A street-level celebration of New York City in all “its perpetual complexity and contradiction.”
Gotham, writes New York architecture critic Davidson, is a liquid city, “a stunningly obvious fact that for decades was almost forgotten,” strung across islands, inlets, and peninsulas. It is also, indeed, magnetic, a city that for centuries has drawn people of all kinds from all around the world and “for all different reasons,” the best of them having to do with art, though many regarding brutal commerce. Thus it is that New York might also now be seen as a liquid assets city, a place where the dollar and only the dollar decides. Touring the boroughs through a series of vigorous water-hopping walks—and there is no city better for walking, an activity that means “having no idea who will cross your path, what they believe, or how they will behave”—Davidson ventures casual asides that could easily turn into whole treatises: how is it that the Hanover Bank, named after the grandest royal family of Europe, could have been housed in so plain an edifice? How did it come about that the traffic-dodging Manhattanite now walks in one of the safest cities in the world for pedestrians, such that “being a flâneur in New York remains as intellectually invigorating as ever; it’s just no longer an extreme sport”? The author also examines the Grand Concourse, with its 11 auto lanes and spindly treed median—not the great promenade its creators envisioned so much as a speedway and sometimes parking lot. Davidson consistently writes with bright enthusiasm (“Is there any human activity that architecture can’t elevate?”), and he thankfully avoids the clots of postmodern jargon that so often burden books of contemporary criticism.
A worthy companion to Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City and the American Institute of Architects guides to the architecture of New York as well as a treat for fans of the metropolis.