What can technology do to preserve New York City’s historic sites?
It’s a real question, and one that has become ever-more pressing in recent years. We tend to think of our historical sites as unchangeable, protected, and set in stone — especially since most of the more prominent ones are made from it. But stone crumbles, and circumstances change.
We lived this truth firsthand less than a decade ago, when Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge tore through New York City. It flooded streets and subway tunnels, cut power, and put countless historical sites at risk for damage or outright destruction. The struggle to preserve these at-risk spaces is particularly challenging because, as one writer for Preservation New Jersey describes, “The [storm] recovery process is by nature not one that necessarily allows for the time, thoughtful planning, and holistic assessment that appropriate historic preservation requires. Anytime a historic resource is significantly damaged, it is threatened.”
But historical losses don’t always come with meteorological forecasts and time to prepare, as the global community saw when the Notre Dame cathedral burned.
There’s a real risk; in the future, New York’s very history may be on the line. Luckily, though, technology can give us the tools we need to preserve it.
3D Mapping for Preservation and Education
Traditionally, historians would map important sites using two-dimensional methods and non-digital tools. In recent years, however, 3D-scanning has risen to the forefront of the preservation conversation. In 2015, researchers from Japan’s Kanazawa University applied 3D scanning technology to map Shang Shu Di, a Chinese heritage site in the Fujian Province. They found that the 3D tools could provide a far more accurate and detailed record of historic buildings. Their findings, among other research, sparked a widespread shift towards digitally-powered preservation in the architectural and preservation communities.
This mapping tech is already being used to preserve at-risk sites, albeit under more tragic and less experimental circumstances.
In Syria, the Institute of Digital Archeology reproduced the 2,000-year-old Triumphal Arch, which was destroyed in Palmyra during ISIS occupation. At a third of the original’s size, the replica wasn’t an exact copy of the original monument; however, cutting-edge 3D technology gave historians the power to preserve the memory and importance of the site even when it was damaged beyond repair. Similarly, Somali Architecture uses 3D scanning tools to preserve historically significant locations that were destroyed during wartime by producing accurate and digitally-accessible 3D models.
“What this goes to show is that even destroyed heritage can be returned to us in some way—as long as there is proper documentation of it. […] We no longer have to be content with saying, ‘Well, it’s been destroyed, so it’s gone forever.’” Nada Hosking, Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Global Heritage Fund, commented in a recent article.
However, she notes that while these digital tools are invaluable, they cannot replace the sites they scan. “Recreations and reconstructions may have the look and feel of a heritage site or monument, but they lack the historical depth of them, and we cannot neglect to preserve what history has handed down to us,” Hosking cautions.
Her point is valid; however, after the fires at Notre Dame, it seems wiser to double up our digital scanning and preservation efforts, if only to protect the historical significance of a site against natural events that render real-world preservation impossible.
VR Can Preserve Cultural Memory and Pass on Lessons
Sometimes, the cultural memories of a place fade faster than the site itself. VR can provide a new way for historians to preserve stories from those who lived through significant periods in New York’s history — as well as offer a more immersive method of sharing those stories, even as their tellers fade into history.
Take The Last Goodbye as an example. The VR experience debuted in 2017 at the Tribeca Film Festival and served as a 17-minute testimony of what it was like to survive the Holocaust. The project’s guide and narrator, 85-year-old Pinchas Gutter, recounts the loss of his family and his time in Majdanek concentration and death camp.
For Gutter, participating in the VR experience and being visible as a storyteller was crucial to his mission to ensure that knowledge of the Holocaust persists even as those who experienced it firsthand pass on. In an interview with Wired, he explained that “Without that living, breathing reminder, the Holocaust becomes easy to forget—or even deny. Without personal accounts […] it’s hard for people to accept its atrocities as ‘the gospel truth.’”
The Last Goodbye exemplifies a story that must be shared for the good of our current and future societies. It has historical significance and meaning on par with — even in excess of — a historical site. Stories like Gutter’s must be preserved; this mode of immersive, VR-powered journalism provides a means to do it.
