I spent yesterday in New York for a day of Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network-related meetings. It was a beautiful nearly autumn-feeling day, one with that slight chill in the air that suggests that the summer season is ending. Sharing some photos from the day’s travels that I snapped, starting from the Flatiron to Morningside Heights to St. John the Divine to Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen—this last area has changed substantially (for the better) in the past two years.
An amazing excerpt from Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” that reveals the breathtaking scale of what Robert Moses built with his roads, bridges, and public works in New York in the 20th century:
The twenty-nine military highways of Rome, which, built by the greatest men of the Republic (none but those of the highest rank were even eligible to the office of superintending them) and radiating to Rome to which all roads led, ran with Roman directness to avoid curves. Mountains were cut through at enormous expense. Marshes were bridged or simply filled up with solid masses of concrete, to the most remote provinces. Even seas did not stop their progress, for the roads were built up to the water’s edge, and then continued on the opposite shore. To speed the marches of the legions and engines of war which kept Rome mistress of the known earth, were roads through open country.
Their builders may have had to contend with mountains and marshes, with the snow of the Alps and the heat of deserts. But they did not have to evict from their homes tens of thousands of protesting voters, demolish those homes, tunnel under or cut over subways or elevated railroads, sewers and water mains and gas mains and telephone and electric conduits and cables, all of which, providing the city with essential services, had to be kept in operation during construction. They did not have to solve these problems in space almost unbearably constricted, because to obtain a single extra foot of width would require additional thousands of evictions.
A few major roads were built within ancient cities. Some of the Roman highways ran right up to the golden milestone in the Forum, for example. But ancient cities did not have subways and gas mains. These were, moreover, cities on a different scale than modern cities. Imperial Rome was one-eighth the size of New York. Athens at the height of its glory was never larger than Yonkers. So the problem of eviction was on a different scale.
And since the traffic for which these roads were designed was different from modern traffic, not only in volume but in size and speed, they were constructed on a different scale. The major roads in Rome, the widest paved highways in any ancient city, were, even including their service roads, the margins, to which carriages were restricted to keep the central portion free for infantry and pedestrians, only 65 and a half feet wide at their widest point. The highways [Robert] Moses was proposing to build [for New York] were 200 feet wide. A horse drawn carriage can turn fairly sharply. A monster tractor trailers of the 20th century require a turning radius so great that a single interchange connecting one highway to another can cover 80 acres. Not only did these roads of antiquity have no underpasses or overpasses to carry intersecting roads across them, access to these roads was not controlled. They could be entered from any intersecting thoroughfare. Their very dimensions were so much smaller than those of modern highways that they were really comparable not to those highways at all, but only to modern streets or avenues.
From Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” that paints a portrait of New York from another time:
It was at Castle Garden that on August 16, 1824 that, in the words of one historian, ‘it was proved that Republics are not always ungrateful.’ For it was at Castle Garden on that date that Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (who as a rich young nobleman had defied his king and fought for America) returned to it 67 years old and penniless.
‘Many of the spectators doubtless had in mind a galant, boyish figure in the buff and blue of the American Revolution, with powdered hair tied in a cue,’ the historian wrote.
What they saw was an old civilian in a short-haired brown wig. But when the old civilian stepped onto the Castle Garden landing stage, after a trip up the harbor on which the ship was escorted on a huge flotilla to begin a visit on which he was to receive from the government and citizens of the United States gifts of bonds and land worth almost half a million dollars, the Castle’s cannon roared out a hundred times.
When the old man walked slowly into Battery Park to the incessant huzzahs of the multitude that packed the waterfront, he walked between the weeping ranks of the Lafayette guards. When he rode up Broadway, men and women on rooftops threw flowers in his path. A month later a tall spar was raised in the center of the Fort, a vast awning of sail cloth was spread across its entire ceiling, the white banner of France was entwined with the Stars and Stripes, trophies of arms glittered from the walls, and when Lafayette appeared at the ball, the gay sets dissolved and the dancers formed a long lane, and as the old man walked along it he saw that each man and woman was wearing a medallion bearing his likeness, the women’s entwined with roses.
And it was at Castle Clinton that, ten years later, the handful of Lafayette guards still alive drew up in a hollow square in the center of which was a riderless black horse, spurred boots reversed slung across its empty saddle, to hear the funeral oration for their dead hero.
Lafayette visited every one of America’s 24 states on this visit. I wish Philadelphia would name something prominent in his honor.
I came across this photo uploaded to Flickr by Doc Searls. His caption:
742 E. 142nd Street, Bronx New York. The Englert Family moved here when it was brand new. Florence Englert was born and lived here for 13 years. The whole block is now a parking lot next to the Bruckner Expressway. Nothing in this picture remains.
So this is what a block in the Bronx looked like some 127 years ago. Beautiful. If posted to Instagram, I’m not sure anyone would think it wasn’t taken today—except that it’s not snowing in New York City today.
Everything really has changed. The neighborhood in some ways looks better than any neighborhood built today will look — serious order and repetition, sturdy wrought iron fences, etc. And this really was the Bronx “In the Year of our Lord” 1885—the nation and her people had an entirely different conception of God and faith than we have in this time. In the case of this photo, both the forms and the spirit are gone. As Doc Searls says, “Nothing remains.”
