Tag Archives: New York City

Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

Donald Trump’s 1997 aspiration to transport from Russia a monumental heroic bronze of the fifteenth-century Christopher Columbus to the properties he owned on the banks of the Hudson River is often noted as a sign of vainglory.  But in its crass combination of personal self-interest, national symbolism, and the enlisting of foreign aid to procure renown, the aspiration appears an early instance of Russian-Trump cooperation rooted in symbolic synergy that bears reflection as it prefigures the merging of nationalism and internationalism that plagued the Trump Presidency. It also shows him, in surprising ways, acting like a state–monuments of national identity are not often given to a real estate promoter, but planned by a government or government actor–that followed sustained and repeated attempts in the post-Soviet era of presenting the statue of Columbus designed by Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli as a gift of state.

While reflecting Trump’s grandiosity and taste for immensity, the plans to import a monumental statue that cast the navigator embrace a monumental aesthetics, recasting the navigator as a herald of a new age in quite openly authoritarian terms.   If noted Israeli universal historian Yuval Harrari cast the fifteenth century navigator as a part of the Scientific Revolution in his synoptic history of humankind, the legendary navigator provided a durable image of the global extension of the political authority of Spanish monarchs over the New World whose expansion of the familiar boundaries of sovereignty offered an icon for globalism, eclipsing the optimism of the Republican icon of the Statue of Liberty–“Liberty Enlightening the Globe“–with a far starker image of authoritarian power of aspirations to global power.

The statue made to be presented to the United States marked the fall of the Soviet Union was a symbol of opening a new era of global history.  Its unprecedented grandiosity sought to be a new Wonder of the Modern World, emulating in so doing one of the classical Seven Wonders of the world in antiquity as a marker of the defense of space, the gigantic towers that were pierced on the shores of a classical port city of monumental limbs, championing the wonder of the towers Trump was building as much as being a figure of an early modern colonizing drive.

The figure of Columbus standing tall with his right arm raised, palm open, as if bearing testimony to an oath, or trying to hold up an image of a globe, would have inaugurated a new era of globalism–one Trump might well have seen as an image of the global aims of Trump International as he set sights on expanding his properties beyond New York and Atlantic City for the first time, eventually expanding properties to 19 cities across the globe, a global expansion that would bridge national and international space in ways that mirror globalization. The navigator indeed intersected with aspirations to royalty, and designs for the expansion of the Trump brand. While the coat of arms that Trump devised for his international golf course in Scotland was used before being registered, it revealed his aspirations to royalty, as the navigator intersected with a new designs for the global expansion of the Trump brand, that bridged global and national ends, by a marker of white, Eurocentric national identity. Team Trump had felt sufficiently entitled to devise a crest of an “eagle clutching golf balls” above the motto “Nunquam concedere” [Never Give Up], from 2006, even if a crest was only granted to Donald Trump in 2012, after he had received warning for using the coat of arms of an unsanctioned crest in 2008; the importance and image of tenacity that he sought to project was long planned with “Trump’s family heritage” in mind, with an eye to fashioning himself as royalty, combining a Lion Rampant to refer to his Scottish ancestry and the stars of America, omitting his German father, with three chevrons to denote sky, sand dunes and sky as components of the golf resort.

When he was granted a Scottish coat of arms in 2012, he was already prepared to take his claims of sovereignty worldwide.

The arrival of Columbus denoted and boded a mapping of transoceanic routes, to be sure, that the hopes of investing Russian monies in America and American funds in Russia promised, and which the icon of Columbus, that would not allow visitors to reach its peak, embodied beyond a simple infrastructure of transnational collaboration.

For the globalism of Trump’s personal interests was met by the Russian oligarchs with whom he had begun to do business in 1996, amassing properties for which he would devise his own family crest, as if to redefine the relation of national and international space in a new form of globalization rooted in protecting personal and Trump family interests–interests that might as well be asserted as an alternate coat of arms, such as that Trump in fact devised for his family.

In its open emulation of a new Colossus of Rhodes, a bronze statue of 280 B.C. that extended one hundred and eight feet tall, only to collapse in an earthquake some sixty years later. This bronze colossus would be nearly three hundred foot tall bronze statue; it would echo how the colossus “bestrode the narrow world” but be situated as a freestanding statue efore sails emblazoned with royal emblems, if adopting a similar pose of an outstretched arm of open palm and bent left arm–left arm resting, unlike Helios, on an anachronistic rotary steering wheel, staring rather blankly out to space from a privileged position in a small ship, as if he were a puppet, more than a world navigator.

Zurab Tsereteli, “Birth of a New World” (1991)

The statue cast in three foundries–including one of the oldest in Europe, dating from the age of Catherine the Great, assembled a range of bronze sheets, copper, and steel, in a monument that seemed devised to be the greatest size possible, dominating the skyline with sails and mast against which the towering figure of Columbus was set–as did the Colossus of Rhodes, known only from images, but evoking a wonder of the ancient world.

The powerful vision of the approach and arrival of a monumental Neo-Augustan vision of Columbus, right hand outstretched, raised above his head in a salutation of adlocutio, left arm bent at the elbow, as if addressing the continent to inaugurate a new age, captured by its title, “Birth of a New World.” As if sustaining a globe, or gathering the attention of his audience, the oddly nostalgic image of a Columbus with an open palm of his right hand seems less posed to speak than to hail the New World as he arrives from overseas.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Alex Maguire/REX/Shutterstock

Trump valued it most for containing forty million dollars worth of export-grade bronze (able to evade export taxes, and no doubt be a tax write-off for his projected building), excited by the transaction about which he boasted to journalists as evidence of his new global status as a magnet of Russian oligarchs’ funds to Trump Properties, before Trump ever entertained hopes to indulge his aspirations for self-promotion into the political sphere, but as he imagined himself to promote brokered property deals of increasingly global consequence that redefined his identity from a New Yorker–expanding from building the tallest tower as monuments in neighborhoods of Manhattan, from the East Side (Trump Palace) to midtown (Trump Tower) to the west side (Trump International) to Chelsea–through the mid-1990s, to make a new name of unbounded goals on a global scale, as an icon of Columbus aptly seemed to express.

