New York, New York

As Frank Sinatra sang, it’s so good you need to say it twice. I spent more time in New York City than any other place on my road trip – six days – but was ready to hit the road again by the end. It’s said that NYC is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

I was last in the city in 2001 to run the NYC Marathon with Andy Gilliver – he joined me for this visit. NY advertises the race as a 26.2 mile ovation, so we joined in cheering runners as we were cheered 21 years ago. If you’re a runner, make sure you get this box ticked before you hang up the shoes.

With Andy Gilliver and New York City’s finest at 2001 NYC Marathon

Our marathon was just after 9/11 – we saw the hole in the ground and the dust then, and the memorial and museum this time. The 9/11 Memorial evokes the tragedy of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, while the Museum sympathetically presents some of the more emotive episodes, such as the experience of those who chose to jump in their dire situation. Both brought tears to my eyes.

9/11 Memorial north pool
Twin Tower structures at the 9/11 Museum with One WTC in background

We explored many parts of the city. What struck me was that, along with all the other large American cities I’ve visited on my road trip, NYC is having to deal with the increasing levels of homelessness and deprivation. The causes are social and economic, particularly the inequality between the haves and have nots. Cities like NYC also have resources, which draw in those who need them.

Folk outside the cities and, indeed, many in the cities, have mentioned in conversations that these ‘dependents’ need to get jobs and society needs to be tougher. The problem is more nuanced than that but, as Americans are generally not speaking with those different from themselves, it will take a sea change in social and political behaviour for these issues to be addressed. I can see them getting worse rather than better.

Fred of FDNY at Engine 1 Ladder 24 Company

Cities are attractive to immigrants, and NYC has been the gateway to America for as long as the country has been established. The Statue of Liberty greets immigrants who were processed for decades on Ellis Island – now, Texas ships immigrants up from the southern border as the US struggles with on-going migration. I’ve heard in my conversations that folk are not against immigration, but rather want more structure and control in the process. Given the job vacancies all across the country, the US needs both to embrace migrants and work more effectively with those who are currently dependent on societal support. The UK faces exactly these same issues.

Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island
Ellis Island Registry Room
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Midtown Bus Terminal where migrants are shipped to from Texas

NYC has been criticised for its rising crime, particularly on the Subway. We found it safe, as we did other parts of the city we visited. Ok, as tourists, we probably avoided some of the trickier places that are present in any large city, but the doom-mongers who say NYC and other large American cities are rampant with crime might be exaggerating the situation. Part of the criticism is political – the cities are Democratic-controlled, while more rural areas are Republican. Yes, the Democrats can be fairly criticised for their oversight of American cities but, equally, the Republicans are short on empathy and insight about the challenges that cities and their inhabitants face.

Subway station Broadway-Lafayette St

Finally, a visit to Washington Square Park brought home to me the importance of both civic action and the need for more reflection when proposing urban development. Many American cities have been trashed by urban planners, road builders, and developers – as have many in the UK. Whether it’s the demolition of historic buildings, their repurpose into things like car parks (e.g. Michigan Theatre in Detroit), or highways that slice through neighbourhoods, there has been a lot of urban vandalism over the past 50 years. The arch-planner Robert Moses met his nemesis Jane Jacobs at Washington Sq Pk  and a good thing that Jane beat Robert. Likewise, we have John Betjeman to thank for saving St Pancras in London.

Washington Square Park, saved by Jane Jacobs from road builders in 1962

There is definitely an urban versus rural theme to this road trip. This comes out not just iin the blue and red politics, but also the lack of understanding of the other, the dismissiveness, the lack of civility in discussion. There are few signs that this is either recognised or being tackled by the protagonists on both sides. Having said that, sports fans certainly get along!

NY Knicks playing the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden
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10 Responses

  1. Hey John,

    I’ve been reading your blog since I got back, very insightfull and informative stuff to read! Hope you’re still having a great time travelling and maybe we’ll see each other again in Scotland if I decide to visit sometime!


    Your friend from New Orleans

    1. Great to connect Roy, and let me know if you get this way! I also work out of London so that might be easier. I was in NOLA later in the road trip, and lots of rain, so we got there at the right time! J

  2. Hi John, sadly and very belatedly, only just clicked onto your website.
    Great reading, not just through the clear style but your considered thoughts light up your road for us to see.
    Lot of issues familiar to these shores (UK).
    Off to the far side of the room to sort a Xmas card for you and Penny.
    First, I’ll Google Critical Race Theory…..its not to do with long distance running is it?
    Travel well old friend

    1. Many thanks Dave. I’d underestimated the time it would take to carry out all the website content and management. Catch up in 23! J

  3. I’ll immediately clutch your rss feed as I can not in findingyour e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service.Do you’ve any? Kindly let me know in order that I may just subscribe.Thanks.

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