Sometimes the greatness of a city can be measured by what we don’t see rather than what we do. The infrastructure of the biggest cities often entail fascinating worlds of their own, hidden completely out of sight for everyday citizens. It might not be something most of us think about often, but NYC generates garbage and waste on a nearly unimaginable scale, requiring a force of nearly 10,000 to take care of everything busy New Yorkers leave behind. Known as NYC’s Strongest, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for the estimated 12,000 tons of refuse and recyclables that New York discards every day. Here are 5 fascinating facts about one of the city’s grittiest and most essential agencies.
They Took Over a City Besieged by Trash
Before modern sanitation systems, the city’s streets and waterways were New Yorkers’ sole repository for garbage and waste. This means, yes, that the sidewalks (especially in poorer areas like Manhattan’s Lower East Side) were piled high with unthinkably unsanitary messes. The existing Street Cleaning Bureau was dreadfully inadequate, and a new streamlined Department of Street Cleaning was established in 1881. The current name was applied in 1929.
Their Giant Salt Crystal Houses the City’s Supply
At the western end of Canal Street, adjacent to the West Side Highway, sits one of the city’s most visually remarkable buildings. With no windows, you might guess this 70 foot high jagged, ultra-modern building was an art gallery or cutting-edge condominium rather than a municipal storage facility, but the Spring Street Salt Shed is the rare utilitarian building with high-art aesthetics. This unmistakable structure, completed in 2015, was designed specially to house the 5,000+ tons of salt the city keeps on hand for dispersal when snow strikes.
They’re Not Alone in Fighting Garbage Growth
While the Sanitation Department’s (mostly) white trucks are ever present in the city, it may surprise the uninitiated to know that they don’t collect nearly all of the waste created here. In fact, the Department’s collections are limited to private homes and buildings. 248 private collection companies supplement the work done by the DSNY by picking up the garbage created by private businesses from office skyscrapers to mom-and-pop bodegas.
They’ve Inspired Top Designers
It might sound like someone’s idea of a joke, but the world of haute couture is no stranger to the Strongest’s fashion sense. In 2016, designer Heron Preston introduced a line inspired by Sanitation workers’ uniforms just in time for New York Fashion Week. Eager trend-hoppers lined up around the block for Preston’s unique rollout at the Spring Street Salt Shed, with entertainment provided by the DSNY Pipe and Drum Band.
They’re Unlikely to Remain Underappreciated for Long
The ranks of the Sanitation Department aren’t strictly comprised of office workers and trash haulers. Since 2006, NYU Anthropology and Environmental Studies professor Robin Nagle has served as the agency’s official anthropologist, an unpaid position dedicated to studying the impact and future of refuse collection. Her work includes performing research on the waste-management ecosystem and acting as custodian of DSNY’s culture, with an Oral History and Museum of Sanitation in the works. Soon enough, thanks to Nagle’s work, the Department of Sanitation will have the citywide recognition it so richly deserves.
The history of New York City often lays unnoticed in the names of the streets and avenues that comprise it. From its origins as a colonial trade outpost to its current status as the cultural capital of the world, the oft-traveled thoroughfares of the five boroughs are a living history of the area’s influences and interests. These are just a few of the fascinating street name origins that have probably gone under your radar.
A one-of-a-kind street in Manhattan, the Bowery’s name has meant plenty of different things to different eras of New Yorkers. From the punk rockers of the 1970s and 1980s to the chic types who populate its hip bars and restaurants today, no street’s denizens better exemplify the rapid speed of change in NYC. Perhaps that makes it strangely ironic that the name comes from the first and oldest use of this avenue, which was full of quiet, pastoral farmland. In fact, the name comes from the Dutch word for farm: bouwerij. The spelling was anglicized after the Dutch left town and has remained that way ever since.
Manhattan’s most famous thoroughfare, like the similarly named Bowery, comes from the language of the city’s Dutch founders. Brede weg, simply meaning “wide road,” was an appropriate enough name, and remains so to this day. While it’s best known for being the home of the Theater District, the street doesn’t end on the island. While there are separate Broadways in Queens and Brooklyn, only the Bronx can say their version is truly part of the prominent one in Manhattan. In fact, the street runs even further north than that, extending 18 miles into Westchester County, finally ending in the town of Sleepy Hollow.
Modern visitors to this Chinatown thoroughfare are awash in traffic and aggressive handbag sales but had they visited about 200 years ago they’d more likely be traversing this block in a canoe. Yes, similar to Wall Street to the south, Canal Street got its name from an actual canal, built to handle runoff from the swamps and marshes that occupied this area before urbanization. By 1820, the swamps were gone, and the canal had been paved over to become the island-spanning street we know today.
One of Queens’ oldest and longest roads, Kissena Boulevard connects Flushing and Jamaica while running directly down the center of the borough. The name comes from the Chippewa word meaning “it is cold,” derived by the lake of the same name found in Kissena Park. The street is not only an important landmark for New York City travelers but Rock and Roll historians as well. According to legend, Queens-born KISS guitarist Paul Stanley got the idea for his band’s name by shortening that of the street he traveled on as a child.
Eager for more etymological entertainment? Read our How NYC Neighborhoods Got Their Names or The Most Popular Dog Names in NYC.
New York is truly a city constantly in flux. Among the most exciting recent changes to the NYC landscape have been spaces fallen into disuse and reimagined into homes for the most thrilling music the world has to offer. These are the city’s latest and greatest major music venues, each borne from an old building transformed into something more vibrant and new.