The planned statuary of the iconic explorer long cast as a national hero panders to such tropes of heroism and imperial grandeur they are rarely examined as a precedent for Trump’s extension of promoting hotels and buildings to an international currency of indebtedness, codependence, and obligation–and linking of his hotel chain into an international web of realty development. Raising questions of the relation between the national and international in a global market, the promised statue stakes problems of reconciling personal interests with public interests, moreover, that would be rehearsed throughout the Trump Presidency.

The oddly deterritorialize Columbus, erasing the memories of a figure identified with colonization by 1992–Columbus Day was reframed as Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley CA in that years, as protests spread in the nation calling for reconsideration of its celebration–the statue of a smooth-faced Columbus with a royal insignia in sails behind his back and a medal about his neck seemed no less than an erasure of temporalities, deriving from the post-Soviet society in which the monument was forged by Zurab Tsereteli, a sculptor whose public statuary was preferred in the post-soviet period, known for the proliferation of his statues on Moscow’s streets, and who would go on to complete new bronze busts of both Lenin, Stalin and Gorbachev for an Alley of Rulers, as if to restore their authority as Russian leaders.

The growth of a new statuary in Moscow was striking, as dense statuary of Marx, eighty statues of Lenin, and Soviet leaders was removed from squares, pillars, and plazas–as over 5,500 were removed from the Ukraine–including sixty-six foot tall bronze authoritarian statues eagerly moved to halls for monuments like Moscow’s Fallen Monument Park–

–in a massive removal or erasure of memory that left striking urban absences–if they were not indeed melted down and resmelted for other monuments.

The statue of Columbus would export a new idiom of public authoritarian statuary to the shores of the United States in ways Trump was eager to sponsor. The Columbus monument, of greater size than the sixty-foot statues of Lenin, is less a marker not of international waters, but of conquest. Its placement would have glorified Trump’s coversion of the landfill area of the old rail yards that once served ships arriving on the city piers to a boondoggle of capital.

The configuration of capital by the magic trick of reclassifying landfill of the West Side Yards as residential had led to it becoming a magnet for international investment–greeting America or hailing Manhattan, a robed eminence of curiously reduced head, whose body seems to have been made more monumental than the skiff he is on could accommodate, hardly in the proportions of a Vitruvian man, of 6,500 tons of possibly recycled bronze, removed from the map, and indeed removed from the violence of the narratives of enslavement, military conquest, confrontation, and commercial settlement, as well as violence that were the consequences of the Columbian project?


Zurab Tseresteli, “Birth of the New World” (1991)

Heralding the birth of a New World, the statue reveals an odd erasure of temporalities in its evocation of a mythistokry that had been shaped in Russia to replace the monumetnalism of a socialist past, but is even an emptier icon of grandeur. How to explain the transatlantic transfer of so many tons of bronze, originally hoped to be a gift to Washington D.C. in 1992, marking the celebration of the quincentenary of Columbus Day–or the appeal of the statuary to the developer Donald Trump? The question is perhaps poorly posed, but the nexus of interests in assuming a new global authority that was shared by Trump, post-Soviet oligarchs, and real estate barons is oddly compelling and demands resolution.

The plans for the arrival of a Moscow-forged monument to Columbus would also mark Trump’s entry in a shady international network in the late 1990s resulted in the curious migration of the heroic statuary pastiche of the fifteenth-century navigator staking royal claims to transatlantic property–renaming Caribbean islands after his nation and Christian pantheon of saints. In mapping the islands as San Salvador, formerly Guanahani, Hispaniola–currently Haiti and Dominican Republic–Juan de la Cosa, a cartographer-navigator who owned the Santa Maria, participated in the current rage of renaming, drawing boundaries around, and mapping ties of power over expanse–

paid tJuan de la Cosa, 1510 (Naval Museum of Madrid)

–enumerated the individual islands where flags set by Columbus during his first voyage, of which de la Cosa could provide personal testimony as the owner of one of the three caravels that made landfall in the New World.

The cartographer was taking part in a broad collective effort of renaming, bounding, and explaining empire across a terrestrial expanse that could barely be conceived even if it could be measured, staking claims to those magnified Carribbean islands where Columbus did in fact make landfall. The map so laboriously made by de la Cosa foregrounded the islands that were multicolored to resemble the genre of isolari of the Aegean, but planted the Spanish flag on a renamed Hispaniola, confirming the voyage had successfully renamed the islands, placing them below Spanish flags.

The arrival of the navigator echoed modern statues, as well as the poesis of early modern geography of naming, bounding, and declaring sovereignty over untold expanses rendered open to subjugation and control: the images of the region in the Letters of Columbus, an early best-seller, promoted the possessions of the monarch in the New World as a direct appropriation in the name of the Spanish monarchs, promising an abundance of spices, metals, and indeed the inhabitants themselves–and their souls as potential sites of conversion.

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Was naming of the statue of Columbus off of Manhattan may gesture to Columbus’ renaming New World properties for Spain’s sovereign as if to channel a motif of the promotion of real estate development? The inclusion of the crosses on Columbus’ sails in Tsereteli’s monument echoed the early woodcut. And the arrival of Columbus in Manhattan seemed to announce the inauguration of a new era of transatlantic exchange between Russia and the United States; forgetting the lesson of Ozymandias, perhaps, recuperating a shared icon of imperial authority seemed in this context to promote the legendary status of self-made man as an icon that the self-centered realtor would over-eagerly identify.

Trump would identify his towers and his self as a colossus that he no doubt narcissistically felt would embody his own grandeur as much as the grandeur of his buildings. For the figure of Columbus, as much as a discoverer of new lands and America, or an agent of the king, would serve to promote the developmen to international investment sufficiently exclusive for foreign royalty–Trump recently redecorated of his private triplex penthouse in Trump Tower, were he lived since 1983, in faux Louis XIV decor, replacing famed designer Alberto Donghia’s original understated decoration with help from a casino designer who jazzed the slightly austere modernism up with gilded boiserie, a bronze Eros and Psyche, rococo ceiling frescoes of Apollo, crystal chandeliers and a diamond and gold encrusted front-door and gold-leaf furniture–to join Donghia’s original concession of a gold leaf ceiling in an opulent decor.