Few New Yorkers have Gutter’s experiences or recollections that are imbued with similar historical significance. However, they do have memories worth preserving and stories that are worth recording for the sake of the city’s cultural memory. They can provide insight into the social evolution of New York City and provide first-hand accounts of pivotal events that won’t be lost to age and time.
New York may seem eternal when you walk its streets, but its historical sites and memories aren’t. We need to use technology to preserve its history — before it’s too late to do so.
New York City isn’t exactly the first place that most outdoorsy hobbyists picture when they think of a hike. After all, it’s an urban landscape; one built with concrete, crowded with skyscrapers, bustling with people — and distinctly lacking the peaceful woodsiness that most people associate with long treks. Some thru-hikers, however, see the city as just as much a place for hiking as any natural expanse. They plot trips along its sidewalks and staircases with as much enthusiasm as they would long-reaching mountain trails and switchbacks, and view bodegas and coffee shops with the same relief that they would a woodsy rest stop at the end of a long day.
For fast-paced, be-there-yesterday New Yorkers, embarking on a thru-hike and slogging through the city’s streets when a perfectly serviceable subway trip is available might seem like a bizarre waste of time — and it’s true, thru-hiking requires a perspective shift. Walking miles through the cityscape is meant to slow the walker down; to make them think about and experience the city in an entirely new way. Urban thru-hikers are forbidden from backtracking or using public transportation, although they can plan their routes to coincide with convenience stores, restaurants, AirBnBs, landmarks or whatever else they might need or be interested in seeing.
Bob Inman, the creator of the Inman 300 thru-hike in Los Angeles and author of Finding Los Angeles on Foot, describes these urban hikes as about “perforating the barriers within communities that car culture creates… about finding what is notable, historical, quizzical, and beautiful in this great city while walking.”
Inman frames thru-hiking as a feat of exploration. Other thru-hikers, however, have taken his philosophy a step further and made urban foot travel almost an act of social commentary; an in-depth investigation and celebration of what a city does and does not have to offer at the pedestrian level.
Consider thru-hiker and activist Liz “Snorkel” Thomas’ work in New York City. An avid hiker, Thomas is best known in the hiking community for her accomplishments in more stereotypical hiking landscapes. In 2011, she walked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 80 days and 13 hours, temporarily earning the title of the fastest woman to ever do so. Throughout her career, she has accumulated over 15,000 miles on long-distance trails — including several hundred on New York’s urban terrain.
In New York, Thomas wasn’t on the lookout for winding woodland trains; instead, she sought out playgrounds. Earlier this year, the avid hiker spent several months collaborating with the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to design a nine-day hike that would weave through public play spaces. Her trek was meant to highlight the work that TPL’s New York City Playgrounds Program has done to ensure that all city residents can find green space within a ten-minute walk. Since its establishment in 1996, the Playground Program has transformed over 200 unused paved lots into community playgrounds. Thomas’ 225-mile route stops at a full half of the converted spaces.
For Thomas, the hike itself wasn’t as crucial as immersing herself in the communities she traveled through and drawing attention to the importance of having accessible green space. “If you’re trying to teach a kid how to ride a bike, you can’t just stick the bike in the back of the car and drive to a park like my dad did when I was learning to ride,” she told one reporter for Adventure Journal. “These schoolyards are not just there for the school; they serve such an important function to the community that lives around it.”
Thru-hiking is, in this way, an act of advocacy and public service — a way to not only appreciate and learn more about the city but to press a cause with an appreciation for work that has already been done.
Liz isn’t the first person to explore accessibility and social causes in New York through hiking, either. Consider Curbed reporter Karrie Jacob’s walk to the notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly La Guardia as an example. Jacobs planned her trip in part because Google Maps informed her that the trek was nearly impossible on foot — and even if she did make it, the path would drop her on the wrong side of the Grand Central Parkway.
“It was an expedition,” she writes, “like Magellan circumnavigating the earth or Lewis and Clark trekking to the Pacific Ocean, except we were heading to a place that had already been thoroughly discovered—by some 30 million passengers a year—and is only five miles, as the crow flies, from midtown Manhattan.”
