Last Sunday, we attended a classical music concert at NYU’s Kimmel auditorium. The concert was held in a spacious hall on the 10th floor and on one side of the room were large picture windows which afforded a wonderful view. We were high enough that we could look out over the trees in Washington Square Park and see the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Directly in front was the spire of the Empire State building and , to one side of it, the pyramidal crown of the New York Life building and , further away, the scaly tapering shape of the Chrysler Tower. In between were dozens of other office buildings, many of them familiar to me from my 30+ years of working in New York City.
The concert was wonderful but, every now and then , I found my eyes straying to the window and the panorama beyond it. I found myself reflecting on the New York skyline….
New York City , or more correctly Manhattan, is unique in that many of its tall buildings have been around for fifty years or more . Since it is an island there is no scope for the city to expand outwards except in the outer boroughs. Consequently, the familiar Manhattan skyline has changed comparatively little. In comparison to other cities, it’s buildings may appear shopworn and old but they have a rich history behind them and I feel an affection for them which I don’t feel for any other city. I know I am not alone in this and that several others feel the same way I do. My son worked two years in The City before taking up a job in Palo Alto, CA and he never ceased missing the city. He’s doing his MBA now and will probably be back in New York before long.
In the past few years we have been to Shanghai and Beijing and Mumbai and the rate at which they are being transformed is breathtaking. In Shanghai, whole city blocks are being razed to the ground and gleaming new skyscrapers are springing up like mushrooms. Mumbai ( or Bombay as it used to be) is no longer the same place where I spent my formative years. The historic center of town ( Fort and Churchgate ) have not changed much but in other areas there are brand new office towers and commercial buildings where previously there were slums. Because of the speed of modern construction, the face of these cities is undergoing a rapid transformation. That’s true even of staid old London. A friend e-mailed me some photos of London and I could barely recognize the city I had last visited in 1978. Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace were of course instantly recognizable but several of the other landmarks were dwarfed by the new buildings that had sprung up.
When it comes to rapid change there can be nothing to compare with Dubai. The pace of building is so frenetic and the scale so monumental that even five years is enough to effect a complete change in the skyline. I wonder what the locals feel about it. I’m sure they feel pride but do they feel affection for their city. The same for Shanghai and Beijing and Mumbai and all those other chameleons… do the people feel they really belong there ?
Going home that evening we took the LIncoln Tunnel and as we emerged on the other side we had a grand view of the Manhattan skyline from across the Hudson. It was a sight I had seen hundreds of times over the years and once again it aroused in me the very same emotions of love and pride and belonging.
MY New York.