When Donghia tragically died from AIDS in 1985, the designer thankfully never saw the obliteration of his concept with faux rococo renovations. But they captured the standard a Trump building aimed to offer. By 1996, when Trump had taken to promote casinos in Atlantic City, Trump quite grandiosely described the impending arrival of the monument as a “gift from the Russian people” whose delivery he had arranged at no expense, in quasi-regal terms, and in an interview with the New Yorker, promoted the arrival of the massive cultic statue forged in Moscow as something New York’s mayor would sign off on, and we should wait for. The “great work” of the prominent artist Zurab–the “man is major and legit”–that would soon arrive to grace–or dominate–the New York City skyline, rhapsodizing about the monument’s arrival without describing how it would be erected, signed off on, or even came to be proposed. Trump acted as if his interviewer expected nothing thirteen years after Trump Tower than a more massive next big Trump thing.

Was the sense that if the city had tolerated Trump Tower, it would be ready to accept a towering image of the navigator, medals draped around his neck, and royal crosses prominently blazoned on the sails of his ship?

Brokering the gargantuan bronze statue–what seemed a booby prize of international negotiation–as the fruit of newly acquired expertise in gaining capital from foreign markets. The regal sails that billowed behind the gargantuan–and historically grotesque–fifteenth century navigator who seemed to greet Manhattan island impassively from afar, foregrounded a cross on the medal around his neck that Donald probably thought was a “T” for Trump, but echoed the very sails of the caravels in Columbus’ Letters,–

–to judge by the statue as it was assembled in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, over twenty years later.

Trump then rather gleefully promoted the statue’s arrival from Moscow to journalists as a trophy of his own rebounding international currency, as if it was a confirmation of his new arrival in the class of a global real estate promoter. He energetically did so only after returning from his second trip to Moscow, and first visit to post-Soviet Russia, which was first being integrated into the free markets that Trump then seemed to believe he emblematized. And in Russia, Trump had inserted himself within a local kleptocracy of real estate grabs in hopes to find financing for his overseas projects in projects he had surveyed. Is the monument a celebration of Trump’s own image of his own grandiosity, or is the attempt to broker a “gift” from the “Russian people” a precedent for the false populism of the current President? In 1997, it was another case of Trump being Trump, his aspirations to grandiosity reaching new heights.

For although monuments are usually created by states, as ways to come to terms with memories or preserve them, Trump boasted he accepted the nearly three hundred foot statue from the Russian people, praising it as “six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty,” as if that was sufficient grounds to accept the already built bronze monument. He must have done so for personal gain, but the offer of a monument of national symbolism was not described in terms of American nationalism, but as something that would appeal to the Italian-Ameircan mayor Rudy Giuliani who had offered Trump multiple concessions for rezoning; it was undoubtedly part of a transaction that mutually beneficial, either a massive tax write-off, a sign of his own grandiosity, and affirming his own personal gain. The national associations that the Russians assumed were implicit when they had approached U.S. Presidents–George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton–with the statue, were all but absent.

Is it even possible that the massive bronze statue was even redesigned for Trump, to meet his desires? Perhaps the diminished size head hinted Tseretelli had cast a still larger body to make a monument meeting a demand the statue be taller than “Liberty Enlightening the World”–a “new colossus” itself, ut one that was famously associated with openly political values, when it was given by the French Republic to the American state as a token of political solidarity, admiration, and a defense of openly republican ideals that the French believed would soon be dominant in the world. If “Liberty Enlightening the World” was to cast republicanism across the globe, in ways that emulate the contemporary International Map of the World whose optimistic internationalism was promoted by French geographers, did hopes to erect the massive statue of Columbus celebrate underground circulation of global capital, offshore investment, and untaxed wealth that defined the post-Soviet era?

1. But if the Statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” unveiled on October 28, 1886 towered over the business buildings of New York, almost 306 feet over sea-level, after being presented on July 4, 1884, echoing the transnational project of the American Revolution to “lay a foundation for erecting temples of liberty in every part of the earth” that sculptor Auguste Bartholdi wanted to be as “grand as the idea which it embodied,” was supported by champions of grandiosity as Theodore Roosevelt, the transnational currents of international capital and finance that underlay the arrival of the statue–not holding a tablet of laws, or raising a torch of enlightenment, but a white man surrounded by royal symbolism, perched on a small skiff.

If Liberty stands atop a broken chain, evoking the defense of liberty in the recent national trauma of the U.S. Civil War, and embodying justice, the figure of an anachronistic Columbus embodied not an icon of national identity of values to be honored across the globe–progress; determination; victory over oppression–affirming the nation as still providing an “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty,” in Thomas Paine’s words–that U.S. President Grover Cleveland heralded as an unprecedented symbol of the “open gates” of the nation.

Whereas President Cleveland recognized the statue as embodying a yearning for Liberty after the defeat of the “monstrous injustice” of enslavement, he celebrated the statue as framing desire for liberty in international terms. For all the heady emotion of the opening of a post-Soviet world, the monumental statue rather marked the circulation of unregulated goods and shady international finance. The arrival of the monumental statuary of Columbus was an act of political amnesia, celebrated something like a foundational claim to power destined for private property, cleansing the remembrance of colonization as a victory in a flattening of historical perspective that borders on the classic definition of kitsch–what Milan Kundera described as the “absolute denial of shit” and blanketing of the experience of colonization or the grotesque nature of nationalist claims, in a “mass art” that seems to degrade the meaning of the nation, debasing abilities of remembrance.

Public monuments are traditionally conceived as planned by a state, city, or community,–sanctioning a common remembrance or celebration. The oddly hybrid resurgence of the navigator as a national symbol in this monument, a figure not of the nation, but of a global market for monuments that was erased from any attachment to place, seems emptied of any language of remembrance, displacing “kitsch” from what the Nazi government had once defined as a demeaning of the national symbol from the purity of how it created an “inner relationship” of the symbol and art object, but rather by giving it new currency by loosening the figure of the navigator it cast as a totalitarian figure of immense weight–six thousand tons!–and size from any symbolic associations of nationhood, but suggesting a muscular dominion by a commanding prominence that might migrate around the globe by pathways of global capital.

