Exterior section of east wall, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Tysen Street at Fillmore Street, New Brighton, Staten Island
PRESERVE THE PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCTURE
I've just finished the The Vertical Life, a four-part entry that appears in the four posts immediately preceding this one. Originally, I planned an idiosyncratic profile of the five hilly neighborhoods at the northeastern tip of Staten Island, the fifth and oft' forgotten New York City borough.
What I wanted was to celebrate a life spent marching up and down hills and the sometimes amazing accommodations people have made in order to be able to live that life. What I've come away with is the conviction that these accommodations to hillside living--steps, stairways and paths--are much more than quaint throwbacks to a time when we walked rather than drove up hills.
Our history and our future
Hillside stairways aren't rarities. In upper Manhattan and the west Bronx, these vertical pathways are often massive feats of engineering, overlooked by equally massive apartment blocks of the 1920s and '30s.
In the hilly, close-to-the-ferry neighborhoods of Staten Island's north shore, the scale of hillside stairways is smaller, simpler, more intimate. Paths are bordered by trees, shrubs and grasses, sometimes overgrown by them. These vertical connecting links are, no less than some of the century-old buildings that surround them, a part of Staten Island and New York City history that deserves preservation and restoration.
Whether in upper Manhattan, the west Bronx, or the north shore of Staten Island--and even in their sometimes derelict state--these stairways are part of our city's pedestrian infrastructure. People use them. More would use them if they were in better physical condition and better maintained. Now that serious and ongoing health and environmental degradation is finally acknowledged even at the federal level, state and local policy-makers are actively seeking ways to reduce our dependence on private transportation. These and other forms of pedestrian infrastructure are a perfect fit.
As support systems for walking--an activity promoted by the N.Y.C. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department for the Aging--these steps, stairs and walkways deserve substantial upgrading, with new concrete, railings, signage, lighting and drought-resistant, low-maintenance landscaping. Like the reopened walkways on the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, these hillside amenities are part of New York City and Staten Island history. If we're serious about encouraging alternative forms of transportation, we'll make these steps, stairways and paths part of our future too.