Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nature takes back the city

Officers Row, Brooklyn Navy Yard

When I ride my bicycle out to the Manhattan Bridge, I like to slow down by the part of the Navy Yard where the Officers Row falls in ruins. I marvel at how quickly the trees and vines obscured the buildings which are rapidly crumbling.

I confess that I have a soft spot for entropy. Things fall apart, rust never sleeps, everything turns to dust, and I love to observe the process. Part of my grumpiness about the current wave of new buildings in New York is that everything is so clean and shiny. There is no discovery of beauty in the decay.

While I contemplate the overgrowth, my imagination is sparked. If some apocalyptic event emptied New York of the majority of its inhabitants, how long would it take nature to reclaim the terrain? The Officers Row is just a half dozen Victorian houses, still there are spots where it is difficult to perceive the buildings through the green.

As I ride past, the green plant smells wafting over the diesel fumes of the truck route, I imagine midtown Manhattan after a twenty-five year absence of humans. I see the office plants run wild, covering the sky scrapers. The streets littered with the glass of broken windows, the Chrysler building overrun with vines. How long before Central Park would move south? The asphalt would be broken by tree roots and weather. I can imagine Fifth Avenue looking like a bleached country road, with weeds sprouting up through the cracks right next to where Tiffany's should be.

I felt a mixture of sadness and desire as I took the pictures. Limited by the fence, I longed to go past the greenery and explore the disintegrating structures. Through some windows I could see the sky, but I couldn't get the angle to photograph it. I really wanted to get closer to this

The black vines against the white wall, the arched doorway, if only I could get closer.

The sadness overwhelmed me. It was not just for the faded buildings. Soon this wonderful mayhem will be razed and replaced by something fresh and new. The anarchy will be restrained and turned into luxury housing or a box store, who knows what. I accept that development must happen, but I will miss this place once it is gone. And I fear it will not last for much longer.

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