In contrast to the creation of monuments that might symbolize a nation, Trump’s position as receiver of a statue post-soviet governments ld him to entertain a gift of state that seemed to him a great deal for his brand and his property,–as a massive promotional device and visiting card, a sign of Trump making an even greater name for himself and his family on the New York City skyline. If in 1997 he had fulsomely promoted properties he had developed in New York’s Columbus Circle as being “One of the great buildings anywhere in New York, anywhere in the world,” one can almost imagine the interchange with Russian oligarchs where Trump noted the magnificence of the old Gulf+Western building he had promoted, by adding his name to it, leading to Luzhkov’s ears to prick up at the mention of Columbus, ready to suggest he had the perfect statue to adorn it, and Trump upping the ante by offering to place it at his newest, and even more majestic, property on the Hudson River, where the navigator could be situated off Manhattan Island–a place where he had never sailed. Tsereteli, Luzhkov, and Trump all found a common coinage: they all trafficked in mythistory, more than historical accuracy, wedded closely to the promotion of awing grandiosity.

The image of the male mariner who was taller than the Statue of Liberty oddly diminished the ideals of the Statue of Liberty by recasting its universalism and universal values in an uplift that seems to demand consent removed from politics, but impressing viewers by its size: would the monument with such a surprisingly small head be in fact raising the name of the Trump brand, redounding to the glory of the buildings that Trump had so carefully wrangled from the city by buying lands that he had recast as residential, at huge personal gain? The odd itinerary of Columbus retraversing the seas, not from Spain to the New World, but from Moscow, seemed only to signify the opening of the Russian market.

The peculiar re-use of aesthetics of post-political Augustan neo-imperial statue suggest a promotion of a unique type of historical amnesia around the figure of Columbus, removed from any sense of encounter with native peoples, and indeed from commerce with a New World, as a civilizing figure triumphant over the land, as if to preserve his salvific identity as a robed emissary of the most Christian King, greeting the New World as emissary of the monarch, removed form any colonial context. The almost cultic nature of this statue as a symbol of obeissance–

Triumphal Figure of Columbus in “Birth of the New World”
Kim il-Song, Pyonyang
Kim il-Jong Statue

–whose kitsch was almost an intentional debasement of the nation it seemed to celebrate, promoting values inherently foreign to democracy?

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Filed under authoritarian politics, Christopher Columbus, Donald J. Trump, national monuments, public monuments

Global Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani, more than anyone else, evokes the national trauma of September 11, 2001. If the trauma 9/11 has been a poster for increased federal powers, an excuse for violating civil rights, and a remaking of the New World Order, it is striking how much recent resurgent if hoary myths of the national values of 9/11 contributed significant spin to the careers of members of the Trump administration. Indeed, the trauma of 9/11 has been recycled in ways that have affirmed nationalist credentials and pride.

It is especially striking how the former New York mayor, and and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was able to successfully pivot from being a figure of local fame and prestige–indeed, a defender of the hope of returning New York to a lost time he seemed to embody as the locally schooled tough-talking upright son of a family composed of cops and firefighters, who seemed to tap a tradition of legal-minded public service of which he posed as champion. But 9/11 provided the optic by which Giuliani acquired a resonance and career that became wierdly global–and hardly local–as if by the alchemy of the global need for security. The miracle of the alchemical transformation of Giuliani from a local figure–imbued in a sense of neighborhood that was incarnated in the tavern his father ran in Brooklyn–became not a guarantor of a local past, which may not have ever existed, but was transmuted into a global career of posing as a strongman.

In many ways, the position that Giuliani occupied after 9/11 allowed him to claim the almost fantasy position of a warrior for good on a global stage. The transformation of the former public attorney and lawman who seemed to stand as a stalwart defendant of local values as a global figure was not quick, but endured over decades, in ways that have not been fully traced, as Giuliani converted his prestige in the global media after 9/11, as he seemed to carry the nation through trauma, into a global mercenary of something like the New World Order. For after the terrifying punctuating event of 9/11, and after he left office, the former New York Mayor rode the surface of the global media to promote his brand as a means of guaranteeing security, desalination projects, police reform, judicial reform, and even unrelated areas as investment banking.

Giuliani toured the world with an expense account, speaking for broad Neo-nationalist audiences across the world that manufactured greater credibility for a ridiculously globally broadened sense of his license, capacities, and legal expertise, in ways that his actual career as mayor or attorney would hardly have predicted or confirmed. After years of being rooted in the defense of a local moral economy, and tough-guy persona rooted in Brooklyn as well as New York City, and the NYPD, the vey mediatization of 9/11 improbably shot Giuliani to the global in ways that we are still coming to terms with in our national trajectory: emboldening Giuliani to hoc his newfound fame on a global marketplace in truly mercenary fashion, coasting on the publicity that global media platforms had generated, and surrounding Giuliani with more wealth than he had ever enjoyed–its dark backdrop catapulting the mayor to the global stage as a “tower of strength” that replaced the global status the Twin Towers had once occupied. Over the devastated New York skyline, Giuliani towered, proclaimed a true “tower of Strength” no longer a Mayor, but an advocate for global calm before menacing darkened nocturnal skies.

The New York poet Michael Brownstein–no relation!–conjured a vision of a gypsy that the very hijackers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, men who had famously fashioned themselves as martyrs, accompanied the souls of many men, women, and children who died as a result of their actions into the afterlife, somehow acting as agents of peace as much as visiting a traumatic vision of mortality. The diabolical vision Brownstein described in the years after 9/11 must have shocked his readers, but presented what he wanted to be a healing poetic image of devastation. The Angel of Death himself must have accompanied Giuliani, a former altar boy himself who had recast himself in global media as selected to fulfill his role as a defender of the city, expanding his narcissism as he promoted himself as a symbol of security on a global stage, able to advise on crime rates, manage security, and maintain peace on a global stage that had not ever existed before with any comparable concreteness.

The searing image of a redemption after the destruction visited on New York became a means for Giuliani to be turned to as a figure of trust, a center of stability, that the world seemed to need–but on which his own. Rudy Giluiani’s huge sense of himself saw magnified on a global stage, and able to cast in global terms, a a spokesperson, lobbyist, agitator, instigator and legitimizer who could hector, yell, and barge his way onto any global stage, and command total attention for any agenda that would pay his way. Did the unweildly narcissism that Giuliani promoted in America and on such a global stage prepare the way for Trump?

