Along Mott Street, boxes of fruits and vegetables from the US, Latin America, and China flow from the private open storefronts and onto the public sidewalks and curbs. Forklifts navigate around crates and delivery trucks as vendors, residents, tourists, and shoppers–from regional Asian restaurant owners to West-African immigrants–animate the narrow walkways. After business hours, private produce stands become public places to sit, chat, people-watch, or nap as a sidewalk masseuse sets up two chairs on the public sidewalk to provide his private services.
Away from the commercial corridors, teenagers sit in circles sipping on bubble tea on the Pace High School track while senior citizens slap playing cards on a makeshift table along the track perimeter. Inside the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, teachers begin their Chinese language class while protesters in Columbus Park call for ending violence against Asian Americans.
In creating this map, we hope to stimulate conversations about how public space can be better used, designed, managed, and reimagined: to inspire action in shaping a more resilient and inclusive public realm.
This map illustrates the public/private uses/spaces of Manhattan Chinatown’s pedestrian life. The map is divided into two sections: the upper depicts public spaces, and the lower section private spaces. From left to right are a spectrum of private to public uses.
In consultation with Chinatown residents and based on a series of walking tours and community forums, we developed the themes and activities shown on this map. We were inspired from reading Jane Jacobs and Michael Sorkin’s descriptions of street life and the delicate balance of public vs. private uses that play out on the city sidewalks. We hope this map will be a classroom and community resource to equip the public with a language and questions to interrogate their own built environments.
Below are scenes from a community event we held in summer 2021. Chinatown residents were invited to annotate an early draft of our map with their experiences and memories of the community.
“Those historians want to keep these old bricks. I can’t see why you’d want that s**t. F**k it. We might just slip in some new bricks. You can’t tell the difference anyway.”
– Conversation overheard between demolition workers at the Warren Street School
“The university has never demolished any historic building of any value. Name one.”
– President of the university during a community meeting in October 2020
When walking past the historic Warren Street School in spring 2021, a demolition scene by the local university shocked me. The building had been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, together with five other Newark school buildings. Therefore, the drastic destruction should have been under state and local reviews. But demolition was approved on April 1, 2021, on April Fools Day.
The 150-year-old school was built by Jeremiah O’Rourke, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department and the architect of Sacred Heart Basilica and some of the largest civic structures in 1890s America. Before the university acquired the building in salvageable condition, it was the home of American History High School, founded by beloved Professor Clement Price to promote learning of American and local history by coming generations. Even with its windows now stripped out and demolition equipment parked around it, the grand master work for Newark’s proud history of public education was crying for this painful end delivered by the wanton and shameful act of university leadership.
At the orders of the university president, a short-sighted acceleration of demolition around the campus in the country’s third oldest major city has been savagely damaging the city’s history. These actions add to the list of hundreds of buildings already demolished in the area. While institutions like Rutgers and developers like RBH and the Hanini Group have embraced historic preservation, this university still insists on wiping the slate clean of history that it views not as an asset but as an inconvenience.
The future of any great institution depends on the preservation and appreciation of its own history. I believe in saving old buildings not just because they are pretty. More than an argument for historic preservation on aesthetics alone, history – and the visible presence of history – shapes our appreciation for the sacrifices of those before us. Passing by the Warren Street School for twenty years, I thought every time of the thousands of immigrant children who attended school here for over 170 years uninterrupted. I thought of the Irish and Italian brick masons who carved the school’s terracotta ornaments by hand on wages of 5 and 10 dollars a day. I thought of these children’s parents, who came to Newark by steamship and steam engine to give to their children a better shot at life than they could ever dream of. I thought of the architect who built this building in the 1880s with care and love and hope that better civic architecture will produce better citizens.
“Until the first blow fell no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance. Somehow someone would surely find a way to prevent it at the last minute – not-so little Nell rescued by the hero – even while the promoters displayed the flashy renderings of the new sports arena and somewhat less than imperial commercial buildings to take its place.
