While it must have been tempting to never leave Fire island, returning to the city isn’t exactly painful when it’s New York City.

Editor-in-Chief Gordon Price has now had a few days on the island formerly known as New Amsterdam, which will mark 400 years as a colonial settlement in 2024. It was purchased from the indigenous locals by the Dutch for 60 guilders; in today’s dollars, that’s about the cost of three nights in a 1-bedroom Airbnb near Central Park.

There’s so much to explore in Manhattan, but despite the obvious charms of this island nation, exploring is not always the same as seeing, or understanding. Background reading for historical context helps, as does an eye for detail, and always, the spark of a discussion from someone who’s been there before and knows where to look (and what it all means).

Enjoy this little tour of Gordon’s first few days, and be sure to check out the rest of the posts on the PT Instagram feed.

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Not what you would ever see in SkyTrain.

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… cellphone charging stations.

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When I teach urban design, I always emphasis the importance of the first survey – the layout of the streets, the dimensions of the lots, the size of the blocks … and whether there are lanes (or alleys) that divide them, as there are almost universally in Vancouver. They provide a right-of-way for utilities, rear access to lots, and a place for garbage storage and pick-up. Lanes mean giving up profitable real estate, however, which is perhaps why the Commissioners Plan of 1811 which divided up Manhattan between Houston and 155 Streets omitted them. Consequently garbage must be piled up on the narrow sidewalks waiting for trucks to pick it up and block the narrow streets. And don’t even begin to think about what it means to dig up and service utilities for water, sewer, electricity and cable on the congested rights-of-way. Omitting lanes was one of the worst decisions ever made in NYC.

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Good place for a wedding photo too.

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The south side of the square, where every building tries to make an architectural statement, which, except for the church, they do poorly and controversially. Good intentions, I suppose, by New York University, the major landowner in this party of the city. NYUs relationship to its neighbourhood has been a fractious one – and yet it is one of the defining institutions of New York as a world centre for learning and education. Every great city needs a great university or two in its centre, and Vancouver has always suffered from the lack of one on the peninsula. SFU tried to make up for the void with its presence in about seven different buildings along Granville and Hastings – modelled very much after NYU, which has no single iconic building to define its presence. Just millions of square feet.

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