And yet, the discoveries Jacobs found weren’t the ones she anticipated. She found that rather than blazing a wholly new trail, she realized that she was walking a well-trodden — if poorly-designed and challenging to traverse — path that countless airport workers use every day. She writes:
“I thought we were explorers, discovering an unknown route to the airport, but it turns out that roughly 120 people go that way every day. And I realized something that should have been obvious from the outset: For those employed at LGA, it’s as much a neighborhood as the Financial District is for those who work on Wall Street.”
This realization says something significant about urban thru-hiking and, really, urban exploration in general. We have preconceived notions about what our city is — what it has, what it lacks, what it feels like to travel through it. When we look down on our communities from an elevated train car, we barely have a chance to see them, let alone understand them. We lose our ability to gain a real understanding of what communities — ones that we may not even realize exist — need, as well as our ability to appreciate the small, beautiful qualities that can only be seen on foot.
Perhaps more of us should follow Liz Thomas and Karrie Jacobs’ examples — if only for the chance to better understand and care for the city we call home.
Everyone needs a periodic rest and recovery, and New York’s iconic stone lions are no exception. Starting in September, the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) leonine statues will be cleaned and restored to pristine condition. The city has earmarked $250,000 to fund the restoration and expects the process to take roughly nine weeks to complete.
“The lions have earned some time at the spa,” New York Public Library President Anthony Marx told Curbed earlier this month, “As great stewards of this building, it is critical that we maintain the lions and ensure that they are strong to inspire everyone for generations to come.”
Marx is right in that the century-old statues need care. The lions’ welfare has been a matter of outspoken concern for a while now. While a large portion of the restoration fund stems from a sizeable grant from the New York Life Foundation, hundreds of New Yorkers donated to support the initiative. For some resident activists, the cause was so important that they took to major media to press the importance of repairs. One such supporter reached out to New York Post journalist John Crudele before the restoration plans were announced, writing, “It was Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who named the lions. If he were alive today, he would be in an uproar about their condition.”
A tad dramatic, perhaps, but the writer had a point. Stone, despite its reputation, doesn’t last forever. One lion is currently missing a chunk from his hind leg and right underbelly, and further sports a chipped front paw and cracked hindquarters.
The wear sounds severe, but — as experts have pointed out in recent articles on the matter — is entirely reasonable and expected. The lions were first carved from porous Tennessee pink marble in 1911, and have been carefully restored periodically — usually on a schedule of once every seven to ten years — to counteract the impact of traffic exhaust, environmental erosion, and human contact. Given that the last conservation efforts occurred in 2011, the work planned for September is right on schedule.
The upcoming restoration efforts will be facilitated by WJE Engineers and Architects and Integrated Conservation Contracting. Conservationists will perform a full assessment, repair cracks with grout, and conduct a thorough laser cleaning that will remove accumulated material from the statues without further damaging the stone. During the process, both lions will be covered in plywood to protect them from environmental harm.
“We know it will be hard to have them covered for nine weeks, but we ask the public to have patience and fortitude,” Marx urged, “This work is critical and must be done.”
Marx’s words might seem like standard PR jargon to those unfamiliar with the NYPL — but those who live in the city can recognize the pun in his phrasing. The stone lions’ names are, as Marx subtly referenced, Patience and Fortitude. Patience watches over the south side of the Library’s steps, and Fortitude rests to the north.
Interestingly, while the lions are best known by those names, their catchalls have changed over the years. When the lions were first carved by the Bronx-based Piccirilli brothers at the start of the 20th century, they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox in tribute to the NYPL’s founders, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gave the lions their modern names in the 1930s, saying that New Yorkers would need Patience and Fortitude to survive the economic recession of the time.
Since then, the names have stuck — and the lions’ import to New Yorkers has grown. Books have been written about Patience and Fortitude; the pair have been immortalized through countless photographs, art, and memorabilia. As one writer for the NYPL itself describes, “The Lions have witnessed countless parades and been adorned with holly wreaths during the winter holidays and magnificent floral wreaths in springtime […] They have been photographed alongside countless tourists, replicated as bookends, caricatured in cartoons, and illustrated in numerous children’s books.”