“It’s not easy to knock down nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city. But it can be done. It can be done if the motivation is great enough, and it has been demonstrated that the profit motivation in this instance was great enough.
“Monumental problems almost as big as the building itself stood in the way of preservation; but it is the shame of New York, of its financial and cultural communities, its politicians, philanthropists, and planners, and of the public as well, that no serious effort was made. A rich and powerful city, noted for its resources of brains, imagination and money, could not rise to the occasion. The final indictment is of the values of our society.
“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tin-horn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”
Learn from the past.
Live in the present.
Plan for the future.
This was the inscription mounted at the Warren Street School’s entrance, which demolition cranes tore off and crushed in the dumpster. A site that once had a past, now has no past to learn from and to inform the present and future. Through demolition, our link with history is severed.
The scan above is suitable for viewing but not for large-format printing. Please request access to the full-size scan at ~400dpi
This ink on paper drawing represents 800 hours of work over several months. The dimensions are 45 inches high by 79 inches wide (114 cm by 201 cm).
This panorama shows NYC looking northwest from above Governor’s Island and Red Hook. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Staten Island are outside the frame. The view is accurate as of summer 2017 and does not include buildings built after this time. View on Google Earth where this image is taken from.
The image features ~4,493 buildings. For the largest and most important buildings, more attention is paid to detail. All of Manhattan’s bridges and major parks are included. Any buildings excluded were done so because they were either too small, too distant to include, or not visible from the angle this image is taken.
● 1,769 buildings in Manhattan
● 436 buildings in Brooklyn
● 1,072 buildings in Queens
● 76 buildings in Bronx
● 1,140 buildings in New Jersey
● 9 construction cranes
● 25 water features
● 28 churches
● 47 ships
● 56 bridges
● 74 water towers
● 348 cars
One metropolis 5,080 features of the built environment shown
My goal in ten years is to research and teach about art history and urban studies. Unfortunately, most aspiring professors do not get to choose the city where they work. Because I might not have the privilege of working near New York City, I wanted to draw a keepsake of all my youthful memories and experiences here. I have a photographic memory walking through the city. So I have memories that relate to all the buildings shown. I plan to frame this on the wall above my desk.
What was the most difficult part?
Because the image is ink on paper, there is no way to erase a mistake. At the later stages, any slip of the pen might have destroyed several months of work.
I am delighted with the result, but the process was tedious and required drawing thousands of windows. I never counted how many. I could only work a few hours per day before becoming exhausted. I will never attempt a drawing like this again because it is so time-consuming, and I am unlikely to ever find myself trapped again at home for such a long period of time. Fortunately.
Has the current pandemic changed how I think about NYC?
The pandemic is forcing me to appreciate NYC from a distance. Even if I am afraid to ride public transit, this drawing – and the experiences it represents – will always be a part of me.
I can see this pandemic slowing down some gentrification and keeping the built environment similar to my drawing for a good few more years. I am just afraid that, with so many businesses closing, the city might emerge from this pandemic unfamiliar to how I remember it in this drawing.
Click red label to view detail area in detail.
Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO. Brooklyn main post office (lower right) DUMBO industrial neighborhood (upper left)
Chinatown. Brooklyn Bridge in foreground. Pointed tower at left is the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse.
East River. Moving up the river from bottom: Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge.
Hudson River. World Trade Center in center. New Jersey in distance.
Wall Street with Stock Exchange
City Hall sits in middle above park. Pointed towers at right are Municipal Building and Federal courthouse.
Skyscrapers along the river are in Jersey City. Entrance to Holland Tunnel in distance.
Hudson River and Hoboken Terminal in foreground. NJ Meadowlands in background.
Newark, NJ in distance. Meadowlands in foreground. From bottom: the 1st river is the Hackensack and the 2nd is the Passaic.
Midtown Manhattan in center. Foreground trees with triumphal arch is Washington Park. Round park is Union Square.