When we ponder how Giuliani emerged–indeed remade himself–as an unregistered agent of other governments, allied with a law office (Greenberg Traurig, most recently, or a partner at Bracewell & Harrison, in Houston, then transformed to capitalize on his name as Bracewell & Giuliani), he skirted the law while capitalizing on his image as a hardened lawman; the contradictions were not contradictions for a man whose media image was so impressive and had gained such global currency to be hard to question. The bonds of trust that seemed forge in the years after 9/11, and the sense of cathecting with Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” truly seemed exploited, as his own historical narcissism led to a thirst for further attention, and to remove all limits from his own propriety. He extended this credibility in a failed bid for the Presidency in 2008 and after it folded sought to keep alive his image of himself as a global fix-it man.

In this post, I want to sketch the map of the bizarre global travels of Giuliani as a man who promised to accommodate any interest, promote a vision of global security who parlayed his status to a talking head on any media. He should have been far less assuring than we were willing to accord: but Giuliani’s skill at exploiting an endless reserve of symbolic capital seemed endless, allowing him to stake Presidential campaigns, and earn massive retaining fees, without much attention to what credibility the ex-Mayor ever merited. The very transnationality of the commemoration of 9/11 transformed it into a global event, and not a local one, offered a means for Rudy to travel through the looking glass, and for Giuliani to gain a global credibility that was eerily universal. We didn’t pay much attention. We discounted Giuliani’s neediness for attention as self-generated, and not itself of global impact, but it increasingly exercised influence that mirrored the very trans-nationality of the commemoration of 9/11. Their trans-nationality Rudy a truly unprecedented global carte blanche of unprecedented character.

This credibitliy was a carte blanche appealing to foreign strongmen, to be sure, who sought to fashion themselves as comparable “good guys” in a global stage demanding a way to map security in the face of terrorists, and seek a figure of calm in the swirling fears of insecurity, even if that very figure would continue to do his best to provoke our deepest fears.

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Filed under 9/11, American Politics, global terror, globalization, September 11, World Trade Center

Mapping Our Shrinking Shores

Coasts have provided the primary cartographical invention to understand the risks that erosion pose to property:  the coast-line is the boundary of the known land, and determines the outer bound of the real estate.  But the coastal fixation of the landlubber privileges the illusion of the fixity of the shore.  More than ever, assumptions about the fixity of shorelines must fall away.  Perhaps the most haunting take away from the Surging Seas web-based map of global shorelines forces us to take into account the inevitable mutability that must be accepted with the rising of ocean-level associated with climate change.

The web-map presents itself as a set of tools of analysis, as much as cartographical techniques, by which the rise of sea-level that has already risen globally some eight inches since 1880 stands to accelerate–emphasizing the alternate scenarios that the acceleration of sea-level rise stands to bring over the next hundred years, introducing a new concept of risk due to coastal flooding.  The availability of accurate GPS images of the elevations of homes have provided the possibility of sketching scenarios of sea-level rise to create readily zoomable maps of elevated ocean levels that confront us with at least the image of the options which we still theoretically have.  The contrasting futures created in this cartographical comparison shocks viewers with a salutary sort of operational paranoia only increased as one fiddles with a slider bar to grant greater specificity to the disastrous local consequences of rising sea-levels world-wide.

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In ways quite unlike the wonderfully detailed old NOAA Topographic Surveys which map shorelines at regular transects, or T-Sheets, recording the high waterline of tides across 95,000 coastal miles and 3.4 million square miles of open sea, the coastline is less the subject of these web maps than levels of potential inundation.  In a negative-mapping of possibilities of human habitation, blue hues invade the landscape in a monitory metric emphasizing the regions at risk of being underwater in a century.  Whereas scanned T-Sheets can now be viewed by a historical time-bar slider, the fixity of space or time are less relevant to the web maps than the gradients of possible sea-level rise caused by carbon emissions might force us to confront.

Surging Seas forces us to confront the possibilities of the future underwater world.  The infiltration of a deep shade of blue commands the eye by its intensity, deeper shades signifying greater depth, in ways that eerily underscore the deep connection that all land has to the sea that we are apt to turn our backs upon in most land maps, showing the extent to which a changing world will have to familiarize itself to water-level rise in the not-distant future.  It’s almost paradoxical that the national frontiers we have inscribed on maps has until recently effectually made impossible such a global view, but the attraction of imagining the somewhat apocalyptic possibility of sea-level rise seems almost to map a forbidden future we are not usually allowed to see, and has a weirdly pleasurable (if also terrifying) aspect of viewing the extensive consequences of what might be with a stunning level of specific and zoomable local detail we would not otherwise be able to imagine, in what almost seems a fantasia of the possibilities of mapping an otherwise unforeseen loss, not to speak of the apparent lack of coherence of a post-modern world.

For the variety of potential consequences of disastrous scenarios of sea-level rise posed can be readily compared with surprisingly effective and accurate degrees of precision, in maps that illustrate the depths at which specific regions stand to be submerged underwater should sea-level rise continue or accelerate:  zooming into neighborhoods one knows, or cities with which one is familiar, the rapid alteration of two to seven feet in sea-level can be imagined–as can the fates of the some 5 million people worldwide who live less than four feet above sea-level.  For if the shores have long been among the most crowded and popular sites of human habitation–from New York to London to Hong Kong to Mumbai to Jakarta to Venice–the increasing rapidity of polar melting due to climate change stands to produce up to a seven feet rise in sea-level if current rates of carbon emissions, and a mere four degree centigrade rise in global temperature stands to put the homes of over 450 million underwater, which even the most aggressive cutting in carbon emissions might lower to only 130 million, if rates of warming are limited to but 2°C.   (If things continues as they stand, the homes of some 145 million who currently dwell on land in China alone are threatened with inundation.)

The recent review of the disastrous consequences of a rise of two degrees Centigrade on the land-sea boundary of the United States led Climate Central to plot the effects of a-level rise of at least 20 feet on the country–and foreground those regions that were most at risk.   The webmap serves as something like a window into the possible futures of climate change, whose slider allows us to create elevations in sea-level that the ongoing melting of the polar ice-cap seems poised to create.  As much as offer compare and contrast catastrophes, the immediacy of recognizing the degree to which places of particular familiarity may soon stand to lie underwater performs a neat trick: for whereas a map might be said to bring closer the regions from which one is spatially removed or stands apart, making present the far-off by allowing one to navigate its spatial disposition in systematic fashion, the opacity of those light blue layers of rising seas obscures and subtracts potentially once-familiar site of settlement, effectively removing land from one’s ken as it is subtracted from the content of the map, and charting land losses as much as allowing its observation.

