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This corner lot has been hidden behind a plywood fence painted blue and left to go wild for the past four years. Weed trees and grasses have sprung up through the rubble of whatever had been there.

In an alternate version of the city, the public and the developers agree that this rare bit of open space so near the Empire State Building should be turned into a park. “Open public spaces are more important than squeezing every bit of profit out of an investment,” the developer said. “The well-being of the neighborhood’s inhabitants and workers make it well worth taking a loss.”

A civic group agreed to develop the park completely on the donations and labor of volunteers. The park’s design, incorporating only indigenous plants and materials, has already been approved by the mayor’s office.

 

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Last post on the greenhouse for awhile. If it’s still there, I’ll go back in the fall and again in winter and again in spring until they tear it down. Here is the wide view, the three big greenhouses stacked side by side, maybe a football field in length.

It leaves me wondering about a few things I could easily find out. Who mows the area around it? Something’s been planted in neat, organized rows along the road and I wonder about that. It’s  neglected and tended, in disrepair but seemingly unvandalized, overrun by a collection of nature that isn’t all that natural. Why not just leave it alone and see what happens?

My dad, 82, lives just a few miles from this place. I live in New York, about two hours away.When he was my age, he had a place with a boat on Great Bay in New Jersey he’d go weekends during the summer with Janet, his second wife. I’m convinced that I brought my second wife there once with the kids about a dozen years ago, just before he sold it. The boat was already gone, but the dock was still there and anyone who’s ever been there could instantly conjure the smell of the salt marshes and the light just before sunset. I’m the only one with that memory and I can’t say with any certainty that it happened.

 

“There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
you got it, you got it

“We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
we got it, we got it

“There was a shopping mall
Now it’s all covered with flowers
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

“If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

“This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it’s nothing but flowers”

Nothing but Flowers, The Talking Heads

We return to the greenhouse, my favorite place on earth after Dog Beach. What little I remember of trees tells me that the fast-growing tree below, the one so anxious for light and air it shattered a glass pane is either Juglans nigra (black walnut) or Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven).

Juglans is a native of North America, once common to the forests of the northeast. Here’s what Edward Sibley Barnard says in New York City Trees: A Field Guide for the Metropolitan Area (Columbia University Press):

“Intolerant of shade, the black walnut secures its ecological niche by producing substances that retard the development of other trees around it. The black walnut was once plentiful in the eastern United States, but almost all the great old-growth forests are gone now, felled by lumberman seeking America’s finest cabinetry wood. ”

You might find this tree for sale in a nursery.

The other option, Ailanthus, is a weed tree imported from Asia either unwittingly or on purpose. It does not appear in Barnard’s guide, although you will find it everywhere, growing through cracks in sidewalk or old buildings. If you break a branch or a leaf, tree of heaven oozes a milky white stinky sap. The tree “suckers,” meaning that it’s roots shoot out sideways underground. If you cut down the tree or if the trunk is merely damaged, another will soon pop up nearby from the root system.

The tree above could very well be Ailanthus, on its quest to choke out all other plant life.

I won’t tell you much about it. It was sold for development when development went bust a few years ago and the inmates have taken over. God, I love it and hope they never tear it down or clean it up. It was early morning and birds flew in and out through the missing panes and I startled and flushed out a half dozen white-tailed deer.

 

More of this later.

Brutalism is a style of architecture. It seems to explain itself well enough in this image made recently of the AT&T switching center on 10th avenue between 53rd and 54th. The sun shone bright did not illuminate. No light enters, and no light leaves. Waves riding another frequency slip in, deposit their messages and exit with others to carry off into the ether.

It is said that on particularly dark nights and lunar eclipses a body can pass through the solid matter walls only to be absorbed by them. If you find it following you, walk slowly until you find help. Never look it in the eye. Image

There’s the desecrated truck at rest on East 66th Street as gravity begins pulling it slowly into the asphalt. Perverse, elegant accidental street sculpture. A patron of the arts looks on.

The door was ripped from its hinges and shoved into the gaping maw of the cab like a dismembered tongue stuffed into the mouth of a decomissioned stoolie.

Danger, we are warned. Danger.

and a few doors uptown…

…and directly across the street. They moved a block or two north on Broadway, but still… you know?

Finally, two blocks away at 79th and Amsterdam.

33rd St. Vacant Lot

I walk past this vacant lot on East 33rd between 5th and Madison and it always catches my eye. Last week I saw a guy organizing garbage bags atop the fence, probably looping them on the unintentional hooks that form the top side of the fence. The bags hang on the inside, out of sight from the street.

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Theory: he collects cans, glass, and plastics for recycling and stores the bags up there before redeeming. Here’s a view from inside the lot – bags in upper left corner. It reminds me of what a hiker would do with food to keep it out of reach of bears.

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The rest of the lot from left to right, strewn with rubble and garbage, a modern urban ruin. Why not open this site to the public? Sure someone would invariably get some superficial injury and sue the city for millions, but why not…

Vacant lot - 33rd interior left

Vacant lot 33rd - interior right

In December, 2001, a five-alarm fire swept through the north transept of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Ave. You can see signs of reconstruction and restoration – building materials, scaffolding, large granite column sections – all along the north side of the Cathedral. Visit these grounds and you’ll see wide columns that abut the sky, light streaming in unglassed windows and stairs descending from total darkness.

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