An urbanist travels to New York
July 26, 2011 7:47 PM   Subscribe

What are some urbanist/transit/cartography/local history-related attractions, exhibits or experiences I can visit/have when I am in New York City in mid-August?

I'm taking my umpteenth trip to NYC in two and a half weeks, from Friday 8/12 through Sunday 8/14. I thought I'd see if MeFi had any suggestions on anything:

- transit
- urbanist/smart growth
- maps/cartography
- architecture and local history

that might be fun to see and do that weekend; particularly on Friday, as I will be by myself for most of the day. I will be staying in Brooklyn Heights, but will go anywhere the MTA can take me in the city. Some examples of stuff I have seen or plan to see:

- I loved the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
- I'm planning on strolling the High Line, which interests me for its land use in particular.
- I'm also planning on seeing the NY/Amsterdam and mapping exhibitions at the Center for Architecture.

I'm also interested in dilapidated/old buildings such as Detroit's Michigan Central Station, for example, although that particular example might actually be a bit too remote/scary. But stuff in that vein -- older, maybe abandoned or reused interestingly -- if you get what I mean.

Most any type of stuff is fair game, whether it's a formal attraction/museum or just a building or even just a walk on a street or something. Thanks!
posted by andrewesque to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely visit the Museum of the City of New York. You might also enjoy the Tenement Museum.
posted by carmicha at 7:53 PM on July 26, 2011

You can also take the ferry out to Governor's Island, which is open to the public on Fridays - Sundays, or the tram to Roosevelt Island (link to pdf of map and self-guided tour; both combine interesting planned environments with transportation-as-attraction.
posted by carmicha at 8:02 PM on July 26, 2011

You could flip through some of the favorites on Scouting NY and see if anything strikes you?
posted by BundleOfHers at 8:07 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always wanted to go on one of the Municipal Art Society Tours, but never got the chance while i lived in NYC. looks like they have neat one while you are there.

Also, have you ever been to Roosevelt Island? Taking the tram is particularly fun for transit geeks -- and once you get there, it's hard to believe the place exists so close to the city. granted, i visited in the winter, so it was super deserted, but it almost feels like suburbia over there. plus there are great views.

Seconding governor's island!

Land Use-wise, you could take a self-guided tour of NYC's many public pocket parks on private land -- always fun to find.

They just re-vamped the east river esplanade, which is suppose to be very nice.

best urbanist thing i can suggest is renting and hitting all the bridges with bike access! the GW has the coolest view of NYC i've ever seen.
posted by nanhey at 8:07 PM on July 26, 2011

Best answer: Ride the downtown 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge, the last stop. Then stay on. It will loop around through the beautiful abandoned former City Hall station, which is really neat to see. I'm not sure if you're technically allowed to do this but the conductor didn't care at all when I did it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:10 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Tenement Museum. The only way to see it is with a group + guide, and they do a really good job.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:17 PM on July 26, 2011

You'll need to take a break at some point. Here is a list of rooftop bars.
posted by carmicha at 8:35 PM on July 26, 2011

Take a ride up to see The Cloisters, and check out St. John the Divine while you're up there.

The Cloisters is an art museum that was itself assembled from bits of European castles and cathedrals (no, really). St. John the Divine is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. 119 years later, it's still not complete, and remains under ongoing construction.
posted by schmod at 9:04 PM on July 26, 2011

Best answer: I have always liked looking out the windows on the elevated N/Q trains in Astoria. You get a great view of Manhattan on one side, and on the other side is all the Queens stuff you're riding by. You also get a good look at the Hell Gate Bridge and the Triboro towards the end of the line. It only goes 7 stops outside Manhattan, so it's not a long ride from midtown. Then at the end of the line you could enjoy something on Ditmars Blvd before heading back down. You could also take the 7 to Queensboro Plaza, which takes you past 5 Pointz, and then transfer to the N/Q to Ditmars there.

The N/Q bend right past Queensboro Plaza gives you an interesting view of Long Island City, taking you past large dilapidated industrial buildings, as well as some big hole in the ground with giant cranes and stuff and conveyor belts... I have heard that area compared to Fraggle Rock, though I never watched the show so I cannot say. I have no idea what they do down there, but I do like staring at it as we ride by.
posted by wondermouse at 9:06 PM on July 26, 2011

I've not actually been there, but a friend worked at the Skyscraper Museum, and he shares your general interests.
Although if you've been there umpteen times, i'm sure you've hit it already but I really enjoyed the trek out to the Queens Museum of Art, specifically to see the panorama. Urbanity at its most grand 1:1200 scale.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:26 PM on July 26, 2011

You might enjoy the City Reliquary.

