How Summer Streets revives my love for the city

All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on, and dance all night
Despite the heat it’ll be alright

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When I moved to New York in June 2007, fresh out of college, Summer in the City served as my guide. I figured I’d just have to tough my way through the heat and humidity of the day to get to the good stuff at night.

As I close my seventh summer, the honeymoon period has worn off. An airless subway no longer feels like an acceptable price for convenient transit. I have to fight to ensure my temper doesn’t rise with the temperature. The needless honking of an impatient driver sometimes drives me to the edge of sanity.

In 2013, we’re also in the midst of one of the most uninspiring mayoral campaigns in the history of politics.

Every time I leave the city, I wonder why I don’t get the hell out of this sewer permanently. I could probably do what I’m doing anywhere. What advantages does living in New York present to someone who rejects the rat race?

Then, just as I’m about to reach a breaking point, Summer Streets comes along, and reminds me of how great this city can be. For six hours on three consecutive Saturdays, the city shuts down a seven-mile stretch from the Brooklyn Bridge up to 72nd Street. (This coming Saturday will be the last.)

Many selfish, entitled rich persons would like you to believe that no one bikes here, and that the miles upon miles of lanes the city has installed over the past few years have been a waste of space. Au contraire, mes amis.

Summer Streets 10 Aug 2013 - 08People of all shapes and sizes; of all ages and backgrounds; on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and foot. They come together to enjoy wide swaths of open pavement usually reserved for cars. It feels like a good cross-section of the city – and the best part, in my opinion, is that everyone is friendly and courteous.

That’s not to say everyone taking in the sights is a local. My parents were visiting this weekend from Vermont, and I guessed (correctly) that they’d love the event. My dad worked on Park Avenue for a few years in the 1980s. This was a new way for him to see the street he once knew fairly well. Hell, it was a new way for me to see a street I know fairly well.

Of course, I couldn’t resist sticking my parents on Citi Bike. Even though it was my mom’s birthday, and she could have said no without reason, she obliged me for a full block. (My dad rode around for quite a while, probably as an excuse to escape my company!)

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Maybe the only downside of Summer Streets is that it makes you realize there are parts of the city you can’t see without a car, like the upper level of roadway circling Grand Central. Take this statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Take this view of the east Midtown canyons. Take this view of Park Avenue, framed by a perfect arch.

Summer Streets 10 Aug 2013 - 17 Summer Streets 10 Aug 2013 - 20 Summer Streets 10 Aug 2013 - 31

I love that there exists a time and place in the city where people can all just … be. Maybe someday this will be a weekly occurrence. Until then, the memories will carry me through to Labor Day.

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