The Omnibus Roundup — Archival Photos, Future Libraries, Harbor Upgrading, Hydro Power, Obscura Day and Food Book Fair

Genesis of a icon: In this June 5, 1908 photo, the Manhattan Bridge is less than a shell, seen from Washington Street. It wouldn’t be opened for another 18 months and wouldn’t be completed for another four years.

The New York City Municipal Archives have digitized and made available online 870,000 images dating back to the mid 1800s. The treasure trove of images tells the story of a city in its adolescence. You can see major feats of engineering in their nascency, Babe Ruth attending the 1936 World Series at the Polo Grounds, crime scenes, mug shots, elevated trains, Depression-era bread lines. Because the Municipal Archives house any image that was turned into or taken by the city for any bureaucratic purpose, the range of images made available is mind-boggling and the story that they tell is fairly inclusive. For example, you can find photographs from the mid-1980s of every building in New York City, taken to update the City’s records for tax purposes. See the entire Municipal Archives Digital Gallery here, or (since the site has been down as a result of high traffic) check out slideshows of images selected from the archive at the Daily Mail and The Atlantic.

What will it mean to be a public library in the future?  With new technologies available and research taking on new and different forms, what kind of spaces should a library provide to maintain its democratic purpose? Faced with those questions, the New York Public Library in 2008 announced a $300 million renovation plan for its iconic central branch at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, a plan that has been met with fierce opposition by many writers and researchers who are apprehensive about how the physical changes might affect the scholarly experience. (For more on the plan and its criticisms, see the NYPL website and past coverage in The Nation, The New York Times and The New Republic.) This week, on Design Observer, Mark Lamster argues that proposed changes to the physical building should be brought before the public. While the NYPL has put forth a strong case for their modifications, which include more space for classes and computer work stations, as well as a projected timeline, they still haven’t provided drawings, plans, sections, renderings or a model. For a building admired and beloved for its majestic spaces, Lamster says, there’s an imperative for the Library to allow the public to see, not just hear about, what these changes might mean.

In 2006, voters in Panama decided to double the shipping capacity of the Panama Canal, allowing larger, heavier boats to go through the canal — which means that larger, heavier boats will be coming into our harbors. Currently, only the ports of Miami and Norfolk, Virginia have the capacity to service these larger boats, so the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is scrambling to update the harbor infrastructure by 2014, when these “post-Panamax” container ships will begin to arrive. The improvements involve dredging the Anchorage Channel in the Hudson River, replacing siphons that serve as the back up route for fresh drinking water to get to Staten Island and raising the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet. All told, the project will cost upwards of $1.25 billion, but bring in 279,000 jobs and $9 billion in annual business, according to the Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). See more at MetroFocus.

In 2009, we looked at the potential of harvesting energy from the East River. Now it looks like hydroelectric energy from the waterways surrounding New York City — and the water supply system within it — might become a reality. Last week, Gotham Gazette reports, the City Council unanimously passed legislation requiring the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to test New York City’s “water supply, waste-water treatment facilities and natural waterways” as potential sources of hydroelectric power. According to Speaker Christine Quinn, “New York City would be able to power all the lights on Broadway with hydroelectricity produced from water flowing through the pipes under Times Square.”

New York City’s stormwater retention issue has been more and more in the forefront of people’s minds lately. Every time the city is hit with a big storm the sewer system gets overloaded, pouring a combination of waste and stormwater into the New York Harbor. Lief Percifield, a graduate student at Parsons, has a DIY solution. He wants to install sensors at the overflow points along the harbor to alert New York City residents when Combined Sewage Overflows are happening so that residents can take action: if people use less water while the system is strained, by waiting to wash clothing or dishes, they can help alleviate overflow. Read more about Percifield’s project, DontFlushMe, at Gotham Gazette.


Last month we spoke to Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura about finding curiosity and delight in the city around us. This Saturday, April 28, head out to discover some for yourself on Obscura Day 2012, the project’s annual “international celebration of unusual places.” The events in New York include a trip to the forgotten beaches of Staten Island, Brooklyn rooftop camping, a tour of the lost streams of Manhattan and an exploration of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. Become a tourist in the most familiar of neighborhoods and discover the hidden wonders, both natural and unnatural, in your own city. More information and tickets to specific events available here.

From time to time, we check in with writer, curator and food systems-enthusiast Nicola Twilley about the ways that the infrastructure and culture of food shape our urban environments. Next Friday, as part of the first-ever New York City Food Book Fair, an event that will bring together authors, readers and activists all bound together by their shared interest in food, Twilley and her Foodprint Project co-founder and author of Urban Farms Sarah Rich will be talking about the ways in which cities and food are inextricably linked. The panel will take place on Friday, May 4, 5-6pm, the Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Fair runs from Friday, May 4 through Sunday, May 6. More information here.



The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about