Impressive buildings outside of Manhattan? Why yes, there’s a couple in Brooklyn.
How about the Brooklyn Museum? Although its steps appear to be missing, replaced with a rather odd glass atrium out the front. It is a formidable presence, towering over the very busy Eastern Parkway.
Or the Brooklyn Public Library? Certainly not your average public library with gold leaf columns. Check out how tall the front is, when you see how tiny my mum looks on the steps. Those are big doors!
And the glorious Brooklyn Botanical Gardens nestled between the two. No pictures of buildings, just an oasis in the middle of urban car noise.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens may have written one of the most well known opening lines in English literature when he published A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, but it was an American writer, Mark Twain, who took a trip to NW10 (just over the border from NW3) in 1900 and opened Kensal Rise Library. In 2012, the local community is fighting to keep the library as a community asset after Brent Council withdrew library services from the building owned by All Souls College, Oxford, in a bid to save money (I note that in today’s local government finance settlement, Brent’s grant will reduce by a mere 0.5%). I checked in on progress with Kensal Rise Library’s local campaign and was heartened to see that All Souls will allow the community to use 1500 square feet of space for a library in perpetuity. Kind, but they will make a lot of money out of the sale of flats above that space when it’s sold to developers. The reason I write about this is the contrast with NYC. Today the New York Public Library published its plans to develop the iconic 101 year old building on 42nd Street and spend over $150 million to bring it up to date and, for the first time, lend books to the public (currently only branches do this). Shutting down and selling the buildings housing two other libraries and using capital money provided by New York City, a modern lending library will open to the public in 2018. I was saddened by the closure of public libraries in the UK and in NW3 the community rallied round and brought the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries into the modern age of community resources, run by local people for local people. I just hope they survive past 2018 when New York opens its famous public library, after its extensive programme of works, run by the city for the city.
Sodor is here in New York, well in the massive bookshop near us. They have thoughtfully put two raised train tracks into a corner of the children’s department and it is a mecca for the under twos. Picture a scene of convivial play with Thomas and friends? Err, no. It’s a battle scene of territory, politics and general infant angst. Some fierce negotiation was taking place when I was there between a mother, her crying child and another who was upset at the loss of his train. The shop does supply trains but, as one weary assistant told me, they always disappear – in fact I found one in an entirely different section of the shop later on. I saw children nibbling on books for sale, I’m not sure this is quite what this shop wants, but no one seemed to mind. Why do people bring their kids to this anxiety ridden place? Simple. It is free. There are so many activities for the under twos in New York but they are incredibly expensive – you’re looking at around $40 per 45 minute session and you have to sign up to a semester – around 17 weeks. It’s a massive commitment in terms of money and given how much children change at this age, are they really going to want to do the same thing week after week for this long? The New York Public Library branches put on toddler sessions which I am yet to brave, but at least there the books are meant to be used and you don’t mind so much if it is a little nibbled when it’s free.