NYC is like an illustration from the Richard Scarry book Busytown. Every day you interact with people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions – from delivery men to executives taking their children to school. There is a realness in having so much life crammed into such close quarters.
Sometimes the closeness of the city’s different neighbourhoods creates interesting juxtapositions. For example, the Courthouse in lower Manhattan backs onto Chinatown – the street behind the Courthouse is nothing but bail bonds storefronts and noodle shops. You may be serving jury duty, but the lunch options are amazing! I particularly like the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. It looks like a 1950s diner, but serves delicious dim sum.
There’s a great French bakery at 106th and Amsterdam called La Toulousaine. I really love their croissants. And for a fun night out I head to 54 Below – a small cabaret club in the basement of Studio 54. Watching world class artists perform up close is awe-inspiring, and a welcome break from the lab!
My favourite museum is the New York Historical Society, where I feel like I’m transported through time – and its restaurant serves great homemade pasta. Another favourite spot is the garden next to the Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is close to the Columbia University campus. Peacocks wander around, making it a peaceful place in the midst of a busy neighbourhood. I also love visiting the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park – which is just 20 minutes walk from the university. It’s probably most famous as the site of the final scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail.
Whenever I travel across town, many of the buildings and structures remind me of some of the revolutionary engineering and research that has gone on in this city – from the High Bridge Aqueduct which brings fresh water from far up the Hudson River, to the Pupin Hall where early research into the splitting of the uranium atom was conducted for the Manhattan Project. It is a great reminder that scientific research is part of a much larger history and human context.
In fact, in some ways the whole city is a feat of engineering, with skyscrapers built atop subway lines and underground utilities. The whole organism is brought to life through human planning and design. In engineering, it can be very hard to anticipate and plan for the future, yet somehow the city as a technical system has evolved, grown and advanced.
Check out more travel tips from local luminaries of science and technology from around the world in Science in the City.