The result is dependably eery.  The encroachment of the oceans consequent to rising sea-level propose a future worthy of disaster films.  But the risks can be viewed in a more measured ways in the maps of sea-level on the shores of the United States calculated and mapped by Stamen design in the Surging Seas project that allows us to imagine different scenarios of sea-level rise on actual neighborhoods–the set of interactive maps, now aptly retitled Mapping Choices, will not only cause us to rethink different scenarios of shifting shorelines by revisiting our favorite low-lying regions, or allow us to create our own videos of Google Earth Flyovers of different areas of the world.  Mapping Choices provides a way to view the risks and vulnerabilities to climate change made particularly graphic in centers of population particularly low-lying, where they testify to the clarity with which web maps can create a vision of imagined experience as we imagine the actual losses that global warming is poised to create.  And although the recent expansion of the map to a global research report, allowing us to examine possible global futures that are otherwise difficult to comprehend or process the potential risks posed by the inundation of low-lying inhabited regions for a stretch of thirty meters, the potential risk of inundation is perhaps most metaphorically powerful for that region that one best knows, where the efficacy of a simple side-by-side juxtaposition of alternate potential realities has the unexpected effect of hitting one in one’s gut:  for debates about the possibilities of climate change suddenly gain a specificity that command a level of attention one can only wonder why one never before confronted as an actual reality.

Alternate Scenarios

Maps are rarely seen as surrogates for observation, and web maps often offer something like a set of directions, or way finding tools.  But the predicted scenarios of sea-levle rise allows one to grasp the local levels of inundation with a specificity that allow risk to be seen in terms of actual buildings–block by block–and wrestle with the risks that climate change portends.  The lack of defenses of populations in many regions are definitely also at great risk, but to envision the loss of property and known space seems oddly more affecting in such an iconic map of Manhattan–and somewhat more poetic as an illustration of the fungibility of its hypertrophied real estate and property values.

Of course, the data of Climate Change allows a terrifying view of the future of four degrees centigrade warming on low-lying Boston and the shores of the Charles, as the city is reduced to a rump of an archipelago–

Boston

or the disastrous scenarios for the populations in the lower lying areas of Jakarta–

Jakarta

or, indeed, in Mumbai–

Mumbai

Viewers are encouraged to imagine the risks of the possible alternate futures of just two degrees with an immediacy that worms into one’s mind.  The possibilities that GPS offers of instantaneous calculations of shoreline position and elevations allow one to view a potential reality where one can focus on individual streets with inspirational urgency.

But such scenarios seem somehow particularly graphic illustrations of risk for those regions where there has been a huge investment of human capital, as New York City, where it might seem credible enough to be mapped that they are poised to melt not into air but vanish beneath ocean waves.  For if Marx predicted with spirited apocalypticism at the very start of the Communist Manifesto that capitalism would destroy value to money as it expanded into future markets, as market forces abstracted all things into money–and “all that is solid melts into air”–the twentieth-century expansion of possibilities of environmental and human destruction have lent unprecedented urgency.  While for Marx the metaphor of melting of inherent value was the product of the capitalist system, the capitalist system bodes a strikingly similar image of sinking into the seas.  For huge expanses of the old industrial city–the piers and the old manufacturing zones, most all of the Jersey shore and area around Newark, Long Island City and the Gowanus canal seem sink apart from the shoreline in the future New York that Surging Seas creates, in ways that seem the consequence of industrial production and carbon surging far beyond 400 parts per million (ppm), with the addition of some 2 ppm per year, in ways that make it a challenge to return to the levels deemed healthy–let alone the levels of 275 ppm which the planet long held through the mid-eighteenth century.

That drought, hurricanes, disappearance of arctic ice (up to 80% in summertime) and rising sea levels are tied to the growth of greenhouse gasses hint how global capital might be closely linked to the sinking into the seas, and suggest the surpassing of a tipping point of climate change that is the counterpart to melting into air might be viewed, in New York City’s economic geography, as if to offer a poetic reflection of the migration of capital into the financial centers of the city downtown from its piers or areas of industry–

NY:NJ

–although half-hearted joking references to Marxist maxims (or geographers) is hardly the topic of this post, and the island of high finance that would be created in downtown Manhattan would hardly have ever been planned as an island.

Lower Manhattan Island?

What one might someday see as the lopping off of much of lower Manhattan might be far better tied to the runaway markets of a free-trade economy, rather than rational planning, and has no clear correspondence to property values.

lopped off lower Manhattan

Indeed, the mapping of the prospective loss of those residential parts of the city “where poor people dwell” (as do minorities) is undeniable, if one looks at the 2010 American Community Survey, regarding either in the city’s distribution of ethnic groups or households earning below $30,000, who remain the most vulnerable to the danger of rising ocean levels.

ACS 2005?

Income under 30,000American Community Survey (2010)/New York Times

But the disappearance of the Eastern Parkway and the Jersey shore are a blunt reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the built environment that lies close to sea-level–

Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue above the seas

–and an actually not-too-apocalyptic reminder, but the mapping of consequences of man-made change that goes under the rubric of anthropocene, and is most apparent in the increasing quotient of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the warming that this may bring.  For if it has been approximated that there has already been a rise of sea-levels by some eight inches since 1880, the unprecedented acceleration of that rate, which will increase the dangers of floods from storms and place many of the some three thousand coastal towns at risk, are likely to increase as the sea level may rise from two to over seven feet during the new century.

350ppm-chart-300_fixed

The distribution is by no means uniform, and more industrialized countries, like the United States, are producing far more particulate matter, although they have been recently overtaken by China from 2007, and have atmospheres above 380 ppm in the Spring, making them more responsible for rendering higher temperatures–although the lower-lying lands below the equator may be most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.21.44 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.22.35 PMVox– A visual tour of the world’s CO2 emissions

The increasing levels of particulate matter are attempted to be more locally mapped in Surging Seas.

The changes extend, in a nice dramatic detail, into the Central Park Meer rejoining the East River with the predicted inundation of much of the posh residential area of Manhattan’s East Side, all the way to Fifth Avenue.

