What I Love About Lower Manhattan: A Newcomer Tells Her Story

Bridge

Lower Manhattan at daybreak

By Indira Satyendra

We moved to Lower Manhattan six months ago and already couldn’t be happier.

The Financial District is so different from the time I worked at a law firm here 10 years ago.  At that time the streets would become deserted at night and on weekends, and restaurants and shopping were scarce.  Now, with the residential boom, the neighborhood is lively and full of activity at all hours.  There are so many restaurants we still haven’t tried many of them (our problem is that we keep going back to the same one, Les Halles on John Street, for the delicious steak frites).

There are grocery stores, coffee shops, plenty of shopping, farmers markets and more.  There’s also swift and easy access to both the west and east sides of Manhattan by several subway routes that converge here, so it’s no problem for me to get to my job near Lincoln Center.   We love our modern high-rise apartment with its spectacular view of the East River and Midtown skyline that glitters with city lights in the evening.  The rent is reasonable – comparable to that of the older, smaller Midtown apartment we used to have that looked out on nothing.

But what I really love about Lower Manhattan can be found just walking around on the neighborhood’s streets.   There’s something more than urban convenience and amenities that makes living in Lower Manhattan so special.  It has to do with the interplay of towering skyscrapers on narrow, curving streets and the surrounding expansive, open-air, natural beauty of the waterfront.  It has to do with the historical feel of cobblestones and graceful old buildings, juxtaposed with modern architecture and the area’s forward-moving business, technological and creative energies.

To best experience the unique qualities of Lower Manhattan, it helps to have a dog, although one is not required.  It’s just that my dog Darwin, a black lab-mix, forces me to get out and walk all around the neighborhood every day.

Darwin

Darwin in the snow

We step out at dawn, right at the moment when the city is beginning to prepare for the busy day ahead.  The bakeries and delis have just put on the first pots of steaming hot coffee, and fresh pastries are arranged in neat rows ready for hungry workers in the morning rush.  News trucks noisily throw out stacks of papers, and workers tidy up storefronts and sidewalks.  I love to walk by Flowers of the World on Maiden Lane to see what new window display they’ve come up with for that week – invariably an elegant, minimalist work of art.  They are busy making gorgeous floral arrangements ready for delivery.

Sometimes we walk a few blocks north by the Seaport shops to the dog run right next to the Brooklyn Bridge.  There, Darwin can run at full speed off-leash or joust with his canine buddies.  But his favorite route is along the East River toward Battery Park.  Mine, too – one look at the dawn breaking over the harbor makes me forget sleepiness and be grateful to have been dragged outdoors.  Darwin will like this route even more come this spring when a new dog park opens up as part of the East River Esplanade, now under construction.  We can already see the big tree that will be the dog park’s centerpiece.

We walk briskly as I take in views of the calm water and Brooklyn skyline.  Darwin raises his head, sniffing, as if to capture news from distant shores.  When the Wall Street ferry pulls up, disgorging its smartly-dressed passengers, Darwin stops to wag his tail at the group as if he were an official greeter.

A bracing walk along the harbor brings us to the fabulous new Staten Island Ferry terminal at the tip of the island, gleaming in the morning light.  There’s a very fine biking and walking path around it lined with trees but Darwin and I cut through the broad plaza, dodging the paper guys calling out headlines and sports scores to commuters like the newsboys of old.

Battery Park, so crowded with visitors in the daytime, is quiet and peaceful early in the morning.  I love to gaze at the Statue of Liberty, her torch still lit, and watch the ferries pass by.  I see Ellis Island, too, and recall that fateful day some 13 years ago when I met my future husband on a boat heading to an event there (but that’s a story for another day).

On the way back home we cut through the heart of the Financial District, each curve in the street disclosing a new and astonishing view of buildings and sky.  Darwin is probably longing for breakfast by now but I insist on stopping at my favorite place in New York City.  Actually, it’s my favorite place in the whole country, and I still can’t believe I live just blocks away.  It’s the steps of Federal Hall on which the statue of George Washington marks the site where our first President took the oath of office, speaking in a low voice so as not to appear overreaching.  It’s also where the Bill of Rights was adopted, which is particularly thrilling to me as a First Amendment lawyer.

The steps have good vibes.  They invite you to sit and watch the people go by or gaze upon the impressive New York Stock Exchange Building across the plaza.  The plaza itself is closed to traffic, and in the evenings it’s like a European piazza where workers take over the cobblestoned streets and make their way home or to restaurants and bars in a relaxed stroll.  Just up Wall Street is the beautiful Trinity Church, where there are lunchtime classical concerts.  For me, this spot represents all that is great about America.  The foundation of our government and freedoms, the economic engine that runs the world, and the enjoyment of culture and beauty – it makes one’s heart swell with pride just to stand here.

Darwin looks up at me solemnly.  I think he can feel that this place is special to me.  But now it’s time to head home.  I make a mental note as we pass by Financier Patisserie on Cedar to come back and pick up some pastries on my way to work.

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