probably both.

I'm looking for an expert to tell me some facts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Not any sidewalk

Stand next to the old chair factory. Take a look around and then look down. It's all solid matter, but this matter doesn't have matter underneath it. The matter is a sidewalk, and it's metal, and it's hollow. You're standing there, but there's an abyss below.

What is down there? Utility basement? Vice President? Real estate agents?

Don't be too heavy, and don't jump too hard, and don't be a truck and drive here. Don't do it, it's a hollow sidewalk.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


"Hey yeah! Get this on film! Look at New York's finest!"

That's what the guy shouted at me. But hey! That guy's right! Never mind that my camera doesn't pack film, and there wasn't much the cops could do. There's a bus stuck in that intersection, right there at Crosby Street and Grand! C'mon coppers, fix it!

You know what's coming. Grand will back up all the way down the west side. Then no one can move downtown on Broadway. No one can move uptown on Sixth, either. But that isn't all, man. Everything's gonna stop dead in midtown. That lady's gonna have her baby in the taxicab! My kid gets nervous in traffic, he throws up.

Hey, you, with the pencil. You look like an accountant. How much is this gonna cost the Economy? What, like $4 million for every minute this sunnuvabitch doesn't move this bus?

Spiraling up, with horns honking. The motion of commerce suddenly threatened. All this because they had to block off Grand Street and send the traffic up Crosby. But Crosby couldn't handle that big bus, not with a row of cars parked on both sides. So it lodged there, and city's having a heart attack.

Now the driver isn't even in the bus. What the fuck!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One by one

I like to walk on this street (a fact which, by now, is probably obvious). It's not like Crosby doesn't have competition - one of the most mythic promenades in the world is just a block away. But then again, walkers on Crosby Street contend with neither the rumble of the subway train nor the rattle of the taxis.

Here it's a different assault on the senses. Vehicles double park, a three-legged dog eyes me, that skirt is short, fresh strawberries are $1, this one guy would like to kill that other guy - believe him. You can smell pot sometimes, or read a hundred ad-bills for Spring Awakening all the time. Occasionally, it's safer to walk in the street than on the sidewalk.

Today it rained, and I didn't do much walking on Crosby Street. I missed it, because it's nice to hear the noises of the city outside of the usual din. On Crosby, the Gotham cacophony relaxes into individual events, and the walker can appreciate the city in sequence.

It isn't peaceful, it's New York peaceful.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


There are plenty of garages on Crosby Street. Plenty of gray metal doors, utilitarian facades, and back entrances. In New York, this means graffiti, and there's an abundance of it here. The bubble letters pop out of the corrugated metal gates, and blast color into the street.

It makes me think about 1983. I was just getting born in 1983, but I hear that was when the city got tired of candy-colored subway cars. Mayor Koch told the riff-raff to "Make your mark in society, not on society," and a man died after police caught him making his mark in a subway station. Now, there's no contest. Tags don't survive in the subway, and they stand less of a chance on the street, where there's too much valuable property. You have to look for it: along the elevated train routes in the boroughs, or in places like Crosby Street.

As my friend and I made our way down Crosby, we were struck by the concentration and variety of tags. Some plump and simple, others sparse and sardonic. All were suspiciously unscrubbed. We found the same arty and witty graffiti on surrounding streets. Here it's cool, and the city knows that it's a profitable image. A white, moneyed audience consumes that image and makes SoHo their shopping destination. Anywhere else in the city, the law doesn't budge.

Eventually, we came to a large white-board map of the world, where hundreds of passers-by have scrawled some hasty tags. It's inviting, and we stopped to add our initials - the ultimate safe scrawl for permission-seeking scrawlers like ourselves. In between stores, take a minute for some recreational transgression.

'Oh, wouldn't it be too much if we really sprayed some paint?' Of course, we won't.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday morning

Looking north.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blogging a street

I work on Crosby Street in Manhattan. It borders several neighborhoods, but belongs to none. It is neither Chinatown, nor SoHo, nor a no-man's-land in between. The more I travel around the city, the more Crosby Street sticks out, but it has no single definition. As gentrification tempers much of Manhattan, Crosby remains eclectic.

It starts at a dead-end, untouched by the raucous commerce of Canal Street, just one block south. Then it marches straight north for five blocks before crossing Houston Street. Here, eight lanes of traffic pause every few moments to let Crosby Street go on it's way. If you're waiting in Houston traffic, you can turn north onto Crosby, but you won't find much. One block later, Crosby Street meets Bleecker Street and expires.

To the west, there's Broadway and the boutiques and galleries of SoHo. To the east of Crosby, Lafayette Street forms the border of Chinatown and Little Italy, which lie just beyond.

I'm not the only one who can't figure out where Crosby Street belongs. The Historical Commission was going along just fine until they got here. They knew that the west side of the street was definitely SoHo - a Cast Iron Historic District if they ever saw one. But the eastern half of Crosby Street must have failed the test. It received no designation.

While SoHo swells with shoppers and strollers, Crosby Street works for a living: There's a wholesale produce market, hardware stores, warehouses, delis, and loading docks for the big box stores on Broadway. At noon, white-uniformed chefs huddle for a smoke break at the back entrance to the French Culinary Institute, and delivery trucks idle on the sidewalks.

Oh, but Crosby has luxury too. You can enter Bloomingdales on Crosby Street, as well as the MOMA Design Store and Starbucks (though both use a Spring Street address). At other stores, you can outfit your home with fine lighting, excellent rugs, and incredible faucets. If you happen to be a millionaire, you can even afford to buy an apartment here.

It's easy to identify physical attributes, but the street relies on people for it's lifeblood. If each individual perceives the street in their own way, the plurality of viewpoints would seem to rule out absolute definitions. But this almost never happens. In Manhattan, Avenue A is the East Village, Columbus Avenue is the Upper West Side, Hester Street is the Lower East Side. These streets are badges for their neighborhoods, and in a city obsessed with real estate, every neighborhood is a commodity. Does this one come with artists or investment bankers? Hipsters or yuppies? Peanut butter or chocolate chips?

Crosby Street seems unaffected by that game. The street holds on to it's own character, and that's good enough for me. Here, you'll find some history, some observations, and some photos of Crosby Street as it appeared for a few months in late 2007. Welcome and enjoy.