New York City, NY, USA

Monday, July 7th, 02014 at 20:02 UTC

The Big Apple. We were in New York in week #175 for the Smashing Conference giving a full-day workshop about data visualizations. New York is one of those cities that is awe inspiring. Formerly New Amsterdam, New York is the home to some of the world’s most interesting characters. The different cultures, ideas, way of seeing the world, architecture, history, museums and chutzpah all mixed together create an atmosphere where you feel like anything can happen.

In such a short-time, we managed to cram in a lot of activities. After the jet lag subsided, we went and had a look at the High Line. The High Line is a repurposed section of the New York Central Railway, West Side line. It was opened to trains in 01934, nearly 100 years after trains were authorized to be used on the west side of Manhattan. Due to many traffic jams, deaths and the general nuisance of a train rolling through town, it was elevated at a cost of what is over 2 billion USD in today’s money. After it’s closure as a train line in 01980 it sat vacant and started to grow wild flowers, plants and trees. It was slated for demolition several times, but that was never realized. Instead in 01999 the Friends of the High Line was formed and the project to convert this old railway into an urban park, similar to the French Promenade plantée in Paris, started to take shape. In 02012, they estimated that over 4.4 million people used the High Line park. It is an amazing park, poking in and out and between buildings, there are straight, line of site views down long New York gridded streets, but also pointing right at amazing landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty. It was almost as if all these tourist attractions were built to coincide with the High Line’s views.

After a leisurely stroll from top to bottom in the early morning, we turned around and walked back uptown. The crowds were starting to appear and you really got the feeling that this was a real success for the area. The popular past-time is to go to the High Line in the evening and watch the sunset.

On friday nights at the MoMA, they open their doors for free. So we took advantage of the busy days and free evenings to have a look around the museum. Not knowing exactly what to expect, it was an interesting and busy experience. Wandering the 6 floors of the MoMA you come across some interesting exhibitions, but also plenty of classic paintings. There were a few famous Dali paintings, including his melting clocks – which was a much smaller painting than expected. Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night was on display and not far away Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian and a collection of Andy Warhol prints. It is funny how people see the world not through their eyes, but through that of their screen. More people crowded around to take photos of these famous works of art than stood there and just enjoyed them. If you are going to browse your photo collection later to see the pictures, you’re better off buying a poster or coffee table book. The pictures will be bigger and better than your screen and in many cases than the artwork itself.

Before flying out, we made one more stop at the Museum of Natural History, as featured in the film “Night at the Museum”. The museum is huge, you could easily spend a day in there exploring all the different aspects. Parts of the museum are very old-style thinking, collecting and stuffing specimens as to preserve what a penguin looks like for those of us not fortunate enough to travel to see one. In the age of the Internet, online video and even excellent nature documentaries, some of this need to collect is a bit moot for the general public.

A few of the highlights of the museum were the Easter Island Moai Statues. As part of one of our upcoming notebooks features Rapanui, so we have been deep in research about the island, the people and their history. One of the other great treats of the museum was the Meteorite collection. In their collection, they had a few Martian stones. Again, one of our notebooks features the topology of Mars, so to see an extraterrestrial rock up-close is a treat. The other amazing objects on display were the Greenlandic asteroids called Woman, Dog and Tent. They are part of the Cape York Meteorite, which was brought from Greenland to the US in 01894 where it was sold to the museum for $40,000. The iron meteorite is over 10,000 years old and weighs in at a whopping 31 metric tons. They had to add more supports to the foundation of the museum to hold up the stone. We originally heard about the existence of this meteorite on the TV Show QI, series G, episode Geography. The Inuits were cold forging these Iron Meteorites to create tools and cutlery without having ever contacted other humans. The first explorers were very puzzled where they could have gotten the raw materials in Greenland. It never occurred to them the source of the metal might have been extraterrestrial.

The museum has obviously been built and updated in waves. Some of the sections make use of modern technology, screens and projectors, while others feel very old and out-dated. Wandering through the section about New York Agriculture feel like a throw-back to the 70s or some bizarre Wes Anderson film. The typography, color and layout all felt a bit out of place.

The trip was too short to take in all of what New York has to offer. We didn’t even touch on the food, nightlife or architecture. We’ll have to leave that for next time.