As the bus exits the Lincoln tunnel and enters Manhattan, I strain my neck to look out the window at the buildings towering over me in the narrow corridor called a street. I am overwhelmed with awe at the beauty and majesty of this new environment. I can hear, feel and smell the city breathing with both life and decay. Steam coming out of the asphalt. Music coming out of a church. Rotten food coming out of buildings. Light coming out of windows. People walking everywhere. I am a foreigner here. Where can I find shelter, or a drink of water? Where do I push my stick into the landscape, like Brigham, and say this is where I will begin?
I decide to explore this living organism called a city. Much more seems to be going on here than is visible on the surface. The landscape before me is teeming with life like a tree, with roots extending deep into the earth and branches soaring into the sky. Lightning and water flow hidden through arteries giving life to all. Burrowing under the city’s skin I enter one of the arteries called a subway. Here I am transported to another time. As I emerge, not knowing what to expect, my eyes take time to adjust to the changed scene before me. A person reeking of urine and dressed in rags asks for money. I get a sandwich from a guy at a deli. Someone follows me calling out that he knows me, but I’ve never seen him before. This part of the city is old. The scale of all I see is different. Ground Zero lies in ruins. People around me share where they were when it happened. There is a wall lining an entire street with flowers and graffiti-like markings. One of the scrawlings says, €œI sat in silence watching. € Why are all these people here?
By chance I run into a friend from high school. I don’t know what to say to him. He doesn’t say anything, so we pass each other on a piece of concrete called a sidewalk. How do I make my mark? How do I make a difference? I run into a friend from college. He lives here now. We talk as though we were not in a foreign place. I forget that I am the foreigner.
An obsession begins to develop towards this strange wilderness. I feel at home for the first time in my life even though I am alone. But I’m not alone. This vast landscape is layered with people, surfaces, textures, and materials that combine infinitely to provide me the community, music, crime, art, filth, food, and beauty that I need. Every stranger I pass on the street helps contribute to make each of these parts of my life here possible. Again I burrow into the city’s skin.
I emerge reborn, now a child of the city, confident. I am ready to begin. I know where in the landscape to place my stick. I enter a box called an elevator and fly upwards, unseen, as high as is humanly possible, to the top of an Empire. Here I stand on stones carved out of the earth by human hands. These stones suspended 1250 feet above the street allow me to see the grandest achievements of Humanity. It is February 14th at midnight. Sleepless in Seattle comes to mind. Except my love is not coming for me. My love is already here, all 8.3 million of them.
Jonathan is an architect and blogger who loves talking about sustainability, the environment, buildings, and cities. He has worked in Orlando, San Francisco, Portland, and now Salt Lake where he is approaching one year in Utah working for the LDS Church. He blogs at green mormon architect and salt lake architecture and is looking forward to a return trip to New York next month.