Truncated NJ and absent upper East side

It is difficult not to compare the scenarios sketched in Surging Seas maps to some of the maps of those future islands of New York that Map Box and others allowed Sarah Levine to create maps of the heights of buildings from open data after the pioneering maps of Bill Rankin’s 2006 “Building Heights.”   When Rankin remapped Manhattan by taking building height as an indirect index of land value, he saw the island as clustered in distinct islands of elevation above 600 feet:

manhattan-heights

Radical Cartography (2006)

Levine used similar data to chart the fruits of Mammon in buildings above sixty stories.  Maps of skyscrapers beside the gloom of Surging Seas suggest those towers able to withstand the rising seas brought by global temperatures jumping by just two degrees Centigrade.  If one moves from the map of the bulk of lowest sections of lower Manhattan–

Two Inches in Lower Manhattan

with reference to Levine’s brilliantly colored carmine mapping of the highest buildings in the Big Apple, above forty-seven or fifty-nine stories, which one imagines might provide the best vantage points that rise above the rising waves, especially when located on the island’s shores.

Mapping NYC by Sarah

Sarah Levine Maps Manhattan

There’s a mashup begging to be made, in which the tallest buildings of over fifty stories at the tip of the island peak up above the cresting waves, and the rump of buildings in lower Manhattan offer contrasting vistas of the city’s contracting shores.  The buildings that create the canyons of urban life, the buildings of elevation surpassing sixty stories might suggest the true islands of Manhattan’s future, as much as the points that punctuate its skyline.

Sarah's Lower Manhattan

The realization of this possible apocalypse of property made present in these maps offer the ability to visit impending disasters that await our shorelines and coasts, and imagine the consuming of property long considered the most valuable on the shore–as rising seas threaten to render a whispy shoreline of the past, lying under some six meters of rising seas.  The prospect of this curtailing of the ecumene, if it would bring an expansion of our nation’s estuaries, presents an image of the shrinking of the shores that suggests, with the authority of a map, just how far underwater we soon stand to be.

Eastern USASurging Seas: sea level rise after 2 degrees centigrade warming

All actual maps, including Levine’s, provide authoritative reporting of accurate measures with a promise of minimal distortions.  But visualizations such Surging Seas offer frightening windows into a future not yet arrived, using spatial modeling to predict the effects of a rise in sea-level of just five feet, and the potentially disastrous scale such a limited sea-level change would bring:  the coasts are accurate, but their inundation is a conservative guess, on the lower spectrum of possibilities.  For in a country in which 2.6 million homes are less than four feet above current sea-levels, the spectral outlines of chilly blue former coastlines peak at a future world are still terrifying and seem all too possible, as much as potential cautionary tale.  The concretization of likely scenarios of climate change remind us that however much we really don’t want to get there, how potentially destructive the possibility of a several degree rise in ocean temperatures would be.

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Urban Modernity, RIP: Mapping Marshall Berman Mapping Modernism

The meaning of place seems especially difficult to retain in an age of increased mobility, when information flows are increasingly removed from any site, and offer multiplying perspectives.  The work of cultural critic Marshall Berman (1940-2013) provides a clear eyed way to recuperate modernism through the inhabitation of place.  Berman, a long-time New York City resident and echt urbanite, created rich qualitative maps of literary modernism that rhapsodized cities as places–as privileged and vital sites of generating meanings that were rooted in place.  Even after his recent death, it’s hard not to be struck by the vitality that he mapped as rooted in cities, and whose existence he never stopped reminding us about and celebrating.  A native New Yorker, Berman wrote from committed engagement in New York’s space and shifting fluidity, and in his works mapped the sense of fluidity or perpetual permutability of urban life.  He showed us, in so doing, that maps are not only imposition from above, or Olympian views, but can map daily encounters best registered on city streets.  Even when I best knew Marshall in the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of the inveterate street-walker of the Upper West Side and Broadway who exulted in most everything he noticed on the street.  Marshall maybe increasingly became an inveterate street-walker who took pleasure in public space, and enjoyed claiming for himself a spot on the street, finding a sort of release and liberation on the night-time sidewalks, in Times Square, or at the diners where he so loved to sit.

In retrospect, I imagine his championing of the street’s energy came from the magnum opus he was then completing, All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982)–but that his love of street-life also shaped his voracious exploration of the space of literary modernism through the act of being in public.  For Berman quickly recognized that the depersonalization of urban life was not only the trauma and drama of modernity, but, transfigured by literary expression, also a privileged site for individuality.  In ways that are still resonant, his generous mapping of the modernity among cities extended from the city that he loved to the modern urbanism.  R.I.P., Marshall.

Berman’s sudden and unexpected death in a booth at the Metro Diner, at the heart of the Manhattan Upper West Side, can’t but provoke a reflection on his relation to the concept of urban space, from the sense of public space he lived and explored relentlessly as an observer and city-dweller to that which he read so very widely to excavate and explore with a canny sense of the personalized human geography.  For Marshall loved the lived urban environments and continued a life-long fascination he had with the living nature of a streetscape illuminated by electric lights, as if an ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, whose deeply modern possibilities he always felt beckoned and invited and which he was eager to explore.  Marshall’s recent death has prompted several emotional reflections that note the inescapably autobiographical aspects of his work, some of which he would himself, surely, be the first not to hesitate to note.  Marshall’s work was, first and foremost, that of a public intellectual who bridged personal criticism with urbanism.  For Berman often described his engaged writing on modernism and modernist projects of urban space as part of the creative projects of his life.

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November 22, 2013 · 4:02 pm

Mapping Each and Every Tree

The green-space of Central Park is glorified as modeling the abundance of urban nature.  We map the space of the park, whose green provides a pause and respite from the grey concrete facades of buildings, as well as a site for strolling, by a flat lime-green interruption of the urban grid in the public maps of the city park.