Yet in many neighborhoods in New York, something nearly identical to this photo really could be posted to Instagram now. The spirit of the past survives in physical form. I wonder what we might be able to photograph today that might look similarly contemporary in another 127 years.
Great short run this morning partially across the Brooklyn Bridge and then back to lower Manhattan. Returning to Philadelphia now for some tailgating and tonight’s Phillies/Kansas City Royals game.
I was talking with a friend about Elon Musk’s hyperloop concept. In a pre-hyperloop world, New York and Philadelphia are just far enough apart that it’s not super practical to live in one and work in the other. In a hyperloop world, that two hour distance will be cut to something like a 20 minute distance. The commute to/from the hyperloop will be longer than the commute to/from each city.
Who knows many years away this will turn out to be? But in thinking about the next fifty years for Philadelphia, it would be crazy not to think about how to bring about a closer relationship between New York and Philadelphia.
It’s going to be practical to live in Philadelphia and work in New York every day. (Of course, this will be true of many places, hypothetically. But I’m focusing on these cities because I really care about both of them.) What will this destruction of distance do to real estate prices? To the job market in Philadelphia, where poverty is off the charts? To the character of Philadelphia?
These are questions worth thinking over for years to come, and it’s worth making life decisions both personal and business predicated on your answers to these questions. They have the potential to set you and your family up to be well-positioned for decades to come.
The hyperloop is a big idea. How will we make it real, and how might it change our lives?
Since Periscope enabled permanently saving broadcasts, I decided to give the platform another shot and streamed a short, 10 minute walk in New York when I got into the city yesterday afternoon.
I’m trying to figure out if there’s a place for both Facebook Live and Periscope. I’ve been trying them both, but neither is primetime yet. A differentiator will be whether, when Facebook Live launches in-app, it results in strangers joining live streams in the same way they do on Periscope. It’s an enormous part of what makes Periscope fun—the interactivity of a stream from questions, comments, and requests from people you don’t know.
In the stream from New York, I did a short walk through the edge of Central Park specifically because someone in the stream asked to see more.
I’m in New York tonight for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Caterbury Medal Dinner. Elie Weisel will introduce Armando Valladares, this year’s medal recipient:
Armando Valladares is a former political prisoner who spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for refusing to place a sign on his desk in support of Fidel. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison without due process. While in prison he became a “Plantado”—a prisoner who refuses to wear a common prison uniform. For refusing to sign a document admitting he was wrong and the Revolution was right, he was brutally tortured, spent 8 years in solitary confinement and underwent several hunger strikes which left him paralyzed for many years. During this time, he wrote numerous poems which his wife smuggled out of Cuba and had published to critical acclaim. Valladares was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
In 1982 Valladares was released thanks to an international campaign on his behalf. Upon release, he wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir, Against All Hope, which was translated into 18 languages.
In 1986 he was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission where he was able to highlight the plight of the more than 15,000 political prisoners in Cuba at the time. In 1989, for the first time ever since the Cuban revolution, the Castro regime was forced to open its doors to a UN investigation. The resulting report was devastating for the regime and culminated with the release of many political prisoners. Valladares continues to advocate for human rights—particularly religious liberty—and lives with his wife in Florida where he continues to write poetry, paint and sculpt. He has three adult children and one granddaughter.
Becket Fund is a tremendous organization, and Valladares is a tremendous witness to the costs to the “little people” of any culture for opposing their elite.
I first learned about St. Peter’s jazz vespers service in September. Specifically, from this feature on Vincent Piazza, who starred in Boardwalk Empire as Lucky Luciano. Since then visiting St. Peter’s has been in my Todoist in the “new experiences” list.
Vespers means evening prayer. As a form of ritual prayer, it’s an ancient Christian practice. What I experienced was a very contemporary interpretation of vespers. St. Peter’s is in Midtown at 54th and Lexington. It’s a Lutheran parish that’s been doing “jazz vespers” for decades.
Although strange to hear, “a reading from C.S. Lewis” (rather than from Scripture) from what seemed to be a pulpit in a place that purports to be a church, it was a peaceful service that seemed to touch people. I recorded a few minutes to share:
I went for a decent outdoor run this week for the first time since December, running from Hell’s Kitchen past the Battery and back. For an evening in March, it was perfect. Low 50s and light to steady rain on an uninterrupted path along the Hudson River Park waterfront.
It’s a beautiful part of the city along the waterfront, especially when you’re down near the World Trade Center where even the fringes of the city start to feel like the edges of a canyon. Along the Battery where you’re closest to the new shoreline you can lean over and see the water lap the rocks, and in the rain the sand envelopes section of the boardwalk and pavement. The wet that hangs in the air combines with the sand sticking to your feet, moving you mentally far from the scene.
When it comes to routines, I’m highly impacted by environment. In 2013, I lived in Ave Maria, FL for a few months. That January, I ran 111 miles—more than I had ever run in month. It was consistently beautiful, with temperatures in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. The hotter the better. Starting or ending the day with a run through the swamps of Southern Florida was novel, but it was also an easy routine to slip into. Comparing that experience to the Northeastern winter, the triggers for that habit disappear.
So I’m looking forward to the warmer weather in New York, but I’m also starting to think seriously about whether I want to make a life in the Northeast knowing that so much of the year requires a sort of social and environmental hibernation.