Today, Patience and Fortitude serve as icons of life in New York City. With all the joy and local pride that the lions symbolize, New Yorkers can bear the nine weeks of restorations gamely, knowing that by the end, the statues will emerge as majestic as ever — for the next decade or so, at least.
Want to know more about the history of NYC’s most iconic landmarks? Check out our post, The History of NYC in 6 Bridges!
New York City is known for being a hard-driving metropolis — literally. At nearly every intersection, you can hear a car’s honk, squealing brakes, and the occasional swear from a cut-off driver or jaywalking pedestrian. New Yorkers want to get where they want to go, and they want to get there now. The city’s passion for moving fast is practically a cliche; having an attitude to match is a characteristic part of living in New York.
However, this move-fast-and-get-there culture comes at a cost. On average, vehicle accidents seriously injure or kill one New Yorker every two hours; according to recently-published findings, roughly 4,000 New Yorkers experience severe injury and over 200 die in traffic-related accidents each year. These numbers are shocking, especially given the sheer avoidability of most car accidents.
But what if navigating daily life in the city wasn’t so dangerous? Is it possible to lean into that avoidability in a way that could make New York’s fast-paced attitude safer and more peaceful for all?
The answer seems to be yes. While the number of traffic fatalities seems high at a glance — and to be clear, it is — the fatality rates and injury rates reported in the city have nevertheless been on a steep decline for several years. In the five years between 2018 and 2013, the total number of people killed in traffic collisions in New York dropped from 299 to a comparatively low 200. As matters stand, New York’s fatality statistics are currently at their lowest recorded level since the city began collecting such data in 1910.
This is all good news — but why has this change come to pass? Most attribute the positive change to a 2014 citywide initiative called Vision Zero.
What is Vision Zero?
While Vision Zero has been the impetus for sweeping change in New York, it did not start in the city — or, for that matter, the country. The program first took root in Sweden during the 1990s. The initiative developed around a revolutionary new philosophy towards urban planning and design; rather than place sole responsibility for traffic safety on drivers and pedestrians, the program attributes partial accountability on system designers and policymakers to lessen the potentiality of crashes and ensure that when they do occur, the damage they cause is negligible.
Or, as one writer for the program in New York describes the founding idea: “Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities.”
The program acknowledges that designing or overhauling public streets is a complex issue that encompasses a multitude of factors such as roadway design, behaviors, speeds, technology, and policies — all of which require input from different municipal departments. To that end, Vision Zero provides the framework for a cross-disciplinary and collaborative approach between local engineers, policymakers, traffic planners, and public health professionals.
The program’s approach has shown results across its home of Sweden, Europe, and now, New York City.
Tracking Vision Zero’s Impact in NYC
Mayor Bill De Blasio instituted NYC’s version of Vision Zero in 2014. In its original form, the plan encompassed 63 specific initiatives deployed across six city departments. Within its first year, Vision Zero committed $52 million to fund safety-related projects, overhauled 35 dangerous intersections, dropped posted speed limits to 25 mph on 27 high-fatality streets, and collaborated with the NYPD to conduct targeted enforcement efforts for speeding, distracted driving, and failure to yield.
More recently, Vision Zero organizers further opted to both increase the number of traffic cameras in school zones by over 500% and to expand their hours of operation. By June of 2020, these cameras will be installed throughout high-crash corridors across the five boroughs; notable areas include but are not limited to Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Northern Boulevard in Queens, Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and First Avenue in Manhattan.
All of these efforts have borne results, as the record-setting drop in New York’s traffic fatalities demonstrates. Mayor De Blasio himself recently highlighted the win in an interview for the New York Times by saying, “Vision Zero is clearly working.”
However, there is still work to be done. While traffic deaths are at an all-time low, pedestrian fatalities have seen a worrisome rise. According to recent statistics, the number of such deaths rose from 107 in 2017 to 114 in 2018. The uptick is troubling, given that pedestrian accidents tend to inflict more severe damage than any other form of traffic collision.