Lower East Side. Williamsburg Bridge on right. Large factory in background generates steam power for ConEd.
Central Park and Midtown Manhattan. The Metropolitan Museum (right) and Museum of Natural History (left) are near Central Park.
Bronx in distance. Queens on right. Manhattan on left. Roosevelt Island in middle with Queensborough Bridge above.
Harlem and Bronx. GW Bridge in distance. Domed structure below bridge and above Central Park is Low Library.
In fall 2019, LinkNWK, the company that manages free wifi hotspots and advertising screens in downtown Newark, invited me to display my artwork on their kiosk. I selected drawings from my Vanishing Newark project. Images are featured below:
Two watercolors of Port Newark
Pastel of Broad Street Station
Above: Port Newark. Below: Pulaski Skyway in pastel
Pastel of rail bridge in Port Newark
Watercolor of Murphy Varnish Factory
Above: Railroad drawbridge in Port Newark. Below: Empty freight yard
As northbound Broadway dips down to the valley of 125th Street, the subway soars over the street. The subway viaduct is a jumble of steel slicing through the orthogonal city grid. The 125th Street viaduct is a massive arch, 250 feet from end to end, two hundred tons of mass channeled into four concrete pylons, resting on the solid bedrock of Manhattan schist. The subway is the intersection, where the underground and aboveground worlds of New York City converge.
New York City is now home to a peculiar race of people. Every day, New Yorkers step to the tune of the stoplight. Every day, they ride in sardine can subways. Like smoked ham on the butcher’s hook, they hang from subway straps. At their respective stops, they scramble on to work, home, and family. All New York is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their entrances as subway doors slide open, and they time their exits to the familiar recording of “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please.” 1
The subway’s alphabet lines snake their way beneath the city and above the boulevards. Take the Ⓑ to Brighton Beach, the Ⓙ to Jamaica, or the Ⓕ to Forest Hills. From the towers of Midtown, to the factories of Flatbush, to the shouts of Shea Stadium, the subway is a panoply of color, motion, and people. For the price of $2.75, the world is within reach. Chinatown, Poland, Russia, Greece, India, and Italy are all neighborhoods joined by the subway’s umbilical cord. New York is a world unto herself, knit together by bands of black asphalt and steel arteries subway track.
Voice of the City by Joseph Stella, 1922.
Once wooded island of the Lenape Indians, Mannahatta,2 is now a city of immigrants and refugees: the Irish fleeing famine in 1845, the Germans fleeing Revolution in 1848, the Italians in 1871, and now waves of Czech and Chinese, Dominicans and Mexicans. As the metropolis pulsates in motion, the spirit of the city evolves with each wave of newcomers, who ride her subways, inhabit her humid tenements, and dream of home, family, and future.
In 1856, Walt Whitman published Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. He writes of immigrants and bourgeois businessmen alike, all part of “the simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme.” Immigrants are the scheme of the city, the cogs of capitalism, and the human machinery of the metropolis. To each immigrant belongs her place, to each worker his seat, and to each vagabond a place in the breadline. Together they form the metropolis. Whitman also writes:
Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide. 3
Rome is nicknamed the “Eternal City” for its ancient architecture and generations of development. New York, too, is an “Eternal City” of sorts. Its skyscrapers may rise and fall with changing tastes and a growing economy. Yet, in the face of all change to the built environment, immigrants remain the eternal constant that marks time and life in this city: a city with over three million foreign born from all corners of the world; a city whose functioning depends on the legions of immigrant window washers, janitors, and taxi drivers without whom this urban machine would screech to a halt. In 1856, Whitman wrote of a fluid and dynamic city of people in many ways like the New York of today.
