I Believe in Cities
This I Believe, 2009
I believe in the preservation of historic sites, buildings and parks, which create our unique neighborhoods and contribute to the character and quality of our lives in New York City.
E.B. White wrote about a large willow tree in Turtle Bay. “This must be saved this particular thing, this very tree. If it were to go, all would go—this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.”
I believe that preserving the memories of people and cultures that preceded us enhances our own traditions and customs and our own lives. Maintaining our connection to the past nourishes all of us who call New York City our home.
Jane Jacobs (1916–2006), preservation advocate, historian and author, approached cities as living beings and ecosystems. She suggested that over time, buildings, streets and neighborhoods function as dynamic organisms, changing in response to how people interact with them: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” I understand Jane Jacobs was referring to every citizen who helped create and perpetuate our City—visionaries, designers, architects, laborers, builders, writers, storytellers, poets, painters, photographers, spectators, families and people of all ages who observe their surroundings with pleasure. Life does not happen in isolation, especially when we live in close proximity.
Story after story, memory after memory People offer personal, ceremonial thank you’s to the city. There are many secret symbols around New York that we find pleasure in preserving. Think how many cremated ashes from loved ones and pets are quietly scattered here and there. A bereaved friend helped keep the spirit of her dog alive when she bought a box of dog biscuits and spent a day walking to favorite places around the City, leaving the biscuits where she and her dog spent many pleasurable hours.
When my spirit seems to be languishing, when I feel in need of quiet alone time, I often find myself absorbing the beauty and tranquility from a walk in a remote corner of Central Park. The quiet solitude of the winding wooded paths through the Rambles allows me the time to just relax. I also have a special bench near the Great Lawn—where I can sit under a tree and gaze on the enormous skyline of midtown—sitting alone, yet connected to our collective backyard. Watching the people, where resumes and egos can be easily ignored, left outside the park entrances.
Greenwich Village is another personally favorite neighborhood where sounds of people walking talking and laughing fade into the background as I meander by the Cherry Lane Theater, passing some of the oldest private homes and most charming streets in the City. There are other walkers around me, but I feel alone to daydream as I wander.
I love the connection I feel to people who lived here one or two hundred years ago every time I discover a building, cobblestone street or an abandoned railroad track that was part of our life in generations long gone. This connection sustains me, giving me a sense of place in the world at large. I suppose this peaceful and comforting feeling is one of spirituality. Taking the time to feel the soul of our City is a way for me to honor my surroundings and my life in New York.