The City Above the City: NYC’s Air History

The City Above the City: NYC’s Air History

Everyone knows that New Yorkers are no strangers to the highest heights, but high-rise buildings certainly aren’t the only way we touch the skies. Always a center of innovation, New Yorkers have been able to take to the air since the 1920s, taking off from one of the city’s major airstrips as soon as commercial flight took hold.

Whether the big three of Newark, LaGuardia and JFK or one of the area’s smaller airfields, there’s a jetload of interesting backstory to all of the area’s major hubs. Here’s some amazing history of just how these places came to be.

Newark Liberty International Airport

As commercial air travel went from a novelty to a necessity, NYC needed an air hub suited to the needs of a global metropolis. That opportunity presented itself not in Manhattan, but across the river in Newark, New Jersey, where the necessary space was available for building a proper airport. Opened in 1928, Newark Metropolitan Airport was the busiest airport in the nation for the first decade of its existence, seeing 61 daily departures on five different airlines. Like many airfields nationwide, Newark was drafted into service during World War II, closing to commercial operation while the US Army used the land for logistics operations. Soon after the conflict ended, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over the airport, and have operated it ever since.

Floyd Bennett Field

The same year as Newark Airport opened, a now-lesser known airfield was established at the southern end of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn’s Marine Park neighborhood. NYC’s first municipal airport (smaller airfields existed before, but none were as favorably sited and well-constructed).  Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1928, and by 1933 it saw more than twice as many planes come and go than Newark’s airport. In fact, Floyd Bennett Field was the nation’s second-busiest airport behind Oakland international in California. After serving as a military air station during World War II, the airfield fell out of use, thanks to LaGuardia’s proximity to Manhattan which made it more enticing to both commercial and private air carriers. Today, the site hosts the aptly named Aviator Sports complex, home of hockey rinks and multipurpose sports fields to serve Brooklyn and the Rockaways.

LaGuardia Airport

The city’s first commercial airport opened not too long after Newark’s, and Queens has been the taking-off (and landing!) point for countless NYC dreams ever since. Dedicated in 1939 as New York Municipal Airport, it was officially renamed for former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1947. LaGuardia Airport was built out of the existing North Beach Airport, a tiny airstrip converted to a major American destination. Upon its opening, New Yorkers were so entranced by the planes that many paid the 10 cent entrance fee without a flight booked, simply to watch them land and take off for hours at a time. Today, LaGuardia is in the midst of a major renovation project that will turn the admittedly-neglected airport into an ultramodern terminal with more efficient connection to mass transit and the surrounding area, making New Yorkers better connected to the rest of the country than ever before.

John F. Kennedy International Airport

NYC’s major international airport opened in 1943 to alleviate overcrowding at LaGuardia. The sprawling, massive new airport was officially named New York International Airport, Anderson Field but was commonly known as Idlewild Airport, after a golf course that was previously on the site. It was known that way until 1963 when it was renamed after the recently slain president Kennedy. Soon after the name change, the airport had all eyes on it worldwide thanks to its status as the landing place of the Beatles in February 1964. Their grand American debut was marked by thousands of adoring fans and eager press greeting them on the runways adjacent to Jamaica Bay in Queens. JFK was also a 60s landmark thanks to the iconic neo-futurist TWA Flight Center, currently remodeled and back in use after its initial closure in 2001. After seeing nearly 60 million passengers in 2017, JFK is poised to continue on as the center of NYC’s flying culture, ensuring the city that never sleeps will never lack for new faces.

Want to read more about the ways NYC stays connected? Read our pieces on The Evolution of the Subway and The History of NYC in 6 Bridges.

Urban Gardens: They’re Not As Challenging As You Think

Urban Gardens: They’re Not As Challenging As You Think

City life is vibrant. Every street bustles with life, lights, and excitement — and in New York, that vibrancy defines day-to-day life. Like most cities, however, NYC has far more buildings than trees, leaving some residents wishing for just a little more greenery to balance out the bustle in their daily lives.

Simple gardens may be the answer for these city dwellers: according to urban mindfulness professional Dr. Jonathan S. Kaplan, having or being around plants can reduce stress, improve concentration, and better a person’s psychological health. Even apartment-bound residents can benefit from a few homegrown greens; cultivating a garden from a windowsill, balcony, or rooftop takes minimal effort and can provide that pop of calm greenery that city life sometimes lacks.


Starting Your Garden

There are two key limiting factors in any urban garden: space and light. If you live in a relatively dark apartment with no balcony and few windows, you aren’t out of gardening options — but the choices you do have are slimmer than those someone with an open rooftop would enjoy. Before you begin picking out plants for your garden, you need to assess your home and determine how much light and space you can realistically provide for your plants. Then, choose accordingly! Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can grow in shady, partial-light, and full sun environments:

Shady or Partially-Lit: A window sill or balcony that takes in six hours of sun per day is a partially-shady environment; any place that sees less than four falls into the “shady” category. These low-light homes are perfect for herbs and greens such as arugula, some lettuces, chives, and chili peppers. Visit your local garden store for more options! Every plant will have a tag that tells you how much light it will need to thrive.