1890s burial at Hart’s Island (Jacob Riis photographer)
1991 burial of infants with AIDS (Claire Yaffa photographer)
1991 burial of infants with AIDS (Claire Yaffa photographer)
New York, you, too, are home to the injustices and inequalities urban life nurtures. Hart Island, New York’s pauper’s cemetery since 1869, is the final resting place of over a million mostly unknown corpses over 150 years, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses of immigrant New York. Over a quarter million infants are buried here, each one in an unmarked coffin made of pine, the size of a shoe box. Mass graves are three coffins deep and are buried twenty-five in a row. Nearby Riker’s Island, America’s largest jail, imprisons 10,000 a night awaiting trial in the city’s many courthouses. The South Bronx, with a per capita income $12,500, is a mere mile away from the Upper East Side, with a per capita income over $85,000. The glassy condos of Manhattan are priced at a million plus per piece, but these homes are only made possible by the immigrant workers and janitors paid $10 an hour to sweep the hallways of dust and wipe the windows of grit. Every night, these laborers, too, return to their homes in the gritty outer boroughs. They, too, ride the subway that burrows underground, as generations have before them.
In the 1880s, social reformer Jacob Riis was working on How the Other Half Lives. Through photography, he captured the squalor, darkness, and misery of New York’s impoverished immigrant community. He showed children at work in sweatshops, vagabonds at work collecting the refuse of those more fortunate. He exposed the darkness of another world a few steps from Wall Street and a few miles from the opulent mansions and department stores of Fifth Avenue and Ladies’ Mile. 4 That very same year, on March 26th 1883, the Vanderbilt Family of railroad fortune hosted the largest and most expensive costume ball in New York history, costing six million adjusted for inflation. While the idle rich came dressed as the “Count of Monte Cristo” and “Otho the Barbarian,” the poor slept in squalor a carriage ride away in the Lower East Side. As the New York Sun reported three days later, “[This] festivity represents nothing but the accumulation of immense masses of money by the few out of the labor of the many.” 5
1890 cover page of Jacob Riis’ book
Garment sweatshop with child labor (Jacob Riis photographer)
Lower East Side
The Vanderbilt Mansion
With a taxidermied cat on her head, Miss Strong attends the Vanderbilt costume ball.
Though a century has passed since Riis, New York still is a city of social contrasts and economic disparities. Ironically, Jacob Riis’ Lower East Side is now a fashionable community for the upper middle class. All the same, the eternal New York City of immigrants endures in the outer boroughs of Flushing, Queens, Jackson Heights, South Bronx, and Bedfort Stuyvesant. In many regards, their social condition is not too different from Riis’ era. His images of New York testify both to how much and to how little New York has changed. America’s Eternal City still is a place of great injustices, but it is also the place where many of these injustices were first confronted and solved by the city’s activists and artists.
Subway by George Tooker, 1950.
As E.B. White wrote in 1949: “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain illusive.” 6 Over 400 years since New York’s founding in 1609 by the Dutch, these words remain true as each generation of Men and Women creates the City in their own image. 7
New York, you have not the tree-lined boulevards of Paris, the tradition and pomp of London, or the antiquity of Rome. However, in your diversity of people, cuisine, and culture, you are something far greater. You are home to a city of strangers, a city of neighborhoods, a city of sound, a city of subways, taxis, and buses flowing from the canyons of Midtown to the quiet bedrooms of Westchester and Park Slope, like rivulets of water. Flow on city, flow with the tide, and glide through the eras. Flow on Isle ofMannahatta for “a hundred years hence,” like a ship anchored on bedrock between two proud rivers.
As Newark celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding in 1666, I created this series of drawings based on historical images and maps. As Newark develops from a small town to a bustling and industrial metropolis, the sounds shift from quiet woodlands to the din of the vibrant city with rising skyscrapers. This two minute time-lapse aims to represent history as a living and fluid process.
This time-lapse of Manhattan Chinatown took sixty hours to complete and measures 26 by 40 inches. Chinatown’s tenements are in the foreground, while the skyscraper canyons of Lower Manhattan rise on top. This shows the area of Chinatown bordered by Bowery, Canal Street, and Columbus Park.
