Friday, September 30, 2011

New York City: The Theater District

The Theater District is one of the best known areas of New York City. Located in Midtown Manhattan it is home to about 40 theaters with live performances. Times Square also can be found here. When you hear the phrase "Broadway show" know that it is a reference to a stage play or musical production in The Theater District. Stretching from 40th to 54th Street, the area is a vibrant and crowded place filled with theaters and huge advertising signs. It is likely that you have seen the bright lights and crowded streets of the Theater District and Times Square on television or in movies. 

The theater and advertising are both big money makers in New York and have a huge impact on the economy. People come from across the United States and around the world to see Broadway shows. The live action of a stage play or musical is vastly different from seeing the same play in movie format. As you sit in the audience, you are in the same room as the performers with all the live action surrounding you. In the photos below you can see the marquees of several theaters. What are some of the plays and live music shows currently in production?


Times Square got its name from the New York Times, the large metropolitan newspaper that made its home there in 1904. To celebrate their new headquarters in the Times Tower--set on a small triangle of land at the intersection of Broadway, 42nd Street, and 7th Avenue--a large New Year's party was held. After a daylong street festival, fireworks were set off and 200,000 revelers cheered in the new year. More than 100 years later, Times Square remains the site of a huge New Year's Eve celebration, and it is estimated that between 750,000 and 1,000,000 celebrants attend. Perhaps you have watched the ball drop at the stroke of midnight. The New York Times moved to a larger location in 1914, but the building has remained one of the most expensive advertising spots in the world. Today, the building itself remains empty and is used only to house the huge signs that are famous the world over. 

How effective do you think advertising in Times Square is? If you had a product to sell, you would want the most people possible to see your advertising. More than 200,000 people work in Times Square and half a million people walk through the district every day. In addition, more than ten million people worldwide see live shots of Times Square advertising on television each day. Add to that the more than one billion individuals globally who watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve and you can readily see why the Times Square area is one of the most desirable sites for national and international advertising. The huge signs are certainly captivating. Look at the pictures below to view some of the advertising found in the Times Square area today. What goods and services are being sold? How much do you think it would cost to advertise on a large sign in Times Square?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Manhattan: Urban Living

What's it like to live in a  big city, one with relatively small land space but millions of residents? Where does everyone live? How do urban dwellers go about their daily lives? 

It may surprise you to learn that big cities are usually "greener" than the suburbs or rural areas. A Manhattan resident's carbon footprint is 30% smaller than the average American. Why is this so? Because fewer people own cars so most residents walk, bike, or take mass transportation to work. And they live in large apartment buildings that require less energy to heat or cool. Consider the photographs below. What aspects of urban living do you see?

In the first seven photographs you can see large buildings that contain apartments. Many have store fronts on the first level. Look for the fire escapes. Why are these important? Would you like to live in a big city in an apartment? What would be the advantages?

Does this market look like the place where you buy your groceries? How is it the same? How is it different? Many markets dot Manhattan neighborhood streets. There also are street vendors that sell fresh fruits and vegetables from their carts.


In warm weather restaurants have outside seating or set up temporary places to eat. Where can you eat outside where you live?

Churches and houses of worship of all religions and denominations can be found around Manhattan. Many of them are old. You will notice that there is extremely limited parking. How do parishioners get to this church? How do people in your area get to church?

Sometimes, old buildings are used for new purposes. Once, this large structure housed a bank. Now it is home to a drug store. What buildings where you live are now used for things other than their original intent?

There are thousands of taxis in Manhattan. Are there taxis where you live? How common are they? Is there any kind of mass transportation available? With our highways becoming more and more crowded, and exhaust from vehicles polluting our air, perhaps it is time for mass transportation to again become common.

Manhattan Streets are usually crowded. It is common to see people walking their dogs or out for a stroll. Some parks have special sections for dogs to run and play. If you live in a big city and rely on mass transportation, you get a lot of exercise walking from your bus or subway stop to wherever you are going.

Restaurants abound in Manhattan. While there are some chains, most are locally owned and many serve ethnic foods. What locally owned restaurants serve your area? What kinds of foods are served in your local restaurants?

This school is located in the downtown area. Where do you think the children play at recess?

One advantage of living in Manhattan is the availability of goods. Anything you want to buy can be found. These store fronts also have apartments above them. 