Full Sun: Unless you are uncommonly lucky, you probably won’t find a perfect full-sun growing spot in a city. Aspects of a city’s architecture — buildings, fences, cars — naturally block light that might otherwise suit a full-sun garden. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a balcony or roof that enjoys over six hours of sun every day, you can stock up on plants such as basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, or cucumbers.


Prepare Your Container

Whatever you do, don’t try to cram several plants into a single window box. Young plants need more space to grow than most new gardeners think; a five-gallon pot that might look like it offers enough space for two or three plants is truthfully only suitable for a single tomato plant. Be strategic in your planting! Assess the amount of space your chosen plants will need at maturity, and plan according. If you opt to cultivate window boxes, make sure that the seedlings you group together have similar light and water requirements — you don’t want to accidentally over- or under-water one plant for the sake of keeping another alive.

Once you choose your plants and settle on a type of garden — rooftop, window box, or even a single planter — you can start preparing for growth. A trip to your local garden store can provide you with the three main components your plants need to grow: pots, planting soil, and fertilizer. If you’re on a budget, keep it simple. You don’t need an expensively glazed ceramic pot; your herbs will flourish just as well in affordable black plastic.

City life is invigorating and exciting, but there’s something profoundly soothing about caring for plants amidst the hubbub. Regardless of whether you have a small apartment with a single free window or a home with an expansive yard, cultivating a garden is simple and relaxing. If you put time and effort into the soil, your plants will grow into a reward that goes far beyond simple leaves or fruit.

The History of NYC in 6 Bridges

The History of NYC in 6 Bridges

It’s easy to take them for granted, but New York City would be a much different place without the many bridges that connect the boroughs. Over its long history, this city has seen an incredible variety of spans go up, and these are just a few shining examples from the over two thousand bridges traversing NYC. These six are all part of a larger story, however, of the evolution of an incredible city that’s grown one connection at a time.


The King’s Bridge

The city’s very first bridge went up in the colonial days while the city’s namesake Duke of York (later King James II) was still alive. Built in 1693, The King’s Bridge was built in a then-remote spot of the landmass, the northern tip of the island. Spanning the Spuyten Duyvil Creek in what’s now the Marble Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, it wasn’t quite as momentous as it could have been. Contemporary accounts described the bridge as “small, very narrow, and badly built.” After a partial rebuild during the Revolutionary War, the bridge lived on into the 20th century, even serving as the starting point for the second car race in US History in 1896. Its eventual fate is somewhat of a mystery, but historians believe it was buried in construction in the South Bronx, an appropriately humble end for an underappreciated piece of New York history.


Brooklyn Bridge

This eternal emblem of NYC may feel timeless to us now, but it’s construction probably seemed similarly eternal to citizens of the time. The bridge’s building suffered so many setbacks, it’s a wonder it was ever finished. Before a single brick was lain, bridge designer John Roebling succumbed to gangrene from an accident and his son Washington took over the project. Washington Roebling was a hands-on manager, so much so that he was stricken with the bends from working in the dangerous caissons used to build the bridge’s massive towers (27 workers died in total from this and other maladies). Roebling was forced to dictate the building from his sickbed, and his wife Emily took the lead in managing construction. 14 long years after it was started, the Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed in 1883 to much fanfare. The massive celebration represented not only a new era in New York City’s existence but a major sigh of relief that the span was, after so many years and setbacks, finally done.


Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

While the Brooklyn Bridge was the overpowering, impressive span of its day, it was soon joined by several other East River overpasses that went up relatively quickly: the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the Queensborough (now Ed Koch Bridge) all went up in a 6-year time period from 1903 to 1909. While that area became well covered, giving easy access to Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens, the spot where New York’s waterways meet the Atlantic Ocean remained bare, leaving Staten Island again left behind. That changed in 1964 when the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened, connected the Bay Ridge neighborhood of southern Brooklyn to the island borough just south of Fort Wadsworth. At the grand opening, the Verrazano was the longest suspension bridge in the world (it’s now 13th), but it remains the longest span in the Americas, running over two miles from end to end.


