For our first thorough walk of New York City, Flaneur decided on walking East Village, the quadrangle defined by 14th Street to the north, Houston to the south, 4th Avenue to the west and East River to… well, the east. This turns out to be far too broad an area to cover in one day, but when we were starting out, it seemed like an ambitious but achievable goal. We got off the train at the 14th Street-Union Square station, took a few “this is us starting the monumental project” shots by the newsstand, and headed east on 14th.
Just a block or two into our walk, the experience was already palpably different from our usual long walks in the city. We were going slower, paying almost obsessive attention to every little storefront–like a scientist exiting each colony of exotic bacteria in a Petri dish. Many more little details of our surroundings were popping up at us. On a familiar block of 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a knickknack store called Russian Souvenirs that had until then escaped our notice emerged as if out of nowhere, with retro porcelain figurines dancing to silent accordions behind the cloudy glass of the front window. Still early in the day, the street was quiet, only half awake.
Then we hit the block along Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, a giant, leafy, “affordable” housing complex dating back to the 1940s. A quick search yielded a 1-bedroom unit for $3,000+ a month. Definition of “affordable” is so screwed up in this city it’s laughable, though the complex does look quite nice if more than faintly reminiscent of a Soviet efficiency apartments. Across the street was a worrisome row of empty lots with scattered old-fashioned, 3- to 4-story brick buildings in between. Several construction cranes towered over the grass-and-gravel lots, hinting at what to come in this relatively far-flung area of East Village.
Across the street from the eastern end of the Stuyvesant Town was a set of brick buildings with top-heavy cornices that looked as if stuck in time–a vintage Dodge parked in front sealed the impression. (East Village turned out to be chock full of old cars, from meticulously maintained beauties, likely a prized possession of some well-to-do professionals, to beat-up old boats from the ’70s with their back seats stuffed to the brim, probably belonging to old timers.) The last section of these ’20s buildings was missing its cornice, making the Flanuette wonder if it was blown off by the ConEd plant explosion during Hurricane Sandy. Which brings us to:
…the odd remnant of Manhattan’s industrial past, the ConEd plant occupying what must be a significant sum of real estate dollars at the eastern end of 14th Street.