Summer Rush

The heat was turned on a week ago, we switched over to Standard Time yesterday, the NYC Marathon is over, Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and delayed as they might be, the leaves are finally beginning to change colour. It’s hard to accept but my first real summer in New York is finally over!

I say ‘real’ because my last summer was spent back home in India and the way the semesters are set up at school meant that I would come in to the city at the end of the summer and leave at the beginning. This was also the first time in my life I wasn’t in India for most of the summer and while I didn’t quite miss the extreme temperatures of Delhi, I did have to forego the entire mango season (sigh!) and the glorious monsoon and only I know how much I miss those two!

For a change though, instead of sulking about it, I decided to make the best of where I was. As am sure a lot of you know, the Big Apple is a completely transformed city during the summer months. Everything and everybody goes outdoors and pretty much everything outdoors is free! So, through a series of blogs that I plan to write over the next few weeks (god willing), I hope to recount some of those fabulous summer weekends of sunshine, a fair bit or exercise if you will and more than anything else, a great deal of discovery of the environs that make up ‘a town so nice they named it twice’ 😉

There’s a whole website dedicated to free events in the city during summer and a friend of mine was kind enough to forward me that link. The choices were way to many (as with most things in this country) ranging from concerts, movies and shows to guided tours, walks and events! I regret to say that I couldn’t even scratch the surface of the offerings so to speak. I have to blame that on the shortage of weekends though 😉 I did, however, manage to go Kayaking!

John was to be my companion for a lot of what I did on these weekends – be it on foot or by bike – and I couldn’t have asked for anyone more knowledgeable and informed about the city than he is. Our first stop was Riverside Park South which is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and was built to bridge the gap between Riverside Park to the north and Hudson River Park to the south.

We were there on a warm afternoon in late June to attend a walking tour of what was once a massive rail yard or ’60th street yards’ as they were referred to. Operated by the New York Central Railroad (NYCRR), the yards ceased operations in the late 70’s to make way for, amongst other things, Trump City! And with that came to an end the last direct freight line into Manhattan.

Historically, Manhattan’s west side was where all the industry was located and as a result it was predominantly a blue collar area. The east side by contrast was always residential and hosted the white collar population. Today of course, with industry driven outside of the island, the west side can claim to be nearly as up market as the east side. I mention this not to trigger an east v/s west debate (and trust me there are plenty in the city) but more to highlight the importance of the west side from a rail freight distribution point of view – at least till the 70s i.e.

Those of you familiar with the Chelsea area in Manhattan would, at some point, have noticed an old rusted viaduct just off 10th avenue. This viaduct or ‘high line‘ is at the southern end of what was once an extensive freight distribution system operated by the NYCRR. The main artery for this system was the 60th street rail yard in the north. While the structure carrying the high line remains to this day, we were at Riverside Park South to tour the relics of the 60th street rail yards.

The NYCRR which was laid along the Hudson River brought in, amongst other commodities, the bulk of the city’s produce, poultry, meat and milk. Its customers included the General Post Office and the New York Times. The industrial activity on the west side turned the Hudson into an extremely busy waterway with barges constantly shuttling between Manhattan and Jersey. The NYCRR even owned their own car floats and tugs which would transport rail cars (wagons) from the 60th street yards across to Jersey.

Post War Highway development in the US was sure to threaten the NYCRR and its ilk in the long term. By the 70s, trucks had almost completely taken charge of the island’s freight requirements and in the early 80s, the 60th street yard ceased operation. Donald Trump was quick to move in and usurp the land so far occupied by the rail yard. The result was one of the largest real estate developments ever. He could have gotten even more but for the fact that the city took away over 20 acres from him to build a public park – Riverside Park South.

The piers, transfer bridges (pic above) and warehouses that remain from the days of the NYCRRs operation here have been declared a national historic landmark and are a part of the park’s attractions today.

The park in turn is probably one of the best examples I’ve seen of an area which has suitably been adapted to serve the changing needs of a growing city. You’ve got to hand it to them – they’ve literally created a beautifully landscaped public space out of a small tract of land under an elevated highway.

I leave you today with this photograph that probably sums it up best. Cramped as the city may be, you can always manage to dig out your own little spot in the sun 🙂

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