3 New Links to the 21st Century

It’s been over 50 years since a bridge last went up in the New York area, but that’s rapidly changed over the last couple of years. A trio of bridges now represents a new era in NYC-area architecture, replacing older connectors between Staten Island and New Jersey (The Goethals Bridge), Westchester and Rockland counties (The Tappan Zee Bridge), and Queens and Brooklyn (Kosciuszko Bridge). These new structures are all in the style known as cable-stayed bridges, a modern update on the old suspension technique that allows one main tower to sustain the entire span. It’s an elegant and simple-appearing design that’s popped up across the world and is finally making its long-awaited New York debut. For a city that’s all about making connections, these new bridges are a fittingly modern path to the 21 century for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

From Horses to WiFi: The Evolution of NYC’s Subway

From Horses to WiFi: The Evolution of NYC’s Subway

There’s no more effective method of moving millions of New Yorkers around the city on a daily basis than the NYC subway. Even though it may not always run smoothly, it’s still the best way to get from Riverdale to Rockaway and everywhere in between. A look at the evolution of our mass transit system reveals an interesting journey all its own.

The origins of mass transit in NYC date all the way back to 1827, when a 12 seat stagecoach called “Accommodation” ran a short route along Broadway from Battery Park to Bleecker Street. Within a few years, the New York and Harlem Railroad had taken it a step further, laying down track for horse-drawn carts that covered 27 routes in Manhattan along Third, Fourth, Sixth and Eighth Avenues.

Of course, mass transit wasn’t the subway until it went underground. The first below-surface trains in NYC were actually part of a short-lived pneumatic system built in 1870, with trains pushed along a 312-foot tunnel by fan! Of course, this wasn’t feasible for a city-spanning operation, and it wasn’t until the opening of Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) in 1904 that New York had proper subway trains suitable for true citywide travel.

IRT service expanded quickly, covering all boroughs but Staten Island within a decade, but its tracks didn’t quite reach every corner of the city. Competing systems to fill those gaps popped up in the years to follow: the privately-owned Brooklyn Rapid Transit (later known as Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit or the BMT) in 1923, and the city-run Independent Rapid Transit Railroad (IND) in 1932.

These systems, while connecting with each other at some stations, were not folded into one until 1953 under the new Transit Authority, later renamed the Metropolitan Transit Authority or MTA. MTA now stands as a catchall term for every subway line, but talk to some old New Yorkers and they’ll probably still point you towards the IRT or BMT when offering up directions. Some old habits die hard.

Two years after the merger, the once ubiquitous above-ground lines in Manhattan were gone for good, though extensive elevated tracks still cover parts of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. In fact, though the subway is probably best known as an underground phenomenon, a full 40% of the system runs on elevated tracks, reaching a height of up to 88 feet at the Smith-9th Street F and G station.

By the 1970s and 80s the system was well established but aging fast. Concerns about safety, financial instability, and a citywide population decline caused ridership to hit historic lows, and observers wondered what could be done. Graffiti covered nearly every car in the system, and outside of rush hour the subway was considered to be too dangerous and decrepit for even the typical New Yorker.

It was clear that the subway was in a crisis, but in true NYC fashion it was able to bounce back after a massive infusion of capital fixed some (but not all) of the subterranean system’s issues. Today, the subway and the city as a whole are as safe as they’ve ever been, but the MTA is still plagued by delays, overcrowding and heaps of unsatisfied riders. MTA leadership is still fumbling for an answer, and even Commissioner Joe Lhota has openly declared “it ain’t gonna be easy.” Even still, when New Yorkers need to get somewhere, more often than not the MTA will be going their way, even if the ride is slower than they might prefer.

Today’s subway system serves 472 stations over 665 miles of track on 26 different lines, a far more accommodating service than the horse-drawn carriages of centuries past. Tech advancements like WiFi and cellular service along with recently installed real-time arrival signs in every station mark our modern subway as a marvel for the 21st Century, with further improvements planned for modernizing and improving the system in the decades to come.

While it may be far from perfect, the NYC Subway has certainly come a long way. For the 1.7 billion riders swiping through the turnstiles every year, a look back shows there’s reason to be optimistic about the future.


The City Beneath NYC is About to Surface

The City Beneath NYC is About to Surface

Every day on the streets of New York City, 8 million people (and counting) are making moves–enjoying and enduring all the aspects of big city living. Manhattan’s famed gridded streets are the framework through which an almost unthinkably massive number of people conduct their work and their personal business. In a city that consistently reaches unfathomable heights, there’s a below-the-surface infrastructure that makes such movement and growth possible.

Keeping everything moving along is an intricate network of utilities, pipes, wires, tunnels, and overall a huge amount of invisible real estate, entirely underground. Without the plumbing, electric, transportation and other services made possible by the underground grid, the modern city simply wouldn’t be possible. This system lives in the shadows, and we can’t live without it. However, it’s not as streamlined a system as one might imagine.

While the above-ground streets are strictly managed and organized by city planners and zoning ordinances, it might surprise some to learn that in comparison, the underground is a bit of a free-for-all. Hurricane Sandy threw into light the fact that the subterranean city is unmapped by any central authority, making coordinated efforts to improve the system extremely difficult.

