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NYC Grid is a photo blog dedicated to exploring New York block-by-block and corner-by-corner. Each post covers a new street or feature with a focus on the mundane and ephemeral.


Entries in Lower East Side (49)


Henry St Between Catherine St and Pike St

Starting on a dark, quiet lane, Henry Street is a bustling mixture of stores, apartments and restaurants. In a way it's appears very similar to the old New York neighborhoods from the early 20th Century. Without a chain store in sight, the entire area seems completely self-sufficent, relying on a number of unique services that are almost all locally-owned. Likewise, there are hardly any commercial buildings. All the storefronts have apartments sitting directly on top of them and very few of the buildings reach above six stories. With a bit of re-dressing, you could probably shoot a period movie here without much trouble. 

The main attraction (or distraction) here is the Manhattan Bridge. Leaping right over the center of the block with it's long approach ramp, it's a bit of an ominous structure. Every few minutes you can hear an N, Q, B or D train rumble overhead, adding to the dread. Walking under it, I had a strange sense of déjà vu when I noticed how similar it was to the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge. Built in the same decade, the Queensboro shares a handful of structural similarities, including stone archways which jump over the street. In this case, I also noticed how similar the neighborhood below the anchorage was. Up on 59th Street the Queensboro market is home to a beautiful Food Emporium which sits inside the bridge itself. Down here the Manhattan Bridge has a supermarket sitting directly underneath it as well. Though, the vast cultural differences of the Lower East Side and the Upper East Side make it an easy comparison to miss; really they they only share a common function. Aesthetically the two markets are worlds apart.


Clinton St Between East Broadway and Delancey St

There's an imaginary line that runs across all of Manhattan. This line is where the streets cease to follow the seemingly random layout of New Amsterdam and begin to to conform to the Commissioner's Plan of 1811 – which dictated the street grid of Manhattan starting around Houston Street and continuing up in to the Bronx. If you simply glance at a map you can clearly see this change occur. On the west side the grid doesn't take hold until 14th Street where the insane organization of streets known as the West Village finally meet its match. The east side, on the other hand, begins to have normal easy-to-navigate blocks as far south as Canal Street. Which is where we find ourselves today. While these blocks aren't your standardized "Commissioner's Plan" style, they at least follow the geography of the island in a more logical manner than their counterparts to the south.

The changeover between these different grid layouts often results in strange block arrangements and even the occasional curved street. Clinton Street begins its life down on South Street after which it cuts through the LES. However as it crosses East Broadway it makes the slightest turn east to make up for the change in orientation of the surrounding super blocks. Being in the middle of a housing project you encounter the expected oddities such as low-rise retail and spacious lawns, but off on the horizon you can see beacons like the Chrysler Building which help to orient you.

As Clinton settles into a route which will eventually find itself turning into Avenue B before looping around at 14th Street to morph into Avenue A, the surrounding apartments taper off into an industrialized wasteland. In the distance the gentrified high rise buildings of the East Village and Alphabet city stand out like sore thumbs amongst the older structures look utterly defeated. 


Bowery Between Prince Street and Houston St

As the dizzying rate of gentrification continues along the Bowery, it becomes more and more of a spectacle to watch the changes. Many parts of the historically-depressed Bowery are home to specific industries such as lamps or furniture, or in this case commercial restaurant supplies. In the age of online retailers providing everything you could ever imagine, it's strange to see 10 or 12 shops in a row all selling the same basic supplies – yet here they are. But while old grease traps are being power-washed on the sidewalk for resale, across the street strange buildings such as the New Museum sit as if they had always been there.

South of Houston it's still possible to see remnants of the neighborhood's former self, though they're very quickly being turned over to developers. The past decade has seen the whole area north of Houston transformed into something entirely unrecognizable to anyone who hasn't visited since the early 90's. 


9th St Between 1st Ave and Ave A

The epitome of an East Village block, this stretch is filled with an eclectic mix of wonky storefronts and apartments. Tompkins Square Park looks over the dead end on the east side, while 1st Avenue allows a quick escape to the rest of the island.

On the western corner the old PS122 building sits with a construction canopy perpetually wrapping around the current performance space. After the shade of the covered sidewalk in front of PS122, the rest of the block is cast in the intermittent shadows of blossoming trees. Add to all that a series of planters and flowers and it's really quite pleasant.


2nd Ave Between 3rd St and 5th St

On the outskirts of Alphabet City, 2nd Avenue still retains much of the energy but, thanks to its ability to go further north than 23rd street, feels less constricting. Unfortunately, it's littered with a bizarre combination of stores, restaurants and churches that share their space with shuttered storefronts. 

It's hard to tell if these few blocks are on the verge of collapse, or about the explode in popularity. Sure, I know the neighborhood is a hotspot, but the mixture of run-down stores and hopping businesses make it a hard call. Like many of the surrounding blocks there aren't many new buildings to speak of – which allows the stretch to keep much of its character.


6th St Between Ave A and Ave B

Just south of Tompkins Square Park this part of 6th St is quintessential Alphabet City. With the famous Sidewalk Cafe anchoring the corner, a series of smaller restaurants quickly follow, though few seem as popular as the venerable Sidewalk.

My memory (and photos) may be failing me now, but I can't remember one piece of new development along the entire block. It's really refreshing to see an entire street untouched by some bland, modern sore thumb of a building.