Michael Chen

New York, New York

For 10 years, I ran a course for first year architecture students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, 150 newly minted New Yorkers mostly. At the first lecture I would show a newsreel from 1977 of Phillip Petit walking on a tightrope between the Twin Towers. “A quarter of a mile up, and no net below,” croons the newscaster. I’ve always regarded that event as one of the great love letters to this City that I love, a way to see the city anew. The New York that beckons irresistibly to outsiders, full of extraordinary events that capture the collective imagination – that’s the City I longed for as a youngster and the one that I sought out when I first came here as a student myself. It’s been a very different place for some time, and I was missing that New York of lore. Ah, the 70’s. What is it that they say? A longing for a time in the City’s past that you never actually knew is what makes a true New Yorker. I wasn’t there, but it’s how I remember it anyway. 

There was a cloud over the City at that time too. Who is to say which is more menacing. There are fires. And dark as it is and has been, these days the city still glimmers with the glow of good deeds, of individuals risking their bodies and lives, not for the sake of spectacle, but to care for others, to feed them, to house them, and to engage in the fight for the rights of all of us to be treated equally, especially our Black brothers and sisters. To see the city transformed, humming streets going vacant for months, and then erupting overnight with righteous furor, is jarring, almost sublime. The city strains. It is becoming unmade, exposing its fragile connective tissues, every raw nerve. The brave on the front lines, at the hospitals, on the delivery bikes, marching in the streets, they shine a light on how unequal, unprepared, unjust, unaware, uncaring this city is and has been. Those who can have left. It is a city of die hards. Never has New York felt more like a village to me, but one electrified with a powerful urgency for change. Imagination and hard work have never been more urgent. Take a breath, join in, and we will put it back together in a new way.