“Drivers haven’t taken their responsibility to yield very seriously,” Mayor De Blasio commented for the Times. “There has been a lot of enforcement, and there will be more.”
His point cuts to the founding principle of Vision Zero. Regardless of whether they walk, drive, or bike, New Yorkers deserve to feel safe as they move through their city — and it’s the city’s responsibility to make sure they have an environment that allows them to do so.
The days of hammering out the business plan for a startup at your friend’s mother’s kitchen table are well and truly in the past. Today, coworking spaces offer entrepreneurial-minded professionals from all fields the chance to develop their ventures and connect with other like-minded achievers in comfortable, office-like environments.
The value of these inclusive offices aren’t limited to would-be founders, however; they also can support freelancers, gig economy workers, or small business owners. Today, New York City hosts a number of these coworking spaces, many of which are tailored for the specific needs and interests of their members. These offices empower digital nomads in New York City to work, network, and succeed in spaces that appeal to them, rather than in whatever library corner or park bench might be available on a given day.
Which coworking company will best suit your needs? Check out the list below to decide.
Industrious has locations around the continental United States and maintains two offices in New York City. For now, the company’s presence is limited to one space in Brooklyn and another in Union Square; however, Industrious has announced its intent to open more locations in the city in the next few years.
This coworking space sets itself apart by offering private offices as well as a communal coworking space for up to 100 people. Its Manhattan and Brooklyn facilities are world-class and provide office options that are ideal for large and small companies alike.
Private offices begin at $1,341 per month, and community memberships start at $590 per month.
The Farm brings a quiet Midwestern charm to bear amid New York’s bustle. The company’s sole office in the city consists of a 100-year-old barn that was brought over from Missouri and put back together piece by piece.
Pricing is affordable at The Farm. You can purchase a day pass for $29 per day, sign up for a guaranteed desk in a shared workspace for $179 a month, or select a dedicated and private desk for only $349 a month.
Alma is a stylish coworking space located on Madison Avenue that provides tailored workspaces for therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals alike.
Industry professionals have the option to choose from one of three plans: Alma’s Community package, which starts at $145 per month, a Flex plan, which starts at $165 per month, and their Dedicated membership, which starts at $490 per month.
The Wing was founded in 2016 in NYC as a coworking space designed specifically for women. They now have three locations in NYC, with offices in Flatiron, Soho and Dumbo. Since its founding, they have expanded considerably; today, The Wing boasts locations across the United States and overseas.
The community at The Wing fosters connections beyond that of a business alone. It is a place to develop friendships, gain support, find mentors, network, and more.
Memberships begin at $185 per month with an annual commitment.
WeWork has many locations in NYC, and more are slated to open. The company began with a mission to redefine success as personal fulfillment — not just the bottom line.
Depending on location, prices start as low as $300 for community space or a dedicated desk, and private offices begin at $840 a month and go up to $2,150.
The Amalgamated Drawing Office — more colloquially known as A/D/O — is a 23,000 square foot warehouse in Greenpoint that has been converted into working space for artists.
More than a coworking space, A/D/O is an experience. For creatives, they provide a fabrication lab with an array of tools and resources. An atrium, open to the public, provides a place to relax and enjoy food and drink. Membership includes open workspace, fabrication equipment, and complimentary WiFi.
Community places are open to the public at no charge, and workspace starts at $375 per month for artists.
If you are looking for a place to connect, a place to work, and a place to foster community, a coworking space may be just what you are looking for. There are many affordable spaces in NYC that provide opportunities for every small business owner, entrepreneur, and industry creative to conduct business and make the connections they need to thrive professionally.
New York City thrives on the cutting edge of innovation. It’s a hotspot for creative engineering; a perpetual testing ground for the technologies that will advance us into a new era of achievement. It maintains an all but permanent place at the forefront of global advancement, racing alongside cities like London, Beijing, Tokyo, and Paris to a brighter, more tech-forward future. It’s a developmental sprint that New York seems well-primed to win — provided, that is, that judges don’t strike points for the city’s lamentably outdated rail network.