Strolling in New York City is a world tour. The street fairs of Spanish Harlem mesh into college town Columbia. Columbia gives way to the shabby chic of Harlem. A few blocks farther and I am drowned by the tourists of Times Square. Further still and I reach the bustle of Wall Street brokers. I stroll and try to identify the passing languages. Spanish in the outer boroughs. Polish in Greenpoint. Russian in Brighton Beach. Cantonese in Chinatown. French and German shoppers in SoHo. There could be no more fitting a place for the United Nations.
Reading Here is New York by E.B. White, I realize some aspects of New York have changed little in the past seventy years. The streets, cars, and tenements are different, but the essential spirit of dynamic and diverse urbanism remains. Here is New York.
Learn more about my New York walks in this mini lecture. Or browse the collections below of photos and drawings. They are organized into ten urban walks, with each day in a different Manhattan neighborhood.
Day One: Chinatown and Lower Manhattan
City Hall Park and the Financial District
The image above is one of a series of six, each measuring 26 by 40 inches. Each drawing is of a single neighborhood in New York City, based on Google Earth satellite imagery. The drawing took between 60 and 100 hours of work.
This ink and watercolor drawing of NYC Chinatown expresses my lifelong connection with this neighborhood. The Chinese moved here by necessity in the nineteenth century and were condemned by poverty to these narrow alleys and cramped rooms. Over time, they made the space their own through interventions in the cityscape. The large corporate skyscrapers and government offices in the distance tower over the immigrant tenement blocks.
Henry and Market Street
Overfilled trash can
Mulberry Street fortune teller (center)
Mosco Alley and Mulberry Street
Bayard and Mulberry Street grocery
Flâneur picks his teeth in window reflection
Forsyth and Delancey street grocery
Delancy Street tenements
Catcaller on Broome Street
Broome Street Buddhist temple
Doyers Street – Barbershop Row
Storefronts near Eldridge Street Synagogue
Eldridge Street Synagogue
View from Columbus Park
Edward Mooney House (top) and Church of the Transfiguration (bottom)
Justin the Statue says: “I get used to this. I do this to supplement my income for most of the year.”
Man watches people as the sun sets
New York’s first public library is in foreground.
Wayne the Bird Dude says: “I’ve been spotting birds in this park for over twenty years. You should look my name up on Instagram.”
Colonnade Row on Lafayette Street
Love and luck
First Avenue sunset
First Avenue streetscape
Day Four: The High Line
9th Avenue and West 14th Street
Washington and Little West 12th Street
9th Avenue and West 14th Street
High Line and Gansevoort Street
Latino family traverses West 14th Street.
High Line and 19th Street
Homeless man naps as tourists pass.
New and Old New York
High Line and 25th Street
High Line and 24th Street
Pedestrian passes gentrification in action.
High Line and 26th Street
Gentrification at West 28th Street
The High Line at 17th Street
Day Five: Madison Square
View toward Midtown from 23rd Stree
Grace Church steeple
23rd Street and 5th Avenue
Domino Sugar Factory (view from Williamsburg Bridge)
Day Six: Midtown
Preaching Armageddon in the capital of consumerism: Times Square
The Polish Embassy
Grand Central Terminal
Jihadist proclaims that: “America will soon be destroyed by fire!”
View of Empire State from Greeley Square
Jurgen from Germany
A musician named Jurgen approaches and observes my painting of Grand Central Terminal.
Jurgen: You are an artist.
Me: No, that is a title I have yet to earn. Are you from Germany? You sound like the director Werner Herzog.
Jurgen: Herzog? Him? His films put me to sleep. [Jurgen shows me his noteboook.] If I lived in Nazi Germany, the Nazis would burn my work, maybe even me. My grandfather, he used to go to rallies to give the Nazi salute. I still don’t know why he did that. I don’t think he even knew.