Living in Manhattan is exceptionally expensive. A tiny studio apartment (basically one room) can cost $2,000 per month in rent. Luxury apartments can cost millions. The tops of many apartment buildings have trees and gardens on the roofs. Often, you can see the trees from the street level.

In Manhattan, space is at a premium, which is why buildings have many stories. Skyscrapers are extremely tall buildings; the first ones had only ten to twenty stories and were built in the late 1800s. What inventions do you think led to the building of higher and high skyscrapers? Did you guess steel structures, elevators, central heating, and electrical plumbing pumps?

Street performers are common in the city. This man was tapping out rhythms on the railing using drum sticks.

Even though residents of Manhattan live in apartment buildings, they also enjoy visiting parks. There are a multitude of parks that provide space for people to relax and enjoy sitting on benches to read, talk to friends, or eat lunch. The parks are a nice place to take a break.  

Washington Square Park is a well known park in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. Washington Arch (above) and the large fountain (below) are two of the prominent features of this park. On a sunny day the park is filled with people enjoying the green space. For whom do you think this park was named?

On the pavement in Washington Square Park someone stenciled the sign below. It is true that homeless people often make the parks their homes. But many of the parks close before midnight. Where do you think the homeless people go when the parks are not open? How hard would it be to be homeless? Many people think homeless people are lazy, but it takes a lot of work to survive if you are homeless.

This aerial view of Central Park helps you see just how small Manhattan is and how much space was set aside in the park for everyone to enjoy.

Do you recognize this red tailed hawk? He is famous. His name is Pale Male and his mate is called Lola. New Yorkers care very much about him. Pale Male has been in the news for the past several years. Here you see him taking a twig to his nest that is located high on the side of a Manhattan building. What else can you find out about Pale Male?

Monday, September 26, 2011

New York City: Uptown in Harlem

Harlem is an uptown neighborhood in Manhattan, one of New York City's five boroughs. Founded by the Dutch in 1658, it was named Nieuw Haarlem after a city in the Netherlands. Later, the British renamed the neighborhood Harlem. At first the economy was based on farming but once streets and the railroad stretched to the uptown area, the economy shifted and a housing boom ensued. By the early 1900s, Harlem was inhabited by African Americans, Irish, Germans, Hungarians, Russians, English, Italians, and Scandinavians. The population changed to mostly African Americans by 1930. Prior to the Great Depression, Harlem gained a reputation as the dominant economic success for African Americans in all of the United States. 

Our president's father, Barack Obama, Sr., lived in Harlem before and after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983

During the Depression, Harlem, like much of America, suffered through difficult times. By the 1950s and 1960s, leaders like Malcolm X motivated residents to become active in improving their lives. From 1945 - 1971 Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Junior represented Harlem in Congress and was instrumental in the passage of Civil Rights legislation. 

A statue in Harlem of Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr

In the 1920s and 1930s a movement called The Harlem Renaissance reflected a new optimism and pride in the African American culture. Spanning all areas of expression including art, music, dance, and literature, the era portrayed the black experience as had never been done prior. Among the artists of the time are several who are still well known today: blues singer Bessie Smith, actor and concert singer Paul Robeson, poet Langston Hughes, and jazz great Duke Ellington.

Langston Hughes' Harlem Home

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Harlem Memorial to Jazz Great Duke Ellington

One of the most famous performance halls in the United States is the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The list of famous entertainers who have performed there is lengthy. Since 1934--long before American Idol or Star Search--Wednesday night has been amateur night. Contestants perform and are either booed or cheered. Those who are cheered can go on to fame and fortune. Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Lyman, James Brown, the Jackson Five (including a young Michael Jackson), the Isley Brothers, Jackie Wilson, Luther Vandross, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Night, Dionne Warwick and Pearl Bailey have all been amateur night winners.

The Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque honors the work of Malcolm X.

One of the more colorful places to shop in Harlem is this outdoor market. Inside are booths specializing in goods from Africa. Vendors from Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and other African countries sell articles from their native homelands.

Sylvia Wood, known as the Queen of Soul Food, is the founder and owner of one of New York's most famous restaurants. In 1944 Sylvia became a waitress at a Harlem luncheonette. In 1962 she bought the luncheonette and transformed it into an extensive family enterprise that now includes her restaurant, a catering service, a line of food products, a couple of cookbooks, and a real estate firm. Sylvia has won many awards and has been featured on several television shows. The third generation of the Wood family now runs the restaurant.