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Waterways offer deeper insights into New York City

Spud Hilton - SF Gate
Waterways-offer-deeper-insights-into-New-York-City

Waterways offer deeper insights into New York City

Around Manhattan Architecture Tour

Architecture equals history, Kyle Johnson told passengers on the 80-foot yacht the Manhattan as it chuffed past the curtain of skyscrapers filling our view. “Buildings are made to endure.”

During the nearly three-hour AIANY Around Manhattan Architecture Tour, Johnson explained the skyline through its buildings (and at times the lack of them) and the textures, colors and shapes that are the key to the island’s various eras of design.

“This tour gives you an overview of the entire city, which you can’t possibly do in two hours on foot,” said Johnson, an architect. “You can see the entirety of buildings.”

The tour, structured by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, sails up the Hudson River (which Johnson is quick to point out is not a river, but a tidal estuary) before turning right at the northern tip of Manhattan. The guide lists 156 points of architectural interest, although at some point, I start classifying some structures as either “Neat” or “Who thought that was a good idea?”

The voyage south on the Harlem and East rivers passes under 19 to 20 bridges that provide access to Manhattan’s east side, including a few inventive swing and vertical lift bridges designed to allow passage for tall ships.

The route is similar to any number of circle-island boat tours, but with fewer passengers than most (plus snacks and Champagne) and with a more informed voice about a rapidly changing aspect of the city.

“Typically the city has turned its back to the waterfront because it was a working waterfront,” Johnson said. “The city now is engaging the waterfront; it’s now a place you go to recreate, to enjoy the views.”

Even within the past five years, dozens of new waterfront parks and projects appeared in areas that had been dilapidated industrial zones and rotting piers.

“You’re a lot more aware of the river,” Johnson said, “and you’re not only able to get a look at it, but use it and travel on it.”