A Latin American man driving a pickup truck rolls down his window and asks: Him: How far is the Statue of Liberty from here? Me: Oh… About seven miles.
Convert proclaims: “America will soon be destroyed by fire!”
Elderly African-American man approaches and extracts a crumpled and blurry image of a dollar sign from his bag. Him: Hey, can you draw me some money bags. Me: Sure. Him: You know, it’s for my product. I’ll pay you well. What’s your name? Me: Myles Zhang Him: You Chinese? You parents from China? Me: No, America. Him: No, China…! He walks off.
Convert preaches the impending doom of America on Sixth Avenue and 34th Streets: “The US government, they invented this virus that will kill off all the Black people.”
“The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”
Murphy Varnish, built in 1886, is one of Newark’s oldest factories still standing. Its brick walls, terracotta ornament, and intricate brickwork reflect a time when industrial structures were more than just functional. Murphy Varnish reflects a time when industry was central to Newark’s wealth and key to its future success. It is a monument to industry, built to last (and landmarked since 1979 by the National Park Service). Recent renovation efforts promise to turn this derelict structure into a community of apartments.
The summer after my first year at Columbia University, I had the privilege of working with the Studio for Urban Architecture & Design (SUAD), the architects hired to redevelop this derelict factory into about forty residential units. During my time at SUAD, I observed firsthand the workings of a small architecture firm and the inspiring conversion of an old factory into something viable and living. As my internship neared its end, I photographed the historic factory and created a detailed watercolor drawing of the finished renovation.
During these three months, I learned that architecture is more than the creation of art and beauty for their own sake. It is a tool to build a stronger city through improving the built environment. For decades, Newark has seen architecture that does not value aesthetics or connect with the city’s rich history. Prefab, cookie-cutter homes are often built in Newark; they are out of place and context. These kinds of projects are set back from the street with little more than driveways and vinyl siding for the streetscape. Corporate monolith towers rise in the downtown; through catwalks and perimeter fences, their occupants need not engage with the city. Every morning and every evening, they can ride to and from Newark without setting foot outdoors or on city streets. For historic preservationists, much of the city’s old architecture was lost to parking lots, urban renewal, and urban blight.
In this context, Murphy Varnish is an exceptional outlier. In a city once home to thousands of small factories, Murphy Varnish is one of the few that remain. Old Newark maps show dozens of factories surrounding Murphy Varnish. In the past few decades, almost all of these industrial structures were demolished and replaced with empty lots and low-quality prefab homes. Now, Murphy Varnish stands alone in a residential neighborhood; it is a unique reminder of history that becomes all the more worth saving.
As I begin my second year of college, I return to campus with renewed appreciation for historic preservation. I return with deeper admiration for the tireless efforts of Newark activists and architects to preserve the city’s rich architectural heritage for future generations.
This project was made possible by a summer grant from Columbia’s Center for Career Education.
Murphy Varnish before work began
Neighborhood resident Angel and his dog Tigressa stand before Murphy Varnish
Murphy Varnish company trademark
Abandoned building on nearby NJ Railroad Avenue
This industrial land was condemned before construction was complete.
Murphy Varnish among empty fields and shoddy boxes
Pedestrian passes by Murphy Varnish.
Bargain or Scam?
NO TRESPASSING GUARD DOG
248.5 Chestnut St.
Boxes and empty lots
A work in progress
Emaciated tree trunks embedded in the factory’s perimeter fence
As a lifelong citizen of Newark, I spent much of the past few years painting and photographing my changing city. Pictures features a selection of my work, complemented by classical music. Five of Modest Mussorgsky’s pieces from his composition Pictures at an Exhibition are selected, each of which represents the feel of a certain part of Newark. The following five locations are featured:
Growing up in Newark, I am inspired and saddened by the inner city. I am inspired by Newark’s hope of renewal after decades of white flight, under-investment, and urban neglect. I am saddened by the loss of my city’s historic architecture and urban fabric to the wrecking ball of what is called progress.