The latest venue opened by Bowery Presents (owners of the Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, Terminal 5 and others), this former steelworks factory in East Williamsburg has been converted into the mid-sized concert hall of Brooklynite’s dreams. No longer will trips into Manhattan be necessary to see the likes of Elvis Costello, MGMT, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor on their NYC tour stops. The site’s repurposed metal fixtures, exposed pipes, and rugged factory-grade windows and ceiling fans are a reminder of what once was while giving big-name bands the Brooklyn edge they’re looking for when they swing into town.
Forest Hills Stadium
Named for the cozy Queens neighborhood it calls home, Forest Hills Stadium has a history matched by few venues in the five boroughs. Once host to shows by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, and countless other megastars, the stadium fell into disuse by the 1990s, necessitating a full renovation to get it back to its past glory. That happened in 2013, and reopened with a rousing show by Mumford and Sons to signal that Queens was once again a destination for music’s hottest acts.
The crown jewel of Flatbush Avenue, the Kings Theatre finally reopened in 2015 after a meticulous renovation. Formerly a vaudeville theater turned movie house, crowds came from around Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods to enjoy the regal building until it was shut down in 1977. A renovation plan approved in 2010 and completed in 2015 restored the Theatre to its rightful place among the city’s finest seated music halls, even serving as host for Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City Address in 2018.
NYC style isn’t restricted to the bands that pass through town. Read our guide to 5 Architectural Styles that Define NYC or Public Artworks that New Yorkers Must See to Believe for more on the aesthetics of the city.
From the Statue of Liberty to the Washington Square Arch, public art is an inextricable part of the NYC landscape. Outside of these established landmarks, there’s never a shortage of intriguing and thought-provoking pieces popping up across the five boroughs. These are a few public artworks currently on display around the five boroughs that help keep New York a vibrant center of culture, showing you don’t always need to visit a museum to get in touch with the world of art.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
The sometimes controversial Chinese dissident’s latest piece uses the entire city as its canvas. At sites across Manhattan and Brooklyn, Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Makes Good Neighbors serves as compelling commentary on the borders and separations that define our lives. Consisting of steel fences and pictorial banners strategically placed across the city, this piece is just the latest example of global artists using the city’s streets to make a vital statement.
On the more lighthearted side, this bright yellow construction consists of just two letters that carry a multitude of meanings for countless people. The 8-foot tall aluminum piece, depending on where on the Williamsburg’s North Fifth Street Pier and Park you’re standing, reads “YO” as in “I” in Spanish, or the slang “hey” salutation familiar to just about all New Yorkers. From the other side, the two letters read “OY,” perhaps a nod to the city’s many Jewish residents. Either way you choose to look at it, this piece by Deborah Kass is worth experiencing in person.
Flying High for Equality
A highlight of the City Parks Department’s Art in the Parks initiative, Flying High for Equality sits perched on the southern slope of Joyce Kilmer Park along East 161st Street in the Concourse Village neighborhood in the Bronx. A flock of multicolored sparrows representing the varied communities found in the city overlook the colorful neighborhood adjacent to Yankee Stadium.
Another piece sponsored by the Parks Department brings vivid color to the green parks of New York. Queens’ Rufus King Park in Jamaica already stands out thanks to a colonial manor central to the park, and Common Ground brings a more down-home feeling to the compact park space. Brightly colored benches featuring mosaic designs comprise this utilitarian piece of art, providing a place that encourages park visitors to come together and enjoy friendship and camaraderie any time of year.
The work of Polish-born artist Fitzhugh Karol, this highly interactive piece forms steel silhouettes into something new. Part public art, part playground, these works invite visitors to play and enjoy them while offering a highly unique aesthetic to Stapleton’s Tappen Park. Drawing inspiration from the freighters in nearby New York harbor, Eyes combines steel material with bright color.
Looking to do something beyond the usual for this upcoming Valentine’s Day? Luckily for you, NYC has tons to offer couples who have had their fill of candlelit dinners and ice skating trips. Here are a few fun ideas that your sweetheart will remember for years to come.
Take ‘Em to the Top
Even the most jaded New Yorker can appreciate the stunning view from one of the city’s high vistas, and The Top of the Rock above Rockefeller Center stands as a favorite for those in the know. Easier to manage crowds than the Empire State Building (with the advantage of being able to see the Art Deco masterpiece) and shorter waiting time than it’s more famous counterpart make this an underrated destination on any day, let alone the most romantic one of the year. If there was ever a place to make an unforgettable proposal, it’s here with the entire city at your feet.
Cupid’s Undie Run
This now-annual event takes full advantage of the adventurous spirit of many New Yorkers. Specifically, the ones willing to get down to their skivvies for a good cause-raising money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Cupid’s Undie Run takes participants on a mile-long jaunt around Pier 84 (just south of the USS Intrepid) on the Saturday closest to Valentine’s. So you and your partner can get on your favorite underthings and get moving! The after-party is sure to outlast the race itself and should be almost as breathtaking.
There’s sure to be a “Whole Lotta Love” in the air as the former Led Zeppelin frontman brings his solo act to the Beacon Theater on February 14. Whether you and your date are diehards or casual fans, spending your special day with a rock and roll icon is certainly something that’ll outdo the usual candy-and-roses routine. This is one plant that won’t end up wilting after a week. Tickets are sure to go quicker than restaurant reservations, so hurry up and get your seats.
Still not sure where to spend this Valentine’s Day? Read up on some fascinating museum exhibits or unconventional activities that can double as great date ideas!