The City My Feet Know Perfectly

Each day I walk in the city. What Concord, Mass., was to Thoreau, New York City is to me.

The city's streets were laid out in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. Houston Street was then the city's northern boundary. The plan extended the streets in a grid pattern for an additional eight miles to 155th Street. Existing only on paper, these streets ran through area impassable without the aid of an ax. Later generations of builders faithfully followed map lines north as the city expanded.

The streets inform and entertain. It's hard to be lonely in a place with so much human activity. They bind me to my city. Like Thoreau, I am blessed with a strong sense of place.

New York's streets help to define the city.

New York is vitality: The noon hour on Fifth Avenue between 57th and 42nd Streets produces a surging flow of humanity.

It is diversity: From my office in SoHo, I cross Broadway to the Lower East Side with its Italians and Chinese on Mulberry Street, Spanish-speakers farther east, and Poles and Ukrainians to the north. As early as the 1640s, 18 languages were spoken in colonial New Amsterdam.

It is problems, too. One cannot fail to notice the homeless, the noise, dirt and congestion.

I take practical walks - on errands, to go to work - and pleasure walks to visit my favorite places in the city. These include the old police headquarters on Centre Street with its splendid dome. City Hall, completed in 1812, one of the oldest buildings in the city. The New York Public Library. Grand Central Terminal. Each of the four bridges spanning the East River.

And I take nostalgic walks from 105th Street and Fifth Avenue where I was born, to 98th and 96th Streets, where I grew up, to 73rd Street where I now live. My life has been spent within the confines of a mile and a half. New Yorkers are a parochial island people!

D.H. Lawrence wrote, "That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly." Beautifully said, but I would change "earth" to "city."

* This year New York is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the union of its five boroughs - Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island - under one city government.

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