The Design Trust for Public Space has monthly potlucks in interesting places - if they don't happen to have one during your visit, they might still have nice recommendations for you.
posted by moonmilk at 9:27 PM on July 26, 2011

Best answer: I would definitely stop into the NYPL's main branch and go into their map room. Grand Central Terminal also has a free audio tour mp3 available online.

Public spaces to look at off the top of my head:
AMC 25 in Times Square--stroll into the lobby and gaze at the gorgeous ceiling (you don't even need to buy a ticket)
The Chelsea Market--former Nabisco Oreo factory, now home to the Food Network and bakeries, restaurants, and more
Limelight Marketplace--former church turned nightclub, now a shopping mall, and all the stained glass is still there
Ace Hotel/Breslin--if you look carefully, you'll set the entire renovated lobby is really a set. They weren't allowed to make real modifications. Also the ceiling of the Breslin is what they found after peeling back years of wallpaper and paint.

Private stuff that's worth a shot:
Offices of Snohetta AS in the Cunard Building--see if there's any way to make an appointment to visit them and see the old, locked up grand hall and former post office.
South side of Ellis Island--the Save Ellis Island folks might be persuaded to take you  on a hard hat tour of the unrestored buildings. I did it as a member benefit, but I'm not sure if they still do the tour. It's super creepy. 
Woolworth Building--make a silly appointment, like, to get your haircut, just so you can get in the door and see the amazing lobby that is now shut off from the public. I think the barber shop inside is named EVT.

Please come back in the fall if you can, to participate in Open House NY, and to visit the Richard Meier Model Museum, which is closed in the summer due to humidity. You're leaving before the OHNY Hidden Harbors tour on 8/16 unfortunately.
posted by kathryn at 9:55 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the suggestions! It's super early here (I'm in Chicago) so I haven't had time to read through the answers in detail yet (but I will!), but a quick scan looks very promising.

I haven't actually hit up that many of these type of attractions in NYC despite having been there a bazillion times, mostly because I didn't have this revelation that I was interested in these things until very recently, and also because most of the time I'd gone to the city before was to visit friends/go shopping/eat out.

So keep 'em coming!
posted by andrewesque at 4:11 AM on July 27, 2011

Some more ideas:
- Little Red Lighthouse tour
- A canoe tour of the Gowanus Canal
- Tour the cheese caves at Murray's Cheeses in the West Village
- An AIA NY skyline and bridge cruise
- Contact the Newtown Creek & Digester Eggs and ask when the next public tour is of the Digster Eggs. They are supposed to be once a month, mid-month, but I don't see an August one on the calendar.
- Visit the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and Gould Memorial Library at Bronx Community College. You might recognize them from movies like A Beautiful Mind.
posted by kathryn at 10:01 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're in Brooklyn Heights, the BK Historical Society is worth a stop. If you go on Friday you can also check out the library there, which is just ridiculously beautiful (it's closed on weekends, though the museum is open). There's also a 1770 map of the city on display there right now, so it checks your "cartography" box.

The City Hall station is amazing, if you ever get the chance to do a Transit Museum tour of it, but it's often really hard to see from the train if you just ride the 6 through it. Prepare to be slightly disappointed by that.

And I'd second the QMA's panorama. It would be a long trek from Brooklyn to Flushing Meadows, but the panorama has been worth it for me every time.
posted by alphasunhat at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2011

Response by poster: Just wanted to report on my trip:

I hit up the High Line, which was spectacular and a wonderful walking experience. I went midday on a Friday, not too bad, but I've heard that it gets very crowded at dusk and on weekends.

The Center for Architecture exhibits near Washington Sq Park were interesting, but rather small.

Roosevelt Island tram had superb views, and I really enjoyed walking around the island as well. On the south end of the island I also saw the ruins of the smallpox hospital, unique as you don't find too many decaying ruins in Manhattan.

The MoMA is hosting an exhibition called "194X-9/11: American Architects and the City" until Jan. 2, 2012 which I also really enjoyed. It's a look at conceptions of the city in the postwar period, including some pretty cool 3D models.

I wanted to hit up a bunch of the other suggestions, but alas, I ran out of time and then the all-day rain on Sunday sort of derailed my plans. But all in all, a very enjoyable weekend! Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by andrewesque at 6:42 AM on August 17, 2011

« Older Bury the lead?   |   Help me understand why desciptive bibliography is... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.