Ofcourse, New York will always be new. But it’s not just the name I’m thinking of here. When I swung by a few months ago, the Great Metropolis was in a flurry of activity, gearing up to open new attractions, putting finishing touches to major urban renewal projects and generally looking all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
No development is garnering more attention than what has been named—somewhat modestly—The Shed. This brand-new arts and culture centre sits in a pathbreaking building next to the Hudson Yards development. I did a pre-opening hard hat tour, and had to put my imagination to full use, especially to visualise its retractable canopy in action. Visitors have not had to do so after April 5, 2019 when it opened with the world premiere of a five-night concert series—Soundtrack of America—conceived and directed by Steve McQueen, and celebrating the impact of African American music on contemporary culture. Now, the visitors can just let their jaws drop all over the place. In its commitment to showcasing original art, the opening commissions included new work by artist Trisha Donnelly and the world premiere of Reich Richter Pärt, an immersive live performance installation from iconic artists Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter, and Arvo Pärt. The world premiere of Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a specially commissioned spoken and sung dramatic work by poet and scholar Anne Carson, was performed on April 9, 2019.
The Shed has changed New York’s cultural landscape overnight, although it was in development for over a decade, and had its fair share of detractors. The nonprofit cultural institution is located on city-owned land on Manhattan’s west side, where the High Line meets Hudson Yards. The Bloomberg Building in which it is housed, is a cutting-edge, moveable structure, designed to adapt to new work of all kinds. There are two floors of galleries, the state-of-the-art 500-seater Griffin Theater, and The McCourt, a multi-use hall for large-scale performances, installations, and events.
That entire neighbourhood is undergoing a stunning transformation, in fact. Hudson Yards next door is the largest private real estate development in the United States by area. Once it’s complete, 13 of the 16 planned will sit on a platform built over the West Side Yard, a storage yard for Long Island Rail Road trains, built by people who’ve leased the air rights above the yard. The first phase, which opened this year, has residences, a hotel, office spaces, a mall and a public green space.
But that’s not all. The stunning centrepiece of Hudson Yards is the Vessel (TKA), a spiral staircase soaring into the sky and meant to be climbed, although it doesn’t lead anywhere at all. This stairway to heaven is, in fact, an interactive artwork, conceived by Thomas Heatherwick “as a focal point where people can enjoy new perspectives of the city and one another from different heights, angles and vantage points”. There are 154 intricately interconnected flights of stairs in all and almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. Christopher Heywood, Executive Vice President, Global Communications at NYC & Co, the destination marketing company that is constantly thinking up new ways to attract more visitors to the city, called it New York’s version of the Eiffel Tower. He also called 2019 “a monumental year for New York”. Never has the city seen the opening of so many major attractions at one go. You’d think a city like New York wouldn’t need to be sold, but NYC & Co isn’t taking any chances.
It’s not just built stuff we’re tripping on. New York has breathtaking new experiences too, some fun, some downright uproarious. One such turned out to be the Turnstyle Underground Market, a pioneering retail redevelopment which has transformed a previously dark passageway in the Columbus
Circle subway station into a thriving underground marketplace with over 35 boutique retailers and quick-service restaurants. It apparently attracts 22 million visitors annually and, going by the crowds, this may well be true.
Who doesn’t like miniatures? Not far from the incessant energy of Times Square, there’s an entire world of them. At Gulliver’s Gate, you can explore over 25 cities from five continents in a labyrinthine 50,000 sq ft space. It’s said to be the most technologically advanced and interactive museum of minia tures in the world and cost a mere $40 million to create. Exhibits include a functioning airport as well as the Taj Mahal. You can even have a little miniature of yours printed out and placed somewhere among the exhibits. Other unnecessary but nevertheless gripping information: the attraction contains 967 buildings, 9,891 windows, 102 bridges, 233 cars and, um, 47 pizzas (it’s New York, after all).
Without a doubt, one of the high points of my New York trip was the High Line. It’s one of the greatest urban regeneration projects I know of. A public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, it was rescued from the maws of demolition by nearby residents and the City of New York. It opened in 2009 as a hybrid public space where one can experience nature, art and design. Newly opened in June 2019 is the Plinth, a space on the High Line devoted to a rotating series of contemporary art commissions. It’s located on the Spur, the newest section of the High Line at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, and offers sweeping views of the city. For the inauguration, artist Simone Leigh unveiled Brick House, a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a Black woman, her “torso conflated with the forms of a skirt and a clay house”.
If new is New York’s new mantra (no surprises there), then old is also gold. You can’t go to New York and not catch a play or musical on (or off) Broadway. I managed to slip in a show of the longest running musicals of them all, The Phantom of the Opera, into my hectic itinerary. Every night is a new show after all. Afterwards, picking up a falafel wrap from the all-night food truck outside my hotel, I bought donuts for a couple who had emerged from another show but seemingly without their purses. I could almost have been a New Yorker.
Another area to watch out for is Lower Manhattan, comprising the districts south of Chamber Street, which has undergone a dramatic revitalisation. There are loads of new shopping, dining and entertainment options, including the dramatic Oculus, which rises like the wings of a bird above the World Trade Center Station and mall. There are new hotels here. 10 Corso Como, the Milan fashion house named after its home address, which has opened in the historic Seaport district, is sending fashionistas into a tizzy.
Even as the magazine goes to press, New York City is gearing up for WorldPride, the first time the iconic event is being held in the United States. The LGBTQIA+ celebration is set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic Stonewall Uprising, with millions of visitors expected to descend upon the city to mark the occasion. New York is expected to take it all in its stride, with its trademark nonchalance.