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 It is an oasis of sorts, ringed by a tan frame of muted buildings–as if a place to experience wilderness, rendered almost life-like in the rain–even if the muted green seems to suggest a “greenspace” to be valued, as a distinct interruption of the built environment.  Created in the parks movement that redesigned urban space removed from unsavory elements and moral lassitude, and restored as a reprieve from the pace of urban life, the rebirth of the parks as open green-space has recently occasioned the first complete census of individual trees, those often uncounted inhabitants of Manhattan island, whose enumeration in a sort of ‘green census’ offers cartographers Ken Chaya and Edwar Sibley Barnard a deeply ethical way of directing our attention to urban space, in a comprehensive map of the tree space often rendered as a stretch of undifferentiated lime green.  Indeed, the counting of large-trunked oaks, maples, individual pines, and sturdy sycamores in all their varieties offers a detailed abundance that is rarely evident in the parks maps that adopt a single cool shade of idyllic green, and offer a sort of palimpsest that will reward map-readers to pause over, examine, and explore–and indeed pore over, with the botanical level of detail and connoisseurship that the earliest planners of the park might well have appreciated and enjoyed–if not expected of city-dwellers.

Who wouldn’t have expected as much from urban sophisticates?

image 

Map of Central Park: printed for the Department of Public Parks, 1873 (detail)

Yet today, the often-internalized map of the park of light green, far more familiar to all city-dwellers, may risk perpetuating an alienation from its dynamic urban forest, and obscuring the careful level of its botanical detail, or the accumulated palimpsest of urban habitats of its biodiversity.

Green aPark

In part, the duality of Central Park as rural and urban captures the hybrid identity as an urban park.  Even though the park seems to lie somewhat incongruously at the very center of Manhattan, as if the apparent preserve of trees and urban wildlife is defined by its porous relation to the urbanized setting of the park.  If Central Park was designed in the movement of urban greening and public space, as a site of health and interruption of urban life, the park is increasingly more of a heterotypic combination of urban activity, designed built spaces, and manicured wooded areas, a refuge where Manhattan is in a sense perpetually present, not only bur urban sounds, traffic, and lifestyles, in a dyadic relationship that seems captured by the fact that it offers not only the sole open space to inscribe the toponym of the island in subway maps.

In such maps of urban transit, it may be that Central Park acts less as a park, than it serves as a totem of urban space; the park holds the bold-faced word “MANHATTAN” that identifies the city, its flat green spaces and clear light blue lakes crossed by ribbons of white roads, indicating its nicely settled position as secure in an urban grid, as if fastened by crosstown routes, yet readily available to urbanites at multiple entrances as a site of repose.  The image of the interruption of urban space we encounter on subway cars with regularity reminds us of the existence of open greenspace which we can access, even while we ride in eardrum shattering rumbles of subway cars coursing on old tracks while winding one’s way downtown to one’s destination.  Is it an important reassuring reminder of the existence of open spaces that are in fact accessible, even while we may not feel it, nearby?

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The combination of nature and skyscrapers was a unitary construction, several ecopoets have observed, a conundrum or urban nature explored by ecopoets who take up the gauntlet that the urban spaces throw down.   When the poet Gary Snyder described his arrival in New York City, he evoked an ecosystem blending nature and culture that began form its trees and moved settle throughout the island’s sidewalks, streets and skyscrapers, even as it clung to the edges of its shores.  

If the “park” is a shared greenspace in the city–and a space where city-dwellers retreat, at times, to smoke some green stuff in a meadow or on a hill, the definition of the park as a set of individual trees has rarely been mapped in detail, examining the arboreal space that inheres within this interruption of the built environment–if only to excavate and explore its complex past.  Even if the landscape was built on granite and was defined by concrete and brick, the trees defined its space, however paradoxically, in ways that capture the serendipitous presence of the arboreal variety in the city  “Maple, oak, poplar, gingko,” the poet Gary Snyder began rhapsodically and rhythmically incanting the varieties of urban trees he encountered in “Walking the New York Bedrock in the Sea of Information” (1987).  

The discrete trees of Central Park are rarely counted, but the attention that is suggested in the list of trees offer a sense of Snyder’s skill as a naturalist, and  the surprising application of an arboreal register of variety in an urban environment.  For Snyder explores the city by seamlessly blending of nature and culture in New York City in ways that never stops to entertain the reader.  “New leaves, “new green” on a rock ledge/ of steep uplift,” lead to”Glass, aluminum, aggregate gravel,/ Iron.  Stainless steel,” in a metaphorical map blurring canyons of skyscrapers, plate glass, and electric lights buzzing in an ecosystem driven by big finance that might be submarine.  Amidst streams of subways, cars, taxis, rolling carts, people and birds, trees peak out–as “white birch leaves shiver in the breeze” and gingko trees.  While each and every tree is inscribed with a detail that might be dwarfed by the old, hulking trunks that serve as hide-outs with dark passages in the Tisch Children’s Zoo–a reminder of the forest before the park–the Park is a hotspot and mirror of the built park.

If the current maps posted in the park invite exploration of its paths, noted in a paler green beside white roadways, snaking around its uniform field, Barnard and Chaya open those Kelly green spaces to the delectation of wanderers who will be able to explore the park in all its arboreal variety.

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As ever the eloquent naturalist, Snyder poetically turns to how trees resiliently populate the city’s built environment.  He traces an environment partly forest, but hybrid, neither natural or artificial.  In a cartographical compliment to his poem, or a modern Georgics of the park, Edward Sibley Barnard and his accomplice in crime Ken Chaya open up a richly bucolic vision of vegetal copia across what is the densest site of urban trees in Central Park Entire (2011).  The map provides a complete account and comprehensive tabulation of tree varieties within the city’s Central Park, the serves to celebrate the variety of trees that this special spot in the city preserves, counting the over 19, 630 trees within Central Park that will stand as a modern monument for years–until someone again tries to undertake the counting all over again–presenting it for the visual delectation of viewers in a durable fold-out paper map.

 

The detailed catalogue of trees and plants in New York’s Central Park displays virtuosity in evoking the variety, range, and density of trees in the city’s largest greenspace, rendering in detail an ecosystem often vaguely mapped, often suggested as a green space amidst built environment.  In the heart of the city lies the park.  Its odd combination of nature and culture is central to most city maps.  When you look at most public maps of New York City that grace public transit, tourist kiosks, or other venues of spatial orientation, the area of Central Park is a monolithic green, less rooted in a survey or in a source of public data, but a light green box, set apart form the city’s streets–a block of greenspace located framed by the overbuilt grey of residences that crowd Manhattan island since the mid-nineteenth century, and landscaped from 1858.

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Filed under Google Earth, greenspace, New York City, open space, urban parks