It might not be entirely fair to say that the United States’ transportation infrastructure stacks up like a Shetland pony at the Kentucky Derby, but the comparison isn’t necessarily incorrect, either. Both France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and China’s national high-speed rail can top speeds of 350 miles per hour; in Germany, rail lines can speed travelers along at over 300 kilometers per hour. The United States’ Acela Express, in contrast, can scrape by at top speeds of just 155 miles per hour. Compared to its peers, America is several decades out of date and, I would argue, missing out on the benefits that urban transit provides.
The United States is sorely in need of an update — and given its reputation for being a prominent hub for innovation, it makes sense that New York should be at the forefront of transportation development.
In January 2019, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) submitted a bill that would create a commission to study the potential for high-speed rail transit. The bill is currently scheduled to be reviewed during the 2019-2020 session, so the state legislature has yet to come to any firm conclusions regarding the idea — however, Kim’s commission seems to be a step in the right direction. As Kim himself commented in a recent article for Politico, “We need to rethink our overall economic development vision for the entire state, and that starts with some version of high-speed rail.”
To follow Kim’s point, let’s consider a few reasons why New Yorkers would benefit from a high-speed rail.
Facilitate Regional Travel
High speed rail naturally makes regional travel faster, easier, and less expensive. Consider the experience of Business Insider writer Harrison Jacobs, who recently documented his time traveling across China via train for the publication. According to Jacobs, high-speed rail empowered him to travel the 746 miles between Beijing and Xi’an in about four and a half hours. In comparison, he notes, America’s tracks are painfully slow. “If I wanted to travel a comparable distance in the US by train — at 712 miles, New York to Chicago is the closest — it would take 22 hours with a transfer in Washington, DC,” he writes, “And that’s with traveling on Amtrak’s Acela Express, currently the fastest train in the US.”
In the States, frequent business or recreational trips between the two hubs would be inconvenient to the point of impossibility. However, if travelers had the option to make the same trip in a quarter of the time, who is to say that they wouldn’t take advantage of it? The ease of transport could improve commercial trade between regional hubs, improve the creative flow of ideas between states, and give people more agency to travel for work and pleasure.
Add Short- and Long-Term Jobs
Faster public transit has the potential to bring more jobs to New York. Shortly after taking office in 2010, then-governor Andrew Cuomo asserted as much in an open letter: “High-speed rail could be transformative for New York — with the potential to revitalize Upstate New York’s economy with construction jobs now and permanent jobs created by the new high-speed rail links to New York City, Toronto, and Montreal in the future.”
He has a point. A high-speed rail network would create a host of immediate construction and train management jobs, as well as facilitate a significant number of long-term commuter positions. With the high-speed infrastructure in place, conducting inter-state — or even international — travel and commerce would be easier than ever, allowing for greater economic growth, intellectual exchanges, and business development.
Improve Quality of Life
It’s well-established that high-speed trains can significantly improve life in urban hubs. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently found that “bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life, reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, and provide a “safety valve” for crowded cities.”
Take China as a case study for the public benefits of this phenomenon; within a few years of rail construction, new “exoburbs” began to emerge within 400 miles of urban hubs such as Beijing and Shanghai. These rail-adjacent communities enabled those who might not have been able to afford city living a chance to commute from more affordable — and previously impractically distant — towns. The greater urban spread limited the day-to-day drain that a too-high population might otherwise place on a city’s resources and made living within a commutable distance more financially feasible for its workforce. In New York, having a high-speed regional commuter rail could alleviate the pressure of overpopulation, cut down on traffic congestion, and even cut down on the pollution caused by vehicular commuters.
The benefits of building a network of high-speed rail lines are both clear and pressing. As matters stand, New York’s sorely outdated transportation system holds the city back from being the global innovation leader that it should be. It’s a stumbling block that needs to be remedied — otherwise, we may find ourselves trailing behind even as our international peers race full speed ahead.