Each authority and utility that works below the surface has their own set of information that can sometimes prove unreliable, as unexpected finds below ground often force construction crews to improvise in dangerous conditions, further compounding the confusion and making the job more treacherous than it needs to be. It’s to the detriment of lasting city improvement and worker safety that a detailed picture of exactly what’s beneath our feet is so hard to come by.

That might not be the case forever. Consultant Alan Leidner, working with infotech consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has spearheaded a project to collect all that disparate data from utilities, contractors, and city government and more to create a single unified map of New York’s underground.

This project might end up being a huge money saver for NYC. According to Bloomberg, digging mistakes damage our underground infrastructure to the tune of $300 million per year in repairs and lost time. The sooner Leidner and company can plot out the tangle under the streets, crews will be able to work more efficiently and quickly–something construction-wary New Yorkers of all neighborhoods will be able to celebrate.

A firsthand dive into this underground is usually reserved for transit workers, utility repairmen, and the odd amateur spelunker (which we do not recommend, as it’s dangerous and against the law). Once Leidner’s map is complete, however, a precise guide to what’s beneath your feet will give NYC a fascinating look at what truly keeps the city functioning, and holds the potential to make the city smarter than ever.

The map is part of a larger project dealing with Geospatial Informational Systems (or GIS). GIS describes a computerized data system that can collect and interpret data about how spaces are utilized, a sort of smart GPS. The potential for this project to aid in smart city design means it’ll carry benefits around the world, not just in New York’s neighborhoods. It’s likely Leidner’s work will one day lead to faster emergency response times, better traffic flow, and maybe even better public transportation both above ground and below.

Since the 1800s, NYC residents have looked to subway maps to help them traverse the sometimes-overwhelming city streets. Thanks to high tech computer surveying combined with old fashioned data collection, tomorrow’s New Yorkers will benefit from a new map, one that they won’t have to see in order to help them get around the city more efficiently. For a system that’s hidden from view, it’s only appropriate.

NYC’s Century on Top of the World

NYC’s Century on Top of the World

It’s not breaking news the NYC has some of the most historic and impressive skyscrapers in the world. It may surprise you, however, that for nearly 100 years this city was home to a continual chain of world’s tallest buildings, each one overtaking the last Manhattan superstructure. These 5 towering edifices each gave way to the next pinnacle of city and worldwide construction across two centuries until the rest of the world eventually caught up in the 1970s. Over those shining years, there was nowhere a person could rise higher than in New York City.


New York World Building

Years as world’s tallest: 1890-1894

Before the iconic Flatiron building showed the world the potential of constructing with steel, downtown’s Park Row hosted the world’s tallest (non-cathedral) building for four late 19th Century years: The New York World Building. These headquarters of the now-defunct eponymous newspaper towered above it’s lower Manhattan neighbors, and was the first structure to overtake the spire of Trinity Church, previously the area’s vertical apex.



Singer Building

Years as world’s tallest: 1908-1909

Before long, steel-frame construction pushed the old height limits into the stratosphere, and the age of skyscrapers was underway. One early NYC example that survives only in memory is the Singer Building, adjacent to what is now the World Trade Center complex in the Financial District. While it was only the world’s tallest for one year, this structure named for the sewing machine manufacturer stood until 1968, when it made way for One Liberty Plaza, in the process becoming the tallest building to ever be purposely demolished.



Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower

Years as world’s tallest: 1909-1913

Lower Manhattan had long been the epicenter of sky-high construction, but as the 20th Century progressed, architects and business owners were looking further uptown to build their new cathedrals of commerce. Not to be confused with Park Avenue’s MetLife building, this Madison Avenue tower’s distinct spire exhibits its early-20th-century origins while bearing somewhat of a resemblance to the subsequent holder of the world-tallest-building crown, back on the southern end of the island.

The Beaux Arts-styled Woolworth Building

Woolworth Building

Years as world’s tallest: 1913-1930

Completed just four years after the Metropolitan Life tower on 23rd Street, Lower Manhattan reclaimed the tallest building title thanks to this beaux-arts masterpiece towering above Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes, directly across the street from City Hall Park. While its ornate facade is still impressive over 100 years after it was built, the real attraction of the Woolworth Building is the ornately decorated lobby, with detailed mosaics within a cavernous vaulted ceiling.



Empire State Building

Years as world’s tallest: 1931 to 1970

Undoubtedly NYC’s most iconic building, the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street has been an unmistakable symbol of the city’s spirit since it went up in 1931. This art deco masterpiece arose in an impressive 13 months, and immediately became a magnetic attraction for tourists and filmmakers alike. From King Kong to Sleepless in Seattle, the Empire State Building has captured imaginations worldwide, and been interwoven with the character of both city and country in a way unlike any other building could. Long overtaken as the world’s tallest, the ESB still stands high as an emblem of